Posted by: karisyd | June 27, 2012

Social vs work – where does the tension come from?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.



  1. Very insightful…on a tangent I feel ESN’s are slowly (actually very slowly) starting to become workified ie. away from the design of soc nets we experience in our personal lives

    Podio is a great example of more process-based web 2.0 ethos tools ie. moving away from generic asking questions in microblogs to being a place to actually execute the work

    Anyway the reason I mention this is that as we move to more process based 2.0 tools, there will be less reason for the exec suite to have doubts

    See a podio example here

    Newsgator is getting into verticals

    …and they are also thinking about the value path of a post ie, how can we move a post along to where it can create more value

    And I also wonder about tools designed around adaptive case management…which is what knowledge workers do daily

    Anyway here are my thoughts on how control won’t work ie. we have to post about a specific thing/task in the one prescribed place, but rather we need some good user design and the mighty hyperlink to glue all content about a task together

    Also some of my thoughts on why microblogging is not a replacement for email just yet

    Sorry about all the links, but you seem to really know what you are talking about, so interested in your thoughts 🙂

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for your comments and links. I will progressively try to read through them. On you comment:
      I do not agree with the underlying sentiment of your comment.

      First, I do not think that ESN need to become “workified” or “process-oriented”. I think it is a false dichotomy to think of this as social vs work, or that we need to make this ESN space more “work-oriented” or bring them closer to the business process.
      I think they serve a very basic, fundamental and necessary business purpose as they are. They are places for conversation, sense-making, awareness-creation and they need to keep as certain distance from the actual work process to remain useful in that respect. That’s my view. Anyone who thinks that they are somehow not useful when they are “outside of the work process” is kidding themselves, I think.

      Second, I think those attempts at ESN that we see growing out of business process oriented solutions (such as by Salesforce) are very different nature and might not even be the same phenomenon (apples vs pears?). It is undoubtly useful to be able to converse about immediate work matters (documents, process objects, task execution), but this is very different from the ESN that resemble conversation and relationship building spaces.

      Your thoughts?

  2. Have you taken a look at Podio…generic microblogging, etc…but you can also create apps to do processes-centric stuff, but only socialised

    A simple one is Minutes of Meeting…at my work some people use blog posts, others use wikis, and others use MS Word.

    What you can do with more process-centric or “in situ” social apps is use a form builder to create a minutes app…with the fields you want, and add task items, etc…

    At the moment wikis for minutes are not that really different than using MS Word…just a blank page.

    Good User experience – Joe Bloggs is in a group that has a lot of meetings, he goes to his group space and clicks a tab called minutes to add the minutes…not every group space has to have this tab, but at least the admin of the group space can decide to put it in.

    My point is that the new edge is users building the apps themselves, that they will then write in

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: