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Is the digital workplace in a social collaboration haze?

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Have the lines between personal social activity and specific workplace social tools become too blurry?

The most recent decision to shake up this debate is the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, allowing employers to read workers' private messages sent via chat software and webmail accounts during working hours. Whilst it may be tempting to make a knee jerk decision and dismiss social tools in the workplace altogether for ease, don’t forget the benefits around attraction, retention and engagement that come from collaboration software. These six simple considerations will help to clear the haze. 

Don’t take this as a green light to snoop

It’s not! As with anything, each case will be looked at on its own merit. In the case of the ruling, it was a Yahoo Messenger account created for professional reasons, so the judge found it reasonable that the employer should want to check the activities on it. It’s worth pointing out that the personal account the employee was also using was not considered.

Stepping back from the legal implications, imagine the damage this would do to trust, engagement and ultimately productivity in an organisation. This is not only in regard to an employee in question, but to those around them, who would become too fearful to utilise the tools in place.  

The beauty of tools such as social intranets, where conversations happen alongside business process, as opposed to Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) where they happen outside, is that a large majority of what goes on is published for all to see. This level of purposeful collaboration means you won’t need to snoop anyway.


Make it work for your business

Of course what works for some, won’t necessarily work for you and your employees. Regardless of the latest developments and trends, any tools that you implement need to align to your business goals and objectives. It’s easy to lose sight of that in times of uncertainty, but ultimately the same considerations apply, and your stakeholders still need to be on side.

Do you offer flexible hours? Do your employees use their own devices? Do they answer emails out of hours? It’s these questions that will remind you of the make-up of your workplace and the culture that you want to maintain. And if the answer is yes to any of the above, it stands to reason that your employees are going to cross the line between business and pleasure during what’s regarded as ‘official working hours’. 



Make sure everyone understands what’s acceptable

You need to make sure there is a policy in place where everyone understands how they are expected to behave. In this case, the employer had a clear policy that stated employees were not to use the internet for anything other than work. Whilst this may not be a popular decision, the employee in question couldn’t say he wasn’t aware of what he was and wasn’t allowed to do.

The best way to get your employees to not only adhere to policy, but actually live and believe in it, is to ask them what they deem to be acceptable. Get them involved in creating it and they will be empowered, and ensure it’s adhered to by their peers. This delivers a much more powerful message than an internal communications email bulletin.

The other factor to consider is what you’re missing out on by not having a policy in place. This could stop your employees sharing internally, and put up barriers for employee advocacy on external platforms. After all, if they don’t know how to behave, it’s easier not to do anything at all.  


Educate and update your employees

This is the part that is so often forgotten. Are your employees aware of policy updates, or even the existence of some policies? Even if they have been involved in their creation, it is only effective if they are kept in the loop going forwards. They will need to be informed of the results, informed of who shaped what, why certain elements have been included and others not. This is how you build trust and maintain it – it’s often hard to get there and too easy to lose.

It’s also worthwhile keeping your employees updated with new industry developments. Use this as an opportunity to ask for opinions. Create an open and transparent culture, and your employees will stay within the lines of what’s acceptable. Plus, it is better that they hear these things from you first.

Gain more control with the right platform

As touched upon briefly earlier, all these elements encourage a discussion around which social collaboration platform is right for your business. Do you want more than a ‘messenger’ type tool that’s delivered with an ESN? Or are you looking for more purposeful collaboration that comes from appropriately merging work and social on a platform like an intranet? It all goes back to your goals and objectives and what you want to achieve with your social collaboration software.


Nigel Danson

By Nigel Danson

Nigel Danson, CEO and Founder at Interact

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