This post was originally found on my business blog and has been reposted here in May 2015.
On Thursday 16th March, Manchester’s CIPD Branch held a fantastic event #SocialHRMcr at Lancashire County Cricket Club. Many HR professionals and other interested folk gathered together to discuss the use of social media in the workplace.
An innovative combination of conference and unconference, it was great to not only listen to some of the leaders in the exciting world of social HR, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to share my love of social whilst participating in the lively discussions that followed.
Weapon of Mass Inclusion
One of the key moments in the conference for me was @PerryTimms declaring Social Media as the “weapon of mass inclusion”.
I completely agree. The accessibility and inclusiveness of social media and social technology is one of the reasons I believe it has so much power to bring about change and why I believe we should adopt a social mindset in the workplace.
Social media has no boundaries. You can access it anywhere you have an internet or mobile data connection. Now you may argue this in itself makes it inaccessible whilst many people worldwide remain unable to get connected, but compared to more traditional forms of communication, social media is bringing people together like never before. This is particularly true for the developing world, where traditional infrastructure can be limited, yet mobile phones are relatively common.
Since I was about 13, I have had a pen-pal from Uganda called Bonny. We were initially put in touch through our schools, writing letters every few months that took weeks to get to each other and were long out of date by the time they arrived. We lost touch after a few years and I thought I would never hear from him again. Until social media came along and we found each other on Facebook. Now we regularly log on and chat in real time, separated by thousands of miles but connected by our mobile phones. This real life example shows how social media can bring the developing and developed world together. Our world has never been so small.
In terms of how this relates to the social workplace, your workforce can now collaborate globally at a level which has never previously been possible. Through social-driven tools like SharePoint or Google Drive, teams spread across geographies can work simultaneously on the same document without having to worry about integrating their changes later. Your manager in India can watch a presentation taking place thousands of miles away in your United States office over Google Hangouts or Skype. Your sales force in Australia can share best practice with sales reps in the UK through your Chatter or Yammer network. Teams no longer have to work in isolation. Their new ability to share ideas, knowledge and experience across boundaries can benefit your company in a multitude of ways. From cost savings and less wasted time travelling to meetings, through to an improved ability to innovate and learn, social workplaces are better workplaces.
The excluded are included – social media allows those who may normally struggle to engage to participate fully
Individuals who may be housebound by illness or disability can often gain huge amounts of support and comfort from interacting online. The mental health charity Mind runs an online community called Elefriends. This brings together people with shared experience of mental ill health to provide peer support, which can help alleviate distress and allow people to find ways to cope with their illness.
To apply this to a social HR context, whereas some employees may struggle to attend traditional classroom-based training (remote workers, employees with a disability, part-time workers), social learning on their mobiles via youtube, yammer or twitter could be a more accessible option which will fit around existing schedules and work with accessible technology. Often classic e-learning is inaccessible to those using screen-readers or similar technology, but social media tools are often very simple to use and designed to be accessed across various platforms, many of which work seamlessly with accessible technology.
Another application may be helping one of your staff on maternity leave to stay in touch with her colleagues via the company yammer network. Popping online occasionally whilst she is off could allow her to feel less out of the loop when she returns and will help her to keep her knowledge and skills up to date. Keep-in-touch days without the worry of childcare!
Content above Status
Perhaps one of the greatest things about social media is it gives everyone equal right to have a say. On social media, no one cares if you are the CEO or the cleaner – it is what you say that matters, not who you are. Everyone has the power to go viral. Anyone can prove themselves an expert and those who try to fake it usually get found out.
Just like Tripadvisor has given power to customers, Glassdoor is giving employees power and a voice to share what it is really like to work in your organisation. You can choose to ignore this trend and risk potential employees knowing just how bad it is to work for you or you can embrace it and use social media to develop your company brand and to entice potential employees to join.
Enterprise social networks can also flatten hierarchies, allowing employees an opportunity to interact with people at all levels in an organisation. For new staff this can be a great way to develop your network and make contacts within the organisation. Sharing your expertise with others can help you to build your reputation and you can benefit from learning from more experienced staff.
For leadership, this presents an opportunity to interact with staff you wouldn’t normally get to meet. This can open your eyes to the realities faced by your employees and allow them to share their ideas for improving the company. You can also demonstrate the company’s values by acting authentically within a social workplace. Instead of sending out dry corporate communications, you can allow employees to get to know the real you. As Ryan Cheyne from Pets at Home pointed out at the event – talking about SPAM on social media creates a level of authenticity that he can never show through the annual store visit. He is able to connect with employees on a whole new level.
Embrace the weapon
You may think that social media involves technology so this change belongs to CIO, not HR. However, social HR isn’t really about the tech. It’s about your people.
By embracing social technology within your workplace, you can allow your employees to feel more connected, help your employees to learn and you can give them a voice. This has the potential to change your company culture and increase employee engagement, two areas that many HR professionals think about every day.
Embrace this weapon and reap the benefits. This change belongs to you.