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Can internal social media platforms change the workplace?

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Yesterday, Facebook launched 'Workplace', a professional version of the world's most popular social media platform. While other similar services have never really taken off, could the familiarity of Facebook's interface lead to a revolution in internal communications?

The steady proliferation of social media platforms has undoubtedly changed communication in our personal lives. If someone under the age of 30 isn’t on Facebook, they’re generally greeted with haughty derision (‘get with the times granddad’) or treated with a somewhat misplaced air of suspicion. Social media has also become an integral part of professional external communication, as businesses look to increase their online reach.

While there are platforms used by companies for internal communications – services such as Yammer or Connections  – they’ve never been fully embraced. In a study of US businesses in 2014 by Altimeter Group, it was found that a large percentage of companies had no intention to implement social media services, and many had found that employee interaction was sporadic. 

Yesterday, Facebook launched ‘Workplace by Facebook’, a professional version of its platform that includes new features that allow users to collaborate both internally and externally. Always looking to maximise its reach, Facebook stated: “The new global and mobile workforce isn’t about closed-door meetings or keeping people separated by title, department or geography. Organisations are stronger and more productive when everyone comes together.”

But do these platforms actually make workplaces more productive? John Baptista, associate professor of information systems at Warwick Business School believes that while it may not ostensibly drive productivity, it can improve other facets of professional life that can then improve output, if it is supported by the right culture: “Social media is not a tool to drive efficiency in itself but it has the potential to improve knowledge sharing, re-use and improve general awareness of what is expected from employees, as well as their sense of belonging to the organisation.

“This has direct and indirect effects on productivity because employees are more likely to engage more deeply with others and with the tasks at hand. However, this requires appropriate culture and governance. Social media by itself does nothing new unless the organisation is willing to adapt and appropriate new dynamics in the workplace.” 

By creating a shared social space to communicate outside of more conventional media, it can also serve to boost team morale and meet the technological demands of younger workers that are well versed in the world of Facebook and Twitter. Factor in that it can be a cost effective resource and it certainly has its place in the modern office.

Baptista commented: “It is increasingly part of the communication infrastructure required for organisations to operate in the modern world. The main benefits are cost savings from more expensive alternatives, to keeping staff connected in dispersed organisational environments, time savings from quicker and faster access to information and others, as well as other intangible benefits related to staff morale, a sense of belonging, culture building and reduced staff turnover.”

 

The end of email?

So in this bizarre world where Facebook could become a staple of workplace communications, will it phase out internal email? After all, social media has changed the way we communicate privately. Rather than email a friend for a catch-up, we’re far more likely to speak over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Skype. Baptista believes it comes down to the purpose of the message: “The potential to replace other forms of communication is there. Although social media is inherently a platform for informal communication, it can also support formal and more structured collaboration. But this requires deeper changes and adaptation of the organisation’s formal structures too, which can be difficult.”

For now, it would be unlikely that companies would embrace a change as radical as removing all email communication, especially when prior research indicates internal platforms aren’t always readily accepted. However, with a well known commodity such as Facebook entering the fray, it has every chance to change the way we communicate with colleagues. 

Tom Ritchie

By Tom Ritchie

Tom is an editorial assistant at Changeboard.

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