Social tools and digital communication are changing the way we work


The death of email is exaggerated but watch out for other forms of digital communication that are fast arriving. Here are some predictions on workplace communication for 2012.  


I am no self-proclaimed social media guru or digital futurist, so when John asked me to put something together on ‘trends in social media in 2012’, I wondered where the hell to start!  My ‘sandbox’ is organisational culture, combined with a decent helping of purpose, happiness and mindfulness in business.  Taking that perspective, apart from the capability and confidence (or lack thereof) of people managers, and the ubiquitous influence of man-made (GFC) and natural disasters, the things that are most significantly changing our experience of work, culture and connection to others are social tools and digital communication.

The day to day work experience we share with our colleagues, boss, customers and suppliers has been changed forever by the wonderful world of social media, e-mail, mobile and the increasing number of social and cloud based business tools that we employ to ‘get the job done’.  The nine-to-five boundary is well and truly down and we have a never seen before ability to connect with information and people.  Based on the experience in our own business, and the reality of our clients and their people, it seems we’ve only just begun to experience the effects, both positive and negative, that these changes will have.

Email crisis:  If there’s one thing I hear in EVERY business we work with, it’s about the overwhelming and performance killing impact of e-mail.  Now that may not seem like a terribly sexy thing to be talking about in a social media piece but the reality is that it is still the most common form of digital communication in business and it is becoming a real problem.  Despite the BHAG [Big hairy audacious goal] Atos have set for themselves to be internal e-mail free by 2014, I don’t see this changing in a hurry for New Zealand businesses.  It seems people are using e-mail unconsciously and not thinking about the effectiveness of it as a communication tool.  It has become a crutch, a substitute for face-to-face conversation and an arse covering mechanism.  To this are being added layers of complexity and confusion with the advent of inexpensive and easy to implement social tools like Yammer and Chatter that leave people wondering what tool to use with whom about what.

Intranet vs social business system:  For eons, company intranets have been dull, static, and impossible to navigate stores of aging information.  Thankfully, this is changing.  Whether it is making more of what you’ve got but adding the ability to comment and create content without ‘the intranet God’ being involved, or moving to a full social business system (SBS) like Jive, companies are catching on to the fact that there is massive untapped knowledge, ideas and performance potential they can tap into.  By turning their ‘intranet’ into a place to connect people (including customers and suppliers in many instances) and create collaborative conversations, they are shift their business culture and lifting business results.  For most New Zealand businesses, I believe moving to full SBS is too great a step from where they are right now but we should look forward to that change in years to come.

Social media for engagement:  The potential of social media and on-line communities to power up employee engagement and internal advocacy seems to be beyond the comprehension of many New Zealand companies.  Most of those we come into contact with have locked down internet access, especially to platforms like Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and YouTube, despite the fact that the majority of their people have mobile phones and can access the wonders of the worldwide web anywhere and anytime they like! Although there has been an upswing in the number of businesses with a social media presence, responsibility for it sits with very few people and the target audience remains chiefly customers with the possible addition of job seekers.  Very few businesses see the opportunity to engage their people in connecting directly and freely with those audiences, or with each other, via these platforms and continue to ‘single point broadcast’ rather than build engaged communities.  This is one of the easiest areas to create positive cultural impact, especially as the war for talent sparks up again, and I hope to see New Zealand businesses increasingly using these tools much more effectively in 2012.

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...