Social Business: Does Collaboration Bring ProductivityDid you know that over the last nine years, for the first time, U.S. worker productivity has fallen?

A recent blog post by John Cassidy in the New Yorker called “What Happened to the Internet Productivity Miracle?" cites a U.S. Department of labor graph which shows this phenomena (Figure 1). According to the same New Yorker article, productivity growth has fallen since the start of 2005 to levels seen before the Web was commercialized and before smart phones were invented.

us productivity

Figure 1: Showing U.S. productivity trailing off since 2004

During the eight years from 2005 to 2012, output per hour expanded at an annual rate of just 1.5 percent -- the same as it grew between 1973 and 1996. More recently, productivity growth has been lower still. In 2011, output per hour rose by a mere 0.6 percent, according to the latest update from the Labor Department, and last year there was more of the same: an increase of just 0.7 percent. In the last quarter of 2012, output per hour actually fell, at an annual rate of 1.9 percent. Americans got less productive -- or so the figures said.

Here is my attempt at explaining this phenomenon: during the time when productivity was at its lowest (1.4%) -- 2007-2009 -- most companies were not hiring. Through attrition or other means fewer and fewer people had to do more and more work … so no wonder their productivity was down!

How Does Collaboration Fit In?

So how do these productivity challenges fit with collaboration? Some of the data from a recent study we did of 200 users of social/collaboration tools shows that bringing social tools into the enterprise does not automatically mean they will increase productivity.

Andy Hutchins, director of content and collaboration at Avanade UK had this to say about consumer social media platforms in the enterprise:

But a key point here is in the capabilities of these technologies,” he said. “Certainly Facebook and Twitter aren’t integrating with wider collaboration activities. They’re not integrating with documents, with organizational data, with the communications and directory services of an organization. So you’re not really connecting to bring an organization together and connect its people and work with real data.”

Another recent article by Dr. Charles Law called “Do Collaboration Tools Boost Workplace Communication?" looks at the use of e-mail, IM/chat and video conferencing in the workplace. From his research he said:

But should organizations continue to rely on text-based, asynchronous communication when research overwhelmingly indicates that there are better options? Clearly, there are better ways to communicate and collaborate if organizations are willing to evolve and adapt, and it is likely that successful organizations will do so.”

One idea I would like to put forward here is that there is no either/or, but that both enterprise-oriented and consumer-oriented social and collaboration tools are evolving in parallel. This explains much of the confusion around “what tools should I pick?” that I often run into when working with end-user organizations. I also propose the idea that productivity is the ability to do work processes better.

How Collaboration is Changing Enterprise Processes

In a recent study we did on both collaboration vendor and end-users, we found that about 60% of management (as opposed to 10% in 2009) were aware of social tools and aware of their benefits.

But this implies the question (not asked in the survey) -- do they really know what they are getting into? My guess is not. Let’s take a look at this in view of critical processes for the enterprise.

In the 80’s it was about creating processes (often from chaos, or no prior process); in the 90’s it was more about refining and optimizing processes (which also included ways to remove people and social from the process). As the Internet came into being around 1995, we started to see a focus on content (web pages), but by 2005 we began to see the second order effect kick in (that the Internet was good for connecting people, not just viewing content) which became the rapid rise of consumer social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

As these social consumer products became more popular (Facebook has over 1.2 Billion members) they began to exert influence on the enterprise, and we saw the beginning of BYOD and BYOA (Bring Your Own Device and Bring Your Own Application) in the enterprise which often happened over the objections of IT who was still trying to stick to the optimized process model. I think ultimately we will see BYOP (Bring Your Own Process).

At this point (2010-2015) we are seeing the parallel development of social networks moving into the enterprise and the enterprise trying to socialize more of its critical processes. Some of the pressure for this came from the push to bring social networks into the enterprise in a safe and secure manner.

But as these social networks or communities began to grow and mature in the enterprise, some of them became department-oriented, some became best practice-oriented, some learning-oriented and others began to focus on process. A good example is online communities in the HR department, where you find discussions on how to find and hire new talent, and how rapidly the hiring process was changing from resume-based, to interactive problem-based scenarios (in which the candidate when presented with a problem by the interview, and has to show how to solve the problem, or was given time to solve it and then explain).

A Sample Collaboration Process

In the war for talent -- as one example of a process in the enterprise that is changing radically and rapidly -- hiring can occur from start to finish in a few days rather than weeks or months. The screening processes by HR are now more social and more rapid, and the hiring manager and team process a short list of available candidates through virtual interactions.

evolution of processes

Figure 2: Parallel of Evolution of Processes in the Enterprise

I recently attended the UTR (Under the Radar) conference in San Francisco. There was a session on “Back office” which had three HR people from: Mashery (just bought by Intel), Target (the big-box retailer) and Box as judges. Many of the applications these start-ups showed were HR-oriented. Entelo, GoodRevu, happiily and TrueAbility looked at better ways of doing standard enterprise processes with various social twists.

Happiily looks at employee optimization, work/life balance and providing anonymous feedback for meetings, TrueAbility assesses a job candidate's technical skills from anywhere in the world in a live cloud environment so companies hire only the best technical talent. GoodRevu updates the greatly outdated employee performance reports, and Entelo is a software platform that helps companies find high-quality engineers, designers and product specialists. At the heart of Entelo is a patent-pending algorithm that identifies the optimal time to reach out to a candidate based on 70+ variables that are leading indicators of an upcoming career change, the idea being to spot these critical resources before they come on the market.

All of these tools make these HR processes more social and more effective. We see this as the leading edge of a trend that has been going on for the last two years, which many have called “The Social Enterprise” but I think the outcome will be that many of the traditional enterprise processes will be totally subsumed by these new social and more effective processes, and only then will we have the “Socialized Enterprise.”


We can see there is a strong tie between collaboration, processes and productivity. Although there is no “Facebook for the enterprise” we are starting to see social tools being applied to specific, critical and painful processes (like finding and keeping top talent). I expect to see more and more of these process-specific tools being adopted by the enterprise, but the question remains, will we show a concurrent increase in productivity?

Title image courtesy of simonalvinge (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of David's thoughts on social HR in 2013 Collaboration Predictions: HR Collaboration Tools, 3D Printing