The Elephant in the Room: Evolving Work Styles
With all that has been studied, written about, developed and tweaked in the area of the social enterprise, why are some of the world's leading organizations still struggling with their social initiatives? Is there something that all of the pundits are missing?

The answer is the elephant in the room. We can discuss solutions until we’re blue in the face, but the answer lies within the evolving dynamics of work styles that we’re seeing across the board at business and enterprises.

Evolving Work Style Dynamics

Plenty of large organizations have told me that they haven't yet adapted their social solutions to the shifting consumption and interaction patterns of content. What’s driving that is the continued mobile boom and BYOD trend, which have created our 24/7/365 work culture. These evolving work style dynamics have a ripple effect on the success of the applications, devices and content that organizations make available to their employees.

Changing Consumption Patterns

In most organizations, professionals are increasingly mobile, enjoying new freedoms thanks to their mobile devices and extensive wireless infrastructure worldwide. Along with these freedoms and multiple access and consumption options, professionals can choose which devices they use, when they use them and what types of tasks they engage in when they use these devices. Whether it’s corporate email access or corporate portal access, third party cloud services, or Facebook and LinkedIn -- professionals are looking to stay on top of their work-life with their devices.

Full Plate Syndrome

Professionals deal with a constant stream of information and tasks. The changing organizational dynamics leave very little time to focus during the workday to perform even the most essential of their job tasks. Given the business challenges of the last few years, many professionals are struggling to keep up with growing responsibilities for their organization, without commensurate team growth. They have a "full plate." In fact, most enterprises today are something of a three-ring circus.

In this environment, savvy, well-trained and disciplined individuals triage their time between essential activities and optional activities, prioritizing tasks such as: checking for critical email and phone messages, preparing for the next meeting, collaborating on priority, deadline driven projects, and/or interacting with mission critical LOB applications that are part of their daily workflow.

If they're lucky, they'll get through everything on their plate, but they have little time to engage in enterprise social networking, consuming information from the corporate portal or anything else new that comes in on optional communication channels. When it comes to using these latter systems, they have a "mindshare deficit" -- an inability to even contemplate where to go for this sort of interaction, let alone why they'd want to go there.

For the IT/Communications/HR person trying to get people to engage with these other mediums as part of their day-to-day workflows, this can be a steep challenge -- but not insurmountable.

Learning Opportunities

Casual Computing

Most good employees are constrained in their time available, and are thus less likely to engage in optional computing behaviors during normal work hours. These same people, however, are often mobile-enabled and able to consume and/or interact with information and people when they’re not at the office. In fact, they are likely already doing their optional computing while standing in line for coffee, commuting on the bus, waiting in line at the airport or waiting for a meeting to start.

Professionals are more likely to participate in social networks -- enterprise or otherwise -- during times when they are "casually computing" on a mobile device somewhere, not sitting at their desk in the office. This also applies to enterprise portal (and other social) content interaction, requiring a shift in thinking on the part of content producers and social network moderators as to the consumptive behaviors they should be designing for and managing on a regular basis.

Training the Elephant

Recognizing these consumption patterns leads to these best practices:

  • Strategize -- Take a holistic look at your people, systems and organizational dynamics and develop a strategy to affect your “impact space” relative to your business goals and work style dynamics.
  • Develop smarter -- Make internal sites responsive according to those devices that professionals use. Whether you have a corporate mandate about devices or you need to be flexible for BYOD, you will reduce the barriers to use when you develop with the users in mind.
  • Educate -- Your employees need to incorporate enterprise social networking behaviors into their lives. This means educating them about what sites and resources are available, and how to access them. It also means encouraging and even giving incentives to do so. Once they’ve made the shift in their consumption patterns, it will come more naturally.

It’s a must that organizations consider today’s evolving work style dynamics in their social and information worker capability strategies -- whether it’s an intranet, portal, or corporate app. With a balanced assessment of: current (and anticipated future) consumption patterns of the work force; the degree to which the “Full-Plate Syndrome” impacts different parts of the work force; and casual computing behaviors, you gain a better chance of solving the business challenge.After all, it’s just an elephant. With that addressed, you can focus on another part of the circus of your workplace.

Title image by joyfull (Shutterstock)