Your personal network, your social network(s), your corporate network, your neural network … you can’t swing a cat these days without hitting a network (Note: no cats were harmed in the writing of this column). And then Microsoft uses the phrase “work like a network.” What’s the big deal?

To me, “Work Like a Network” is the basis of fundamental communication and sociology of the workplace -- not rocket science. It’s marketing spin, just like “BYOD” and “consumerization of IT” and “Mentos: The Freshmaker.” But there’s a slight twist that Microsoft brings, and it’s an important one.

As others pointed out months ago, “work like a network” is essentially Microsoft putting lipstick on “enterprise social.” And Gartner recently reported the “social enterprise” is heading to the trough of the Hype Cycle.

Are people throwing out the whole idea of “enterprise social” with the bathwater? If so, that’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot of opportunity contained in the ability to operate as a network. By some accounts, when “enterprise social” was implemented, it was people throwing tools at a problem and expecting a magical productivity transformation.

The flaw, of course, was the implementation -- not necessarily the tools themselves.

With "Work Like a Network," people become the most valuable nodes of the network. More important, we now have a chance to implement not only the tools but the change management processes and planning that are imperative when people are involved in the equation. By focusing on the users’ needs we can work like a network in the best possible way.

If working like a network means leveraging technology to improve people’s connections to other people and information to help them “see what’s happening, adapt and make better decisions and grow their business,” then you have to not only provide the right technology -- whether it’s Microsoft Office 365, Yammer, Jive, etc. -- but also do the following:

  1. Understand the people who use this technology
  2. Design easy to use solutions that allow them to work like a network
  3. Enable the network via a right sized adoption approach, or “customer experience management”

Understand the People

The enterprise technologies of old didn’t care who used them -- the expectation was that users would learn to do it “my way or the highway” style. That doesn’t fly any more. Users know better. They want and expect technology to make it easy.