Social intranet drives employee productivity

Social intranet drives employee productivity
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Employees may waste too much time on the intranet; social media wastes time; the Internet is a productivity drain. These are common refrains and concerns expressed by many executives, albeit the less educated ones, generally of an older generation, nearing or past retirement. And yet, employee productivity is a big concern. But doesn’t the social intranet drive employee productivity?

The exact same concerns were made about employee bathroom breaks, mealtimes, telephone use, etc. General Motors, that great stalwart of financial prudence, used to hire staff to time employees when they used the bathroom (source: Negotiate This, Herb Cohen, CD Audiobook – Barnes & Noble). Employee productivity has always been a concern when organizations adapt to new technology. The concern flared with the introduction of employee bathrooms, water coolers, telephones, email, Internet access, etc.

However, the intranet is hardly new technology. Though it might as well be new technology given the treatment, and lack of funding, the intranet has suffered since the financial collapse of 2008. Many grey hair executives still see the intranet as a cost center, not as investment in the business.

Every organization wants to maximize profit (cash flow) and ultimately, productivity drives profit; and so does innovation.

“When productivity rates leap, so do enterprise profits. In the past century, we have automated blue-collar work, wringing more products out of every worker hour,” says Susan Feldman, IDC analyst and author of the report, Hidden Costs of Information Work: A Progress Report. “But in an economy that is now more information based than industrial, increasing the productivity of the information worker has become imperative.”

Concerns about productivity, therefore, are real and valid. Although often these concerns are misplaced: if employee compensation and rewards models are all that they should be, and employees are accountable for objectives and goals, then concerns over productivity drain from activities such as using the Internet, or intranet, should abate. In short, the corporate intranet can be a tremendous productivity gain, not a drain.

“As organizations downsize, they will need to streamline and automate information tasks and processes if they are to survive with fewer workers,” adds Feldman (keep in mind, real estate may be rebounding, and the stock markets may be unusually high, but there is still a massive credit crunch, and there are many industries still in recession). “They will need to ferret out instances of duplicated effort, and they will need to invest in software that can speed up processes like eDiscovery, categorization, call center support, publishing, and collaboration while reducing manual labor.”

IDC conducted a survey of 706 knowledge workers. IDC asked respondents about: various information tasks performed by knowledge workers; and repetitive tasks that might be prime targets for automation or improvement.

On average, IDC estimates the average information worker salary of $75,000 per year. They then took the data that we had gathered on the average number of hours spent on each task and discovered the following about the average information worker respondent:

  • 13 hours per week spent on email (cost: $21,000 per year)
  • 9 hours per week spent searching for information (cost: $14,000 per year)
  • 8 hours per week analyzing information (cost: $13,000 per year)
  • 6.5 hours per week communicating / collaborating with team members (cost: $10,000 per year)
  • 6 hours per week creating content (cost: $10,000 per year)
  • Nearly 4 hours per week publishing information (cost: $6,000 per year)

The survey and the data are imperfect, but the general picture is well painted and the conclusion very clear: information workers spend a lot of time finding and processing information, at a very high cost. If we can make it easier to find information, employee productivity will rise, and profits will soar. The social intranet can drive employee productivity.

Technology is a productivity driver. And the technology platform that powers this productivity is the corporate intranet.
Even well tuned intranets can suffer from information fatigue. A well planned intranet, with a strategy in place that supports the business requirements will take you well on your way in identifying the optimum information and communications channels for your organization.”

Moreover, IDC finds that new social intranet tools are also a preferred, and powerful technology of choice for driving productivity. The social intranet drives employee productivity.

The most preferred / valued tool according to respondents is instant messaging; followed by the phone, desktop authoring tools (e.g. MS-Word), email, web conferencing, social networking, and blogs. In fact, email is rated only a shade higher than social networking. Many, myself included, often look at email as a frequent productivity drain.

Information work is costly, but it’s also valuable, as long as the time spent working is productive,” says IDC. “Any dent that an organization can make in the hours information workers toil unproductively will have an immediate payoff.”

Researches conclude that social collaboration tools increase employee productivity. In fact, McKinsey & Company estimates that by using social technologies, companies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent. And although nearly 80% of all companies use social intranet tools, few are using them effectively or have come close to critical mass adoption.

A Pew Research Report (a study of more than 2000 American employees) on employee use of social intranet tools emphasizes that many employees are using social tools for work, and to support the business:

  • 24% of the respondents use social media at work to foster professional connections
  • 20% to help them solve work problems
  • 17% to foster relationships with co-workers and/or learn more about them
  • 12% to ask work-related questions of people outside their organization and/or inside their organization

Of course, all organization should have rules for using social media at work. Or blanket rules that apply to the use of all technology, whether its the phone, the browser, or a typewriter. Sadly, far too many organizations are clueless, and in fact, quite negligent with respect to employee communications technology.

But if we have rules of conduct, and we trust employees to use the phone prudently, then shouldn’t more companies trust their employees with the social tools that come with SharePoint, for example?

The Pew report found that only half of all full-time and part-time workers (51%) say their workplace has rules about using social media while at work (45% say their employer does not have these policies). While 32% report that their employer has policies about how employees may present themselves on the internet in general (63% say their employer does not have these policies at all.

If your organization is not embracing and investing in technology such as the intranet and the new social intranet tools then they’re living in the past. Just like email, the phone, and Internet access were viewed as productivity threats, social tools are still viewed with fear and suspicion.

The employee code of conduct should apply to all behavior online and offline. Just as you trust your employees with a phone, isn’t it time to trust them with collaborative social tools on the intranet?

The classic concern about productivity drains is well-founded, but misunderstood to the extent that technology is often a gain, not a drain. The social intranet drives employee productivity.

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2 Comments

  1. Marie galob

    There is a certain bias here as the survey and discussion relate to KNOWLEDGE workers. Many, many of us are PRODUCTION or TECHNICAL (engineering, laboratory) workers who operate, produce, test, or transport consumer goods, equipment, electricity, or raw materials. We do not sit at a workstation with a computer for all (or even most) of the day. Social media is much less useful and more likely to be a distraction from our core work. We should not be encouraging a forklift driver to use social media or email or any other electronic driving distraction except on his designated break time. The perspective implied in this article applies to office workers only. Companies often have far more non-office employees than office workers – but company-wide decisions about (for example) internet use and social media are made from the ivory tower perspective of the corporate office

    Reply
    • Toby Ward

      Yes, this article is about knowledge workers, as stated five times above. Every article requires a focus. If you like, feel free to submit an article on non-knowledge workers. Many, I’m sure, would love to access the intranet from their phone.

      Reply

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