(Social) Evolution of Work, social enterprise, social business

When it comes to social technologies in the workplace, there are two major drivers that suggest social (at least the way it is done today) can’t scale: intimacy and stress. As I predicted last year, companies are finally realizing that they need to embrace social in order to stay competitive. Under the headline "Make Work Sucks Less", I highlighted that 2013 will be the year for social to become mainstream and, at least from our perspective, we see the commercial impact of that already. The untold story behind that success is that we are going beyond the activity stream to make it work.  

Social Kills the Dinner Party

Think of a dinner party, when a couple of people find themselves in the kitchen talking all night about great ideas, the future of humankind, or how the Cubs will one day win the World Series. There is an intimacy that goes beyond the conversation. Those are the moments when new friendships form and visions are born.

Now imagine the whole party takes place in the kitchen. The intimacy is gone and the kitchen turns into a very noisy place. This is exactly what happens if you reduce social collaboration to an activity feed. Many people talk at the same time and it turns the workplace into a very noisy place. Sounds a lot like your inbox, right?

Noise Adds Stress, Doesn't it?

Unfortunately, the noise is not the only negative impact, if you treat social just as a new inbox with lots and lots of messages piling up. With the increased number of messages, we also see an increased stress level. A recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison reveals an interesting result. The researcher discovered that it’s not just the actual stress that is bad for you, but how you perceive stress has a major impact on you. According to the research, those who have stress and perceive it as a negative thing have a 43% increased risk of a premature death. Those who didn't see stress as negative, had no increased risk -- even if they had the same level of stress.

Social Creates Resilience to Stress

In an inspiring TED Talk in Edinborough, Kelly McGonigal said: “The harmful effects of stress on health are not inevitable. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.” Based on a recent study by the University at Buffalo, giving to others has profound positive impacts on how stress affects your health. There are no indications that this cannot be applied to the workplace; in fact, we know that engaged employees are more productive and more innovative. What if those employees who care for the business and their co-workers are also able to apply their positive, supportive approach to turn stress into something positive?

Make Social Real

For a couple of years, we talked about the transformative impact of social on the way we work. Yet, we still make the same mistakes. Reducing social to a new inbox is surely a way to drive short-term adoption of enterprise social, but if the above research holds true in the workplace, we should not stop there. The evolution of work is far from over -- and I really believe the potential to increase human productivity is not a new inbox, but unlocking the emotional power of our people.

Image courtesy of Kevin Renes (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Another great read for you to enjoy -- (R)Evolution: The Past, Present and Future of the Social Enterprise.