Social tools such as Facebook Workplace, Slack, and Yammer have infiltrated the workplace. A 2016 survey by McKinsey found that 74 percent of respondents had integrated social tools into their workflow in some way.
Despite the ubiquity of workplace social tools, managers often fall short in their implementation efforts. Employees, by and large, don't embrace social tools with open arms.
A recent study by UC Santa Barbara professor Paul Leonardi and Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley outlined four "traps" that managers fall into when trying to "go social" in the workplace. Are you a victim?
1. Don't assume Millennials know how to use social tools at work.
Managers assume that because Millennials are active on social media, they'll want to use social tools at work. This is a misconception.
I, like many Millennials, see my personal and professional lives as distinct. I have trouble conceptualizing how social tools might be used in the workplace. I fear that my personal conversations will be monitored. Will I be reprimanded for asking a colleague for suggestions on binge-worthy Netflix shows to watch this weekend?
Managers shouldn't assume that Millennials know how to use social tools at work. As a manager, the onus is on you to articulate the purpose of social tools to your employees.
One of my previous employers provided written instructions to all employees detailing how they were to use Slack at work. Employees were explicitly encouraged to engage in both work and non-work related discussions. Armed with these "rules of the road", I found myself immediately gravitating towards the platform.
2. Encourage informal communication.
Many managers prohibit the use of social tools to discuss non-work topics. This does more harm than good. The researchers found that informal communication -- the type that transpires on social media -- actually gives rise to more effective work interactions.
When employees are able to observe colleagues engaging in non-work discussions on social platforms, they're able to "size them up" and assess how safe they are to approach. I recently used Slack to celebrate a nail-biting win seized by my hometown heroes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. I was somewhat surprised when a coworker joined me in my merrymaking. He, I soon learned, is a fellow Canadian. I felt an instant connection and didn't hesitate to ask him for recommendations on a project proposal I was working on -- I also opted to ask him about his favorite Tim Hortons donut flavor (we share a liking for Maple Dip).
Informal communication helps employees discover shared interests -- interests they can exploit when attempting to strike up work-related and other conversations.
3. Explicitly tell employees "what's in it for me?"
Employees can acquire at least two types of knowledge when using social tools at work. Can is the operative word.
Direct knowledge unfolds when our interactions with colleagues result in us gaining new skills or acquiring tactical knowledge. Last week, for example, I acquired direct knowledge when I used Slack to ask a colleague for help creating a pivot table in Excel.
Metaknowledge, on the other hand, comes from observing our coworkers' interactions on social tools and gleaning insight as to who has expertise in specific areas. One of my colleagues regularly contributes to Python-related discussion threads on Slack. It didn't take me long to zero in on the fact that he ought to be my go-to source when I'm struggling to fix a bug in my code.
Unless managers explicitly highlight the potential for skill building and knowledge sharing when deploying social tools, employees won't widely adopt them. Employees need to know "what's in it for me?"
4. Avoid being biased by visible behavior.
Social tools expose employees who exhibit high levels of tacit expertise and knowledge. They "pull back the curtain" and make our exchanges highly visible. Employees who contribute most extensively to discussion threads and are most apt to provide helpful answers to coworkers' questions stand out.
Certain types of knowledge aren't made explicit on social tools. One of my favorite coworkers rarely contributes to Slack discussions. She, however, has a knack for putting together creative briefs and facilitating brainstorming meetings. Since these traits, though highly desirable, are less visible, managers tend to deem them less important.
When comes time for promotions or other advancement opportunities, don't be swayed or biased by visible behavior exposed via internal social tools. Conduct a 360-degree review of each employee and evaluate their online and offline behaviors.
The process of implementing a social tool at work is rife with challenges. Many companies are driven to "go social" primarily by a desire to jump on the bandwagon. But haphazardly slap-sticking social tools on employees won't do anyone any good. Follow the four strategies outlined above and you'll avoid throwing money out of the door. More importantly, you'll empower your employees to succeed.