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The One Success Secret to Social Collaboration in the Future of Work

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There is a lot of advice out there for organisations trying to achieve success in social collaboration and new ways of working. The future of work is very popular now so there is a lot of effort to sell the newness, the complexity and its special nature. Much of that advice makes efforts at social collaboration sound difficult to achieve or alien, if you are working today in a traditional organisation.

Despite all that discussion, there is one practice that helps make initiatives in social collaboration successful and increases the value that is created in the future of work. That practice is simply:

Treat it as just work

We work collaboratively every day

Every day people collaborate at work. Mostly they don’t call it collaboration. Instead, it is seen as having a conversation, sending an email, persuading someone, getting advice, getting help or working together on a task or project.

Social collaboration extends the opportunities of who can engage in this collaboration. Social collaboration tools enable this kind of work to be done with more people, faster and with better ability to leverage the knowledge created. If social collaboration tools don’t make it easier or better to do this kind of work, then users won’t and shouldn’t use them.

Treating social collaboration as a special activity distinct from work confuses people. They debate when they should use this special collaboration. They question the value of collaboration. They can’t see the point. And each time they go back to their work and start collaborating with others again.

Work is why we share information

Many people can immediately see the value of social collaboration as a way to share information. Your enterprise social network looks like Facebook. Your corporate blogs look like the ones in the public domain. Your wikis and knowledge management systems may even be familiar too.

However, this familiarity makes people uncomfortable at work. Clearly we don’t usually share the same information at work as we do in Facebook.  Many people ask: What should I share? What do I have that is worthwhile to share? What will happen if I share the wrong thing?

However in any organisation the best reason to share information is to work. People share information to do work together and to create value. Connecting with work colleagues, working out loud, solving work problems collaboratively and innovating with others are the reasons we share information at work.

Work isn’t special

Treating social collaboration as work addresses other issues that organisations face as they move into the future of work.

You have the policies, processes or campaigns to do your work. You don’t need special approaches to start social collaboration. Your normal work rules and processes should cover your social collaboration too, including rules on privacy & confidentiality, behaviours and performance processes.  If these approaches break, constrain or prevent new forms of social collaboration, there is a good chance they don’t work for other forms of collaborative work and should be changed. Don’t create special rules.

Do you gamify your daily work processes? If you don’t gamify everyday work, don’t gamify engagement with a social platform. Remember it is the work that creates the value, not the adoption. Don’t confuse the tool with the result.

Don’t start with special things. Start by helping your people to do their work better. If your organisation has never ever sought any input to its product development processes, doing a special product ideation session can be valuable, but it is a terrible way to start a social collaboration journey (especially if you fail to follow through on the ideas). You don’t want people building an idea that a social collaboration tool as something for special, rare & unique events. You want people realising its potential to do work and solve work problems each day.

Treating social collaboration as work also addresses why senior executives and other leaders should participate. This is not a special domain. This is where the work gets done. If you want to lead, lead here too. 

Work Creates Value

Most importantly, considering social collaboration as work drives our attention to the question of the value that the work adds.  When we work, we know we need to work more efficiently and find ways to make our work add value. That is part of the deal with work.

Focusing on social collaboration as work also reminds us that we should work to realise our strategy as an organisation. The collaboration must realise the organisation’s goals and the goals of the individuals who need to work.  Collaboration for its own sake is a waste.

Start Working to Work Better.

Social collaboration is the same. We shouldn’t focus on the tools. We should focus on the value of the work we do and how we can do better.

If you want to create value from social collaboration and new ways of working, start by treating it as work. Then ask people to improve their work. Experiment and make changes to make work more productive and effective each day. You will need to change processes, policies and organisational structures over time, but you will be guided by the collaboration of your people. That is the way to realise the human potential in your organisation.

The journey won’t be easy. There will be setbacks and lessons to be learned. People will need to learn new ways and adapt to change but an engaged group of people working together will create greater value for your organisation over time.  

That sounds just like work too.

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The Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate maturity model assists organisations to accelerate the value of the work their people do in social collaboration tools in practical ways.  Accelerating the progress of collaborative work from Connection to Innovation significantly increases the returns to individuals and the organisation from new ways of work.  Importantly it also engages people in shaping the future of work in their organisation. If you would like to learn more, please get in touch.


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