Rita Zonius Digital Workplace Leader series

Rita Zonius had witnessed the evolution of digital workplace technologies and the accompanying shifts in users’ perceptions of those tools. "Back in the day, it wasn’t easy to encourage people to let go of their siloed repositories of information," she said. "With each step in the evolution of the intranet, people became more comfortable ‘letting go’ and trusting the tool being put in place. But it took a long time to get there."

Zonius is currently director of The Enterprise Social Engineer, a consultancy she set up in 2017, which aims to help organizations and their employees embrace enterprise social networks (ESNs) and other digital tools. She previously spent 18 years at financial services organization Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ).

As head of ANZ’s Internal Digital Communications team, Zonius introduced the organization’s first ESN. She found her background and skills in corporate communications to be helpful in enabling the organization to make the most of social technologies and “get real work done beyond the low-hanging fruit of simple communications and engagement.”

Today’s Turning Point

For Zonius, the current situation many organizations face is one where they want to work in more social ways, but they don’t know how to achieve that goal. Organizations need to concentrate on the business outcomes and not get “seduced by vendors who promise the world” into focusing too heavily on technologies, which may mean they “find themselves with a suboptimal outcome.”

Companies also need to recognize the importance of ESNs and “existing trusted repositories” like intranets co-existing. “Social technologies are not a replacement for intranets, but can help supercharge their effectiveness,” she said.

Zonius will be speaking at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 18 to 20 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. She will give a session on June 18 titled “How to Find and Build Your Enterprise Social Muscles.”

We spoke with Zonius about her thoughts on the ongoing evolution of digital workplace tools and the primary misconceptions organizations have about intranets and ESNs. She also shared advice about how to re-energize a stalled digital workplace project and how companies can encourage reluctant users to take a more active role on social networks.

Using Intranets and ESNs Is an ‘Evolution’

CMSWire: How do you expect intranets and ESNs to evolve and how should companies strategize to ensure that they can take advantage of these shifts?

Zonius: In the same way organizations have focused on getting their customer experience right, we’re going to see more companies invest in their digital workplace as they look to create a more seamless experience for their people.

There’s also a realization that, while we’re in the digital age, the future of work is increasingly about people connecting with people to get things done across business and organizational borders, in a more community-oriented way.

Organizations need to tackle both of these challenges — creating a connected experience for their people in a digital workplace and then equipping people with the skills they need to work more confidently up, down, across and outside of their organizations in a more visible, social way.

CMSWire: In your opinion, what are organizations’ primary misconceptions about intranets and ESNs and how can they overcome those fears?

Zonius: Intranets have landed as a standard tool of trade in most organizations and the challenge appears to be around ongoing investment. Social is still fairly new on the scene and so there’s a fear in organizations that their people will waste time using social tools or they’ll do the wrong thing and land themselves in hot water. This is particularly the case in regulated industries.

But the struggle doesn’t start and finish there. It’s along the entire journey, from choosing the right tool to meet business needs to having a strong change plan in place to ensure the tools are welcomed by people who know why the tools exist and how to use them.

Getting leaders on board to demonstrate a commitment to a new and different way of working is also a real challenge, with some leaders fearful of what could happen to their standing if, all of a sudden, the answers to questions could come from anywhere in the organization, and not just from the top.

The challenges are mainly in the space of people and culture. People don’t like change, unless they can understand how the change will benefit them personally.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for companies who embarked on an intranet or ESN rollout with a great flourish only to later find the effort stalled?

Zonius: There are typically common reasons why these projects fail. It could be a lack of senior sponsorship or a clear business purpose or a ‘launch and leave’ approach was taken. By this, I mean a big fanfare at launch time and then no follow-through to help embed the tools.

It’s a case of pinpointing where things went off the rails and putting in place plans to overcome those issues. Using intranets and ESNs is an evolution and we learn new lessons the further we immerse ourselves in the digital world. It’s possible to bounce back, so companies shouldn’t feel as if they have a hopeless case on their hands after one failed intranet or ESN experiment. 

CMSWire: How can companies encourage not very social employees to participate and actively use social tools?

Zonius: When I talk to people who aren’t social at all or who aren’t very active, they tell me several things: they think it’s a waste of time to be social; they don’t understand the point of working in a more visible way; and they don’t know how to use social tools. Often people shy away from being social because they’re scared to do so.

The key is to make it easy for reluctant people to learn to be confident users of social channels in small steps. This includes explaining the personal and business benefits of working out loud and helping people work out the subject matter areas they want to focus on, including who to follow and engage with. If people have a desire to learn to be social, with a bit of planning, they can become active participants quite quickly.

CMSWire: Who should lead an intranet or ESN project and which departments or groups should have primary responsibility for the project over the long term?

Zonius: I believe the introduction and embedding of intranets and ESNs is a whole business effort, particularly at launch but also over the long-term. The communications team may take the lead, for example, but should involve other parts of the organization to ensure business needs are covered and any risks to the company are managed and mitigated. And of course, you want endorsement from the top of your organization too. Without senior leadership support, it will be a hard slog to get people interested and using your tools.

Ideally, the tools would sit independently within the organization with a mandate to improve the staff experience, agnostic of any particular business area so there’s no temptation to play favorites. Typically, though, I’ve seen intranets and ESNs sit with communications teams in organizations. That’s OK, provided the communications people don’t get bogged down in driving these tools forward solely from a news and communications perspective.

Intranets and ESNs are there to help make work easier for our people, so find a team passionate about that agenda and appoint them to get on with it.

CMSWire: You’re also a fitness instructor focused on helping people get stronger through weight training. What parallels do you see between working out in gym classes and companies developing their enterprise social muscles?

Zonius: The hardest part about learning to be social and going to the gym is taking the first step. In the gym, I help new participants to set up their equipment and I show them a couple of key moves with the barbell and weights, so that when we start the class, they can quickly get the hang of what’s going on.

I take time to check in with new people at the end of a class to see how they’re feeling and perhaps help them correct their technique if necessary. Of course, I always ask them to return to my class, because it’s getting into a habit of regular exercise that will help people feel fitter and healthier.

Encouraging people to become social is no different. Anyone leading these initiatives inside their organizations should focus on helping people become confident users of social tools in bite-sized steps. No one turns into an athlete overnight and no one becomes a social media super user in a flash either. Encourage people to give it a go and make it easy for them to do so. Once you learn to be social, there’s no going back to old ways of working. 

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here.