It may look like employees are wasting time online, but . . .

What’s often seen as a sign of poor productivity in the workplace might actually indicate an enterprise collaboration strategy is beginning to pay off. Learn how to tell the difference

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When knowledge-intensive organizations such as banks, insurance firms and government departments invest in enterprise social networking (ESN) systems, they aim to improve employee collaboration and productivity. They don’t buy ESN software so workers can plan BBQs and compare sports scores. Nonetheless, according to an investigation of ESN at one workplace, organizations should encourage the chatter as an important step towards better business practices.

Assessing use of the popular ESN system Yammer at professional services company Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in Australia, researchers at The University of Sydney Business School found that organizations must welcome the social aspects of ESN in order to lay the groundwork for better productivity among employees.

If users take to the network to arrange after-work drinks or to talk about the Blue Jays, businesses should let that happen—even if management would rather see workers discussing company-related issues.

“We argue that the emergent nature of a shared background in communicative practice is the glue that holds together and makes possible all other knowledge work,” reads an introduction to the researchers’ paper, titled Powercrowd: Enterprise Social Networking in Professional Service Work: A Case Study of Yammer at Deloitte Australia. “Only if people are aware of what others are doing and what they are interested in can they post the relevant information that provides the foundation for joint problem-solving.”

The idea that extracurricular babble is desirable may be anathema to some productivity-focused business managers. But for experts who follow the ESN market, the Australian researchers’ findings make perfect sense.

“The conclusions resonate with me,” says Nigel Wallis, research manager at IDC Canada. “Technology is not a replacement or panacea for human culture. For enterprise social media to work, actual people have to embrace it…. Just like an actual water cooler—or better yet, a pub—getting to know your colleagues, peers and subordinates is an organic process, not a schematic workflow diagram.”

Thomas Keenan, a tech-focused professor at the University of Calgary, also says socializing is the key to successful ESN implementations. “I realize the Internet of Things is coming, but not for the really important work we do, which involves getting people engaged and believing what you (as a leader) believe in—which is the essence of leadership.”

Alan Lepofsky, vice-president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, notes that as users get comfortable with sharing non-critical information, they grow accustomed to the idea of using ESN for more business-focused and strategic collaboration. That said, he adds, businesses shouldn’t stop at enabling social interactivity through ESN. Organizations must use their initial collaboration successes to propel employees forward to use ESN to benefit the workplace. In fact, Lepofsky suggests thinking of non-work-task banter as a sort of early-stage stabilizer. “Eventually you want to take the training wheels off.”

So for knowledge-intensive organizations, the main takeaway is this: employees who use ESN for non-work matters should be encouraged to keep talking. In time, what seems to be inconsequential communication will enable powerful collaboration and productivity enhancements. Turns out discussions of the latest episode of Breaking Bad are actually good for business.

An enterprise social network begins with the right network for collaboration. Download Allstream’s four-stage UC&C Checklist to see if you’re ready. 

Image courtesy of bplanet at

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