In the space of enterprise social networking (ESN) we hear a lot about the tension between “doing work” and “being social”, or that “social does not have a place in business”. Now, where does this tension come from?
To understand what is at work here, we need to take a look at how modern formal organisations have evolved. The core concept of formal organisation is the concept of “roles”. Roles in organisations lay out abstract operational requirements (what the role has to do) with the idea that people take on these roles as a professional persona and leave behind their private/personal personas for the time that they fulfil their professional duties (of the role).
In essence, the very idea of the modern formal organisation is to enforce ‘professional’ behaviour at the expense of ‘personal’ (or ‘social’) behaviours.
Now, it is easy to see how the introduction of social technologies into the workplace creates tensions:
- ESN technologies such as Yammer, Jive or Socialcast structure their user experience around public social technologies such as Facebook and Twitter. Hence, the adoption of ESNs deliberatly draws on and invokes the social behaviours that people have learned in the private context.
- The very benefits of social technologies lies in breaking down the barriers between formal work and socialising in the workplace.
Now here is where the tension lies: While we expect people to draw on and import their knowledge of social technologies from their private contexts, at the same time we do not want them to import the associated behaviours, which are seen to revolve around chatting, time wasting and procrastination.
The good news however is, which we see in the research that we are doing, that users by and large are much better able to draw the line between professional and personal than decision makers think they are. Users understand perfectly well that ESN create public spaces where everyone can see what one is doing. As I’ve argued before, people do not go in there to push the boundaries of normal social conduct. And if something inappropriate happens, the group is normally quick to sort out things for everyone to see, which creates strong norms of professional (and social!) behaviour.
The key I guess is placing trust in people, to see them not as abstract bearers of organisational roles, but as professionals in what they do.