Social collaboration tools can enhance productivity

But only if used and managed properly, say company execs and analysts, who agree social collaboration tools have potential to improve workflow.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Going beyond just adopting social communication and collaboration tools for the office, company executives and analysts are unanimous that having a well-thought implementation and management of these tools within the business process and providing employee guidelines are all key to a smooth workflow and greater staff productivity.

Claus Mortensen, principal of emerging technology research practice group at IDC Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that there is a growing trend of companies using social media as part of their enterprise collaborations.

He reasoned that the whole idea behind social-based collaboration is that when implemented well, and when employers use it appropriately and support these tools, a company has an edge in terms of innovation and dynamism compared with a business that does not.

Toby Ward, president of Prescient Digital Media, an intranet consultancy firm, replied in an e-mail that social communication tools such as an intranet can greatly improve employee productivity by providing information faster and more efficiently. For instance, with social media profiles, staff can quickly locate colleagues by function or expertise. Wikis can also be a tremendous help for staff who want to collaborate faster and more effectively by sharing best practices or moving a product or service to market faster than in a traditional office, he added.

Ward remarked that in his experience of working with organizations, he has "yet to come across a single instance when an intranet or employee collaboration tool has hindered productivity". He also recommended that employers evaluate their staff based on goals and results, rather than fret over how much time they spend on a social collaboration tool.

Prescribed guidelines necessary
Yael Ravin, manager of collaboration and social computing at IBM, said the key to a successful workflow is the incorporation of social collaboration tools as an "integral part of the business process itself". Big Blue produces and sells its own social collaboration tools such as Lotus software including e-mail application, Lotus Notes, and instant messaging system, Lotus Sametime.

In an e-mail, Ravin referred to GenO, IMB's latest operational model for managing clients, which is a process incorporating a range of best practices from agile development to systematic asset reuse. She highlighted that the work is performed through online communities and that networking and collaboration tools enhance a sense of community as well as support the sharing of knowledge across geographies and time differences.

According to Ravin, GenO has been a remarkable success: project cycle time has been reduced by over 30 percent, defects dropped by more than 20 percent, asset reuse moved up 50 percent, and component costs lowered by 33 percent.

Stephen Forshaw, corporate communications director at Microsoft Asia-Pacific, also highlighted that communication and collaboration tools can increase productivity and efficiency in a workplace when used appropriately.

One example he brought up was Microsoft's Office Communicator, which employees use as an integrated platform for their communications. Forshaw explained that the platform shows which colleagues are online and if they available to speak to. In addition, Office Communicator allows employees to communicate via the internal instant messaging (IM) system and to attend conference calls or watch presentations through Live Meeting.

Forshaw replied that Microsoft has not formally measured the impact of social collaboration and communication tools on staff productivity, but stated that numerous employees utilize Office Communicator, which clearly demonstrates "the value our staff place on this tool".

British Telecommunications (BT) is another organization that uses social communication and collaboration tools. Its company spokesperson said in an e-mail that "social media platforms are where future conversations and decisions will be made", and stressed the importance of a workforce that can actively participate in collaboration and innovation with colleagues, customers, partners and suppliers.

While companies can reap the benefits of social collaboration, IDC's Mortensen cautioned that some issues cannot be overlooked, one of which is security. He added that such security is not limited to data protection, but also to image protection.

Mortensen gave an example of employees posting sensitive information on Facebook that they should not have, which can hurt the image of company.

Hence, although social media cannot be policed completely, Mortensen stressed that it is important organizations have clear guidelines on what staff can and cannot do on social media platforms.

Microsoft's Forshaw mentioned that the company does have guidelines to help its staff be aware of what information can be shared on public channels and what constitutes good etiquette and ethics.

Similarly, BT also has "proper rules and guidance in place on the use of social media tools" that are available on the company's intranet", said its spokesperson. He added that BT employers are free to embrace collaborative platforms as long as there is adherence to the prescribed guidelines. BT also actively monitors and logs all Internet traffic, he said.

Wanted: Social media know-how
As more companies turn to using social collaboration tools, human resource professionals like Brian Richards, who is head of Kelly IT Resources Singapore, have noted that employers today want to hire candidates not just with good communication and written skills, but who also have experience and exposure to social media. He added that employers also encourage staff to learn and use social media on top of their daily responsibilities.

James Carss, executive general manager of Hudson Hong Kong, concurred, stating that companies are becoming more sophisticated and savvy toward using social collaboration and networking tools. In some of the larger organizations, there can a specific individual or team tasked with updating things like blogs and Facebook accounts for the company, Carss said.

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