How To Navigate Your Workplace Through Enterprise Social Networks


Photo Credit: Melina Jana Harzer

Diana Figueroa, Jessica Fowler, Melina Jana Harzer for Shifted News

Thomas Wagenknecht is a research scientist at the Forschungszentrum Informatik (FZI), a non-profit research institute for applied research in computer science in Berlin and a member of the supervisory board of partou eG, a developer of intelligent and collaborative software. He and his research partner, Shirley Ogolla, are the perfect addition to re:publica’s Business and Innovation track. Together they will lead participants around their talk ‘Surviving Social Media In The Workplace: A Kit’ through the perks, but also the drawbacks of enterprise social networks and how to best handle them in the professional sphere.

Brief us through what your panel is about and what we can expect from it?

We’re going to do a session on how to survive the jungle of social media in the workplace. So, I guess you are familiar with Yammer or Slack, for instance. These platforms are popping up both all over Germany and across the world. Shirley is going to take the perspective of the worker and figure out how a typical employee can survive. I’m going to take the perspective of the manager and try to give a bit of information on how to best set up social media at your workplace. Our aim is to give a survival kit by the end of the session. This entails highlighting the effects of social media on organisational culture, on the information flow, and knowledge sharing across your organisation.

How can employees and employers benefit from enterprise social networks?

Everybody gets flooded by emails, but with enterprise social networks, you supposedly should end up with zero email. They’re set up as a sort of one-stop-shop, so you can do everything there. You can upload files, you can invite people using calendars, etc. They're supposed to be an easier way to manage your projects. They’re also set up in a way where typically you don’t have strict hierarchies. You’ve got flexible rather than strict processes.

Do you think enterprise social networks and platforms will replace emails and phone calls?

I don’t see email being replaced, I just see added pressure to use different social channels. On the other hand, there’s also the phenomenon that, when we talked to a couple of large German corporations, they said that they were trying to implement social networks at their workplace - but they failed basically. Because people were overwhelmed with that mandate, they didn’t know how to use them and so they just stuck with their emails.

What’s your outlook for such networks? How will they evolve? 

It’s difficult to say because, for instance, Yammer is now included in the office 365 package of Microsoft, so it will probably spread even more for the time being and Slack is kind of very aggressively marketing as others have adapted as well, so I don’t think they will disappear, I think people will just become more used to it.

Do you think that the lines of professionalism between employer and employee are blurred when companies decide to use platforms like Slack, Skype for Business, or Yammer?

It depends obviously on how the company sets it up. If you want people to communicate professionally on these platforms, you can ask them to do so. Slack especially invites people to be less professional because it supports stuff like giphy that you can easily integrate there. I think, if an assistant could communicate more easily with a CEO, however, I think that’s a good thing.

Tell us more about the Survival Kit: is there any advice employers and employees should keep in mind? 

We’ve got six different survival kit ideas. For the workers’ side for instance, Shirley is going to talk about the technique of “Deep Work,” where you try to minimize all the distractions and blur out all the noise from networks. We encourage employees to talk to each other, and try to negotiate an etiquette or a code of conduct with their employer on how to use these social networks. I will talk a bit about organisational culture. These tools can be a cornerstone in that, but then you have to think about the implementation as not just an IT project. You have to involve HR, you have to involve workers’ councils, you have to think more broadly. But if you take your time, and this is what research really shows, the communication structures really evolve, and will get more sort of flat, and people will talk more on the same level.