Remember when Social Capital was cool back in the mid-90s at the same time Knowledge Management (KM) was in fashion? Remember when we decided to kill both just a few years later, as we purposely defaulted to focus, almost exclusively, on business processes and technology, leaving behind the people component from the good old KM pyramid: People, Process and Technology? Well, what comes around, goes around… Fast forward to 2020 and social capital came back with a vengeance, except that, once again, we were fooled by yet another false narrative: ‘you can’t build social capital unless you are at the office. So time to get back to work!‘
So, I guess it’s time to debunk another myth about the office vs. remote / distributed work. This one in particular is perhaps a bit more poignant in itself, because it reaffirms the corporate amnesia we seem to have been suffering from over the last few years and how easy certain people seem to forget some things, specially, when those might present a threat to their power, influence, status AND incentives.
Over the course of the last couple of years we have heard / read about numerous senior leaders within large corporations who have claimed, all along, and since the start of the pandemic, how the sudden move towards embracing and adapting to working away from the office, either remotely or distributedly, has clearly damaged our innate ability to build our social capital skills via proximity. To the point where the impact may well be irreparable. Oh dear, where do we start with this one?
The glue that holds organizations together is not necessarily the physical office space, but it is the strength, resilience and inter-connectedness of the network of employees. Design your reopening strategy around them.https://t.co/3tECWMUkCd#rto #returntooffice #hybridwork
— Valdis Krebs 🌻 (@ValdisKrebs)
Valdis himself published a white paper, back in 2008, with a rather suggestive title: ’Social Capital: the Key to Success for the 21st Century Organisation’ that would help everyone understand the key value AND need to build one’s social capital skills at the workplace, but it doesn’t necessarily mean all of that needs to happen in the context of being at the office. In fact, with the emergence of social, digital tools over the last couple of decades, specially, Enterprise Social Networking Tools, a.k.a. ESNs, nurturing, building and sustaining our social capital doesn’t necessarily need to happen just at the office. Actually, it can happen anywhere and everywhere!
Back in early 2006, I wrote a couple of blog posts in which I referenced, for the first time, social tools, specially, blogs, as the virtual water cooler. At the time, more and more of these emergent social, digital tools started to take the corporate world by storm to eventually complement quite nicely what was happening at the office, but on a global scale in which you could start a conversation with anyone, everywhere, any time. Remember the good old Enterprise 2.0? That was 16 years ago!
As you can see, building your social capital skills is not new. Despite what certain groups of people may be telling you, it was not invented as a result of the pandemic from the last couple of years. And it’s definitely something that doesn’t happen only within the four physical walls of the traditional office. Why do we still buy that false narrative from senior leaders as, yet again, another, rather desperate, persuasive mandate to return to the office, so we can resume our social capital, through on-site conversations, after this unfortunate short interim? That still beats me, frankly, but then again, it shouldn’t. I know. We all know. It’s just a matter of asking, out loud, a simple question:
‘As a (senior) leader within your organisation, where have you been over the last 16 years, when ESNs came into the workplace, showcasing how conversations have become not just the new documents, but also how we got work done, how we learned to relate, connect and share with one another, while away from the traditional office? Where were you then?‘
Pause for a minute. Add some more drama. Then watch and listen to their answers, before you can move on. It is not too late though. You see? The reality is that we have got plenty of time ahead of us to embark on that bandwagon that keeps returning over and over again. Despite of what you may have heard, or read, ESNs are not going away any time soon. And if there is anything we have learned throughout the pandemic, as the key accelerator it has become, is that these brave new conditions under which we are now operating applying plenty of #DigitalFirst mindflex are not going away. Quite the contrary. So how can we still make the most out of them eventually now that we all know working distributedly is here to stay for good as the new-normal?
If you have been following this blog for a good while now, you would remember how I have already written about ESNs and their business value / potential a good number of different times over the course of the last 16 years and counting. But this time around I am going to do something different for you. I’d like to point you to a couple of fantastic articles published by three of my favourite people, who not only have written about this topic for well over a decade, but they have also walked the talk extensively helping their organisations make the most out of ESNs, not just as the virtual water cooler, but also where work happens… Even more so nowadays … A decade plus on…
Take a look into ‘What is the value of Enterprise Social Network for a Leader?’ (Read the German version here) and also ’The power of digital collaboration networks’ by Harald Schirmer (Continental). Both of those superb articles would also be rather appropriate for managers and (senior) leaders to dive into and explore more about what they have been missing over the course of these last 16 years till today, if they haven’t gotten started embracing and adapting to ESNs just yet. Highly recommended reads for sure!
Then take a good look into this fantastic article published by Rainer Gimbel (Evonik) on ‘Our Enterprise Social Network – A Story about Bees, Trees and Networks’ to help you test the waters to then confirm they are actually lovely. Read the article and you will see what I mean with regards to ESNs as the ultimate social capital builder, i.e. the glue, within (and outside!) organisations, regardless of place, location, time zone, business unit, job roles, hierarchical structures and what not. It’s the hive.
And, finally, if you find yourself a bit lost and somewhat confused with the proliferation of different collaborative tools within the digital workplace, perhaps not knowing where to start, here’s another excellent read to help you understand better and position each and everyone of them with regards to ESNs. They are not the same and you should be able to tell the difference. This particular piece is coming from Bernd Siewert (Vitesco Technologies): ‘Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Yammer, Connections and what you didn’t know about it’. It will help you gain more clarity in terms of identifying what is what and what you can do with each and everyone of these social, collaborative tools.
All of those blog posts I have referenced above from my good friends Harald, Rainer and Bernd are quite rich and meaty on their own. I know. They need to be. They are an essential read to get you started. But they are also fit for another purpose. That of busting another myth with regards to remote / distributed work and social capital. Yes, you certainly can nurture, build and sustain, over the years, your social capital skills through making the most out of ESNs at the workplace. One conversation at a time. Anywhere and everywhere. Whenever.
PS. Oooh, and in case you may be wondering about the robustness of building your social capital through social, digital tools, vs. just while at the office, I’d like to add a short addenda: I have known Harald, Rainer and Bernd for well over a decade. I have only met Rainer face to face a couple of times throughout all of that time. I have yet to meet in person both Harald and Bernd. But, you know what? I trust all three of them dearly, because of the conversations, the sharing of stories we could all relate to, the learnings, the interactions, etc. etc. that we’ve had online through various social tools throughout all of those years, together with other 2.0 advocates / believers and hard-core practitioners I’ll be writing about plenty more over time, I am sure.
We are still going rather strong, in case you were wondering about where we were all hiding. We weren’t. We aren’t. We are still right here, waiting for everyone else to jump on board, once again, the 2.0 bandwagon before we depart one last? time into this brave new world of distributed work …