Is the Bring-Your-Own-Device movement now including bring-your-own-social tools? According to a new survey by Microsoft, enterprise social tools are now considered so helpful in the workplace that nearly a third of respondents said they would be willing to spend their own money on buying the right ones. 

The report, the "Microsoft Survey on Enterprise Social Use and Perceptions," was conducted by Ipsos for the company. It surveyed nearly 10,000 information workers between March and April in about three dozen countries. Each worker used a personal computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone for at least 75 percent of their job, at a company that employed at least 100.

Microsoft found that 40 percent of those surveyed said that social tools help to improve teamwork , while 39 percent felt there wasn’t enough collaboration in their workplaces.

Region, Industry Variations

But the perception of higher productivity varied by region. For instance, employees in Asia-Pacific countries were more likely to attribute increased productivity to social tools, followed by those in Europe or in Latin America. Latin American workers, however, were more likely to say that social tools increased collaboration.

In fact, enterprise social tools are used in a greater proportion, and with a greater frequency, by workers in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. Workers in North American and European companies, by contrast, have been slower to adopt such tools.

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Perceptions and use differ by industry as well. Regulated industries, such as financial services and government, were more likely to cite restrictions on enterprise social tools, with nearly three-quarters of employees in those industries pointing to security concerns.

Productive or Time-Waster?

A key question facing any company looking to adopt social tools is whether they will lead to more productivity or, instead, become just another way for workers to waste time chatting about non-work matters. Workers in retail, travel and hospitality industries, for example, cite productivity loss as a key reason why social tools at their companies are restricted.

The report also said that men were more likely than women to see social tools as leading to increased productivity. Women more often believe social tools are restricted at their companies because of productivity loss, while men are more likely to think restrictions are more commonly due to security issues.

Kur DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division, said in a statement that enterprise social can become “the driver of greater agility and transformation in the 21st century workplace,” just as email did in the 90s.

Cultural Change

Of course, Microsoft has a keen interest in seeing enterprise social tools becoming more widely established, given a growing suite of offerings that now include Yammer, Microsoft Office 365, Lync, Dynamics CRM and Skype. But, just as email’s potential for productivity improvements brought with it such time wasters as dealing with spam or a deluge of daily email, one hopes some research will be conducted into the potential time-wasting risks of enterprise social. As one example, some workers eschew social media at work because of the constant interruptions to their concentration.

A key question is whether enterprise social enables a “new way of working,” as Adam Pisoni, co-founder and now general manager of Yammer, contends in the announcement accompanying the survey’s release. Mobile devices, geographically dispersed workforces, the increasing amount of virtual communications and meetings, and the need to unlock knowledge and information within organizations lead to what Pisoni describes as “a world where the rules and software” given to employees are “increasingly inadequate for the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis.”

In this world, he notes, enterprise social tools are essential to maintain if not increase productivity, and, Pisoni said, a cultural change of “reinvention” is required that includes a strategy tuned to an organization’s needs.