Cats, holidays, children, craft beer, more cats .... 

The number of non-work related topics posted on workplace enterprise social media can boggle the mind, leading management to view enterprise social as a time waster, the long lunch of the digital workplace. 

But enterprise social serves a purpose and can help boost productivity.

Enterprise Social Tool Adoption

Enterprise social is often the elephant in the room when it comes to the rollout of digital tools. We know it's there, but we often (at a senior level) don't acknowledge it. We're not entirely sure what to do with it. 

While we acknowledge the purpose social plays in our personal lives, we can't assign social tools a clear role in the corporate environment — and certainly not one that directly links to performance.

I have seen some great successes following the adoption of enterprise social. Crowdsourcing of problems, an interface for technology departments, storytelling. Yet these are typically overshadowed by social chat. And not just one or two isolated conversations, but entire groups devoted to pets. 

Guess which posts are likely to trend highest? Yep, you guessed it: those about pets. The CEO may even struggle to break the top 10.

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether this is a problem. Should we ban personal posts in order to raise the profile of the CEO's posts and link the tools more directly to productivity, or should the CEO try harder to produce a message that connects with the workforce?

A Little About 'Digital Productivity'

'Digital productivity' will mean different things to different people, but I think of it as being responsive to the needs of working outside of the confines of a central office. It goes beyond having a flexible and connected workforce, to developing the proficiency to respond quickly, to think beyond the immediate task at hand. 

We respond quickly by using three key elements at our disposal: networks, digital tools and locations (co-working spaces, cafes, trains). By optimizing these three elements, we start to using our digital workplaces to increase productivity. 

This requires a shift in what was considered the 'traditional' work day. In this case, how and when we respond is entirely up to us, as long as we can access the resources we need to respond as required. 

And that's where our enterprise social comes into its own. Enterprise social helps build the networks that extend our presence throughout the business, connecting us to answers, experiences, more people and artifacts.

Building Networks from Small Roots

A digital network doesn't build itself (unless you are the CEO). Networking starts with a conversation, and not always in the context of work. 

I've built my professional network in places such as windswept cliffs after meeting fellow hikers with shared work interests. We come together over something that connects us, which in this case was hiking, but then moved the conversation beyond. Maybe you and another colleague both have a cat named Ken: it's a connection, a place to start a conversation.

Throwing your hat into the ring of enterprise social can be intimidating. Asking for help, admitting you don't know how to do something, isn't behavior businesses traditionally encouraged. 

Learning Opportunities

Yet asking for help is the essence of digital productivity — it's responding and acting upon needs. Even just writing about a conference you attended on the social platform can be daunting as you'll expose yourself to the wider organization.

Overcoming Traditional Expectations of How We Work

In a survey conducted by Polycom, 62 percent of workers worried they weren't perceived as hard-working when working outside of the office. Stereotypes likes these must be broken. They blunt digital productivity, as a digital workplace's purpose is to connect us from wherever we are.

So we start small, setting simple expectations of how to use our digital platforms. We start with something we are comfortable with. It's human nature to begin a conversation with something relatable, whether it be pets, a joke, the weather (if you're British) or a shared non-work problem.

In these seemingly frivolous conversations, we are building digital confidence and a feeling of safety and competence in digital workplace tools. This is something that can't be forced, and for the majority of the workforce, needs to develop organically. 

Having a safe place to tell stories, to share and interact is the starting point. Like any program of culture change, starting small and with a grassroots approach is the most sustainable way of building change. Allowing people to chat, using the tools to connect to other humans, is a simple and effective way.

Build Comfort, Then Introduce Business Processes

When that digital confidence is established, now is the time to bring in business process. Make this familiar environment a place of recognizable work. 

Whether it's workflow, crowdsourcing, project groups or communities of practice, the chances of success are greater than launching them at the start with zero users. We already have relationships formed. We can now use this network more formally.

Using tools, such as network analysis, will also help understand the nature of these relationships, identifying the strengths and weaknesses we can build upon. Knowing what makes strong networks thrive will help us nurture the ones we are keen to develop. Understanding the nature of these networks helps us learn what real communities are forming, unlocking more knowledge that previously may not have surfaced, exposing weaknesses in our systems.

Unlock the Digital Network, Unlock Productivity

Creating confidence, building networks and gaining familiarity with the digital toolset are the most effective elements to begin with if you want to unlock digital productivity. 

So let people chat. Give them the freedom to experiment and become familiar with new ways of making connections. Being comfortable with having a visible digital presence is fundamental if we expect people to respond quickly.

The long-term aim is to change habits. Break the mindset that we should be "on" at all times when working outside of the office. But when we do respond, we can do so unashamedly of where we are, using the resources at hand and with the support of our network. Unlock the digital network and you release the power of digital productivity. All thanks to a cat named Ken.

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