Social Networking – at Work? Say what?
By Tori Garten
That’s right. The moment has arrived. In the course of less than a year we’ve gone from blocking social media sites at the workplace to setting up an Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) tool for all of HHS. HHS has selected Yammer for its internal collaboration and networking tool. Social and mobile technologies have had a rapid impact on communications with the public and now it is impacting internal communications, collaborations and connections. And government agencies are following quickly the footsteps of Industry in adopting these new tools. And HHS is on the leading edge.
For a few years now “collaboration” and “innovation” have been the buzzwords of choice regarding the future of work. But there have been serious limitations across government that were largely logistics based, (and perhaps at time office cultural-based). There was no easy to use common digital area - even within an Agency - where it was easy to work together on ideas, topics, or even documents. Trans-agency working groups had to rely on the good graces and budgets of involved offices to support conference calls, online meetings, and document collaboration tools (if anyone even had one that was externally accessible that users could be added too). List-serves were the communication methods of choice for discussion topics with dispersed members larger than an organizational based distribution group.
An Enterprise Social Networking (ESN – new acronym alert!) tool such as Yammer provides many options for engaging employees across the Agency, connecting staff working on related topics and problems, forming new relations and connections, and allowing members to discover conversations on topics they may be interested in, but no one would have thought to email them about.
So what exactly is an Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) tool?
Essentially an enterprise social networking tool is very similar to Facebook in terms of how it looks, feels and functions, with a few extra bits and pieces. This may have some of you concerned - especially if you are not on Facebook, or are uncomfortable with social media. You may be wondering why you would use this tool or perhaps you have nothing interesting to say. That is okay, let’s take a deep breath and talk through it.
There are a wide variety of users types for a tool like this. I am particularly fond of this graphic: http://www.visualinfographics.com/images/The-9-Types-of-Collaborators-Infographic.jpg
Different people will use the tool differently. Some people will come up with entirely new ways to use the tool that no one else thought of. Some will only read the email digests. Some will only sign up and follow just their boss. Some will sign up and follow everyone and every topic. Some will post frequently, some will only like or follow posts, and some will never set up an account until they absolutely have to because that is the one place to get a bit of information they need. Some will post, comment, discuss, share, and like every day and make it a part of their daily work day. Some of this will depend on personality, some will depend on the type of work you do, and some will depend on who you work with.
So what should I do?
The use of the ESN at HHS is fully supported by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She announced its launch at the September HHSinnovates Awards Ceremony. If you're a little nervous, than think of it as an experiment. Dip your toe in. Challenge yourself to try something new. Remind yourself of the significant impact social/mobile is having on how business is done outside of government and think of it as a way to keep your skills up to snuff. Sign-up, fill out your profile, upload a picture and do a few searches to find colleagues, topics or groups that relate to your work. Or relate not all to your current job but to an area or topic that you have a passion for or some interest in. One of the great things about an Enterprise collaboration/networking tool is that ideas, innovations and potential solutions can come from just about anywhere and just about anybody. Sometimes we get trapped in our own perspectives, have tunnel vision and something someone else suggests could spark the next great idea or solution.
This reduces email, and allows more people to participate, as well as helps make the conversation flow, as well as findable in the future.
What are some ideas on how to use it?
Here are some ideas to kick start your thinking on how you might use Yammer to improve you work and improve how you work with others:
Good ol’working groups and listserves – These seem to be main staples of the government lifestyle. If you are part of a working group, see if there is a group set up for it yet. If you participate in a lot of list-serves, consider moving the conversations to a Yammer Group. This reduces email, and allows more people to participate, as well as helps make the conversation string much more manageable, as well as findable in the future.
Myth Busting – Sometimes people worry that someone will post a wrong answer to a question. Scary as that may seem, there is a flip side to this. THIS IS HAPPENING IN EMAIL ALL THE TIME. Just now no one sees it – besides the two people on the email. This way, someone else can weigh in and say “ooo, we used to do it that way, but the procedure changed last month, here’s the link to the newest process” – and then everyone knows there has been an update. And the “Myth” is busted. Instead of perpetuated.
Help! Example: How do I do XX in Excel?? – See, I don’t even know excel well enough to make up a good example question. But that’s the point. Maybe for some reason I am trying to use Excel to do something beyond my level of knowledge – I can ask the “Crowds” how to do something – and by golly, they will respond! Even non-IT people will respond. Sometimes a budget person or an analytics person is a rock star with Excel. And people, in general, are generous with their knowledge - and get this, like to help other employees when they can.
Asking the question when you have no idea who to even ask – Sometimes we need to track down THE PERSON who knows something, only we don’t know who they are or even what complicated alphabet soup of an office they work in. But maybe we see something that an HHS colleague must have done, and we are trying to do something similar. Instead of emailing everyone we can think of that might know the answer, and then hoping they aren’t on vacation or really busy, we can ask the crowd. And it’s like the Kevin Bacon game. Surprisingly quickly someone will know someone who knows the answer. And boom, you are off and running on your project, instead of a week-long email paper chase.
These are just a few of the many ways to use enterprise social networking. Stay tuned for future posts on defining how exactly social networking IS work-related, common fears for those new to social media sharing, and more on the impact of social/mobile on how business is being done.
Tori Garten is chief of the New Media and Web Policy Branch at the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
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