Thursday, 25 November 2010

The best way organisations can effectively cope with online social networks is arguably developing their own

Individuals spend nowadays a lot of time surfing the internet, checking their email box and messaging online. This habit by reason of the growing, unstoppable rise in popularity enjoyed by social networks is inexorably destined to develop further, rather than to fade away. Individuals attach at present a considerable importance to the frequent use of the internet insofar as feeling the urge to use it in the workplace, too.

Employers at large judge very negatively their employees use of the internet in the workplace for personal-related reasons in that affecting staff productivity. Nonetheless, this is not indeed invariably the case so that the phenomenon should definitely deserve to be considered to a wider extent.

The first thing to consider is that technological advances considerably influence individual behaviour and habits, and the way people communicate. Some activities and actions inadvertently gradually become normal and even indispensable for our everyday life; the use of the internet and social networks definitely represents a clear example of that.

It is widely acknowledged, for instance, that Generation Y people are technology “addicted” and definitely prefer to work in technology savvy environment, it would be literally painful for these individuals performing their work activities in an environment where these could not use technology and avail themselves of the advantages it offers. Whether employers want to benefit of the Yers talent and potential, they need to learn to trust these individuals and allow them to moderately use the internet and social networks during their working day; this is indeed the way Yers aim at working.

The need to use technology and social networks to communicate is no longer typical of Generation Y people only; everyone nowadays enjoys and appreciates using the internet and stay connected with his/her family members and friends. The introduction of draconian measures aiming at limiting the use of the internet and social networks may risk making a considerable impact on employee relations. Some organizations have learned the lesson and have found out that the internet and social networks do not actually represent the worst evil, but rather good allies, for instance, in their quest to lure and retain Generation Y talents.

 Some employers have been inspired by online social networks such as facebook to develop their own network and encourage and foster social relationships amongst their staff.

A growing number of companies is now staking and investing on social networks to foster cohesion amongst their teams. As online social networks, those developed by employers enable employees to create their own profile, write a blog, hold discussions with colleagues about different topics and post articles and videos.

Nicolas Roland, Development Director at Danone France, explains the idea behind the development of a social network in his organization: “The basic idea is to connect all the members of staff in order to favour cooperation and innovation, make it quicker the decision-making process and establishing internal communities just like employees can do in facebook.” This system also makes it possible for employees sharing documents in real time, averting the excessive use of emails, memos, etc.

The platform developed by Danone proves to be particularly useful when different employees, working in different sites, need to make arrangements to urgently organize a meeting or make urgent decisions.

Social networks do not represent only an effective way to favour and make easier and faster communications amongst staff; to engage and motivate employees, the establishment of an effective two-way communication channel between organization and staff, traditionally known as the employee voice, is in fact of paramount importance, too.

Employers who have developed their own social network take the opportunity to use this to communicate with their workforce and to, for instance, gather employees’ opinions before making some important decisions, which definitely represents another effective move to engage employees.

Frédéric Millien, who hosts the social network of the Société Nationale de Chemin de Fer (SNCF) in France, explains that the “e-changeons” platform enables all the different levels of staff, from the shop floor to the highest level of management, to express their opinion about the projects announced by the company and contributes to better present the company image outside the organization. La “Lyonnaise des Eaux” uses its own social network to regularly launch employee online surveys. These tools can be hence used in different, effective ways.

The blogs these corporate social networks enable employees to write prove to be particularly helpful for newcomers. Once these have completed their orientation, when needed, they can in fact use these to ask for help to their more experienced colleagues.

These types of networks often go beyond the professional area. Forums, for instance, represent the best place where individuals can discuss different themes and subjects, as the way to achieve a better work/life balance and other topics linked to their everyday lives. Frédéric Millien reports that an employee who had posted on a forum a question about the procedure for requesting a family allowance received a staggering 109 answers. Yet, by means of these corporate networks, relations between employees continue well beyond the working hours. During the weekend, for example, at the SNCF are recorded an average of 350 connections.

Many employees are wary of these tools in that consider them as a way for employees being constantly in contact with the organization and to some extent as being constantly at work. Others express some concerns in that employees who do not use these social networks might be considered unsociable or unfriendly individuals, but nobody is clearly forced to use these platforms and nobody can be discriminated against for using or not using them.

Employers should seriously consider introducing their own social network into their organization, but those who do not, rather than focusing on the subject in terms of allowing or banning employees from using the internet and social networks in the workplace should better focus on how to rule their usage. Once again, the introduction and consistent implementation of fair and clear policies is paramount.

Longo, R., (2011), The best way organizations can effectively cope with online social networks is arguably developing their own; HR Professionals, [online].