Designing Social Workplaces

Writing on the ebizQ site, my Dachis Group colleague, Dion Hinchcliffe, asks what do social business approach offer for enterprise collaboration?

In answering this question, Dion highlights three important and overlapping patterns that all relate to our ability to make previously hidden organisational activity visible, which I summarise here:

  • Social networks amongst workers – How employees relate to each other, beyond the mechanistic view presented by the organisaional chart.
  • Observable work – Effectively creating a digital open plan environment that isn’t constrained by the limits of the physical work environment.
  • Insights and analysis – Our ability to aggregate this activity and related information together into an organisational context.

I want to explore further what these patterns mean in terms of business drivers and specific outcomes, building on my presentation at Intranets2011. In this presentation I identified four different reasons for developing a social workplace:

  • To improve customer service (or sales);
  • To enable lean work processes;
  • As a platform for supporting social learning; and
  • More effective knowledge management.

(It is no coincidence that most intranets fail to address these drivers!)

In the following diagram, I have identified examples of benefits that accompany each of these drivers related to each of the social business patterns Dion outlines:

These drivers are still relatively high-level. But this breakdown does demonstrate that as we become more specific about what we want to achieve, it becomes easier to see what a social business looks like. This also makes it easier to imagine what technical AND organisational changes are required to make this happen. It also means that randomly throwing in a tool may not guarantee success if there is a mismatch either with the business activity and/or the underlying people and organisational environment.

I would also observe that the more tactical and task-orientated the driver, the easier it will be to demonstrate the return on investment using simple cause and effect metrics that equate to dollars saved or profit increased. However, the bigger picture benefits that less tangible drivers deliver may also be critical over the longer term for the good health of your organisation – particularly if they reduce risk. This may create a strategic dilemma if you are in the process of building the business case for creating a social workplace or have been carried over the line in the short term on a leap of bottom-up faith.

The trick in both cases may be to focus on the demonstrable value of insights & analysis that aren’t possible without the other elements. Here I particularly want to reemphasis Dion’s point:

Not establishing the capabilities for capturing the business intelligence of an organization’s collaborative environments is one of the biggest ROI pitfalls organizations can make

What can you do to address the issues I’ve raised here? It is simple really – you need to get specific and design what you want to achieve instead of leaving how you create a thriving social business environment purely to chance.