This post was guest-authored by Andrew Pope, Partner & Consultant at Innosis.
A common question: what does success look like in digital workplaces? My answer is always ‘it depends on your goals’. I’m not being facetious, I’m just making it simple. If we don’t know what we want, we can’t measure it.
With one exception. There is one success measure we don’t need to calculate. Trust. If we have this as a fundamental value, we will be on the right track. Trust underpins everything that makes digital workforces thrive, but unfortunately there are barriers to making our digital workplaces trusted.
Here are a number of steps that we can take to remove those barriers and build trust as a cornerstone of our digital workplaces.
“It’s like Facebook for work – that really helps me use these tools” Said nobody, ever. It’s not. And here lies the first barrier: we apply the fears we hold about social networking to the workplace. Social collaboration tools and collaborative digital working are all about working together on business problems or having conversations about things that matter in the workplace. However, for some of us – including leaders – it seems that the first blocker to using the tools are the tools themselves. The word ‘social’ can create false expectations on what we should be doing.
Permission to use tools comes in two ways: tacit and explicit, and it’s important to understand why we need the two types. Tacit permission comes via leaders using the tools, making them an everyday place of work. Most importantly they are listening: responding to our contribution. This is vital on open enterprise social networks (ESNs), where knowing that these are legitimate and trusted places of work. That they want to hear from us.
Explicit permission starts with guidance and purpose – saying why and how we should be using these tools. Making it obvious that these are places of work through purpose. Such permission is more suited to team and productivity tools such as Microsoft Teams. But making it clear that we want conversations, we want honesty, that ‘social’ is not a naughty word, but how we do work.
One last form of explicit permission is using hashtags that make social collaboration safe to use, that we are ok to be honest. Hashtags such as “#safetospeak” allow us to be honest knowing that the company supports us in this.
Why, why, why? What is the point of using digital tools? I ask myself that question a lot, especially when I scream at the spinning blue wheel of despair. It’s not just function though that acts as a barrier, it is whether or not we trust them.
A vision of digital working that sets out clearly ‘why’ we need to collaborate – that it meets a clear and tangible goal gives credibility. At a corporate level, this could be based on core competencies or KPIs. At a team level, it’s based on why our team exists. Knowing that our activities relate to a clear purpose gets us engaged and trusts the reason these tools exist.
Ask the question: what is the single compelling business reason why we should be asking our people to change the way they work. That’s what we’re asking them to do. Change the way they work. Without a clear answer to this question, change will only ever be incremental, or even marginal.
How we interact with our colleagues makes a massive difference. Being a human is very underrated – in digital worlds we seem to become task-bots rather than the people we actually are. For leaders in the workplace, it’s even more important to show your human face. We are far more likely to trust one another if we see ourselves as real people. As in the physical world, making only statements or being short and sharp does not endear ourselves to others. It doesn’t have to be just pictures of cats or kids – in a work context it’s about how we feel about what we are doing: what pisses us off, what excites us.
A sense of curiosity also helps. Ask questions rather than make statements – it makes any post more engaging. Again, think about what makes a conversation work in the real world, and apply this to our digital space.
I’m not talking about the ‘ten habits of successful business people’ that involve us getting up before we go to bed, spending 17 hours a day in the gym and shouting ‘I AM BUSINESS’ to a plant. I’m talking about the everyday digital working habits that inspire and influence our colleagues. Here are a few that I’ve found to be very successful:
- Turn on your camera when on a conference call. Yes, it can be intimidating if you are the only one that anyone can see. Yes, your office at home is actually the nursery and everyone can see the mess. Yes, I saw you picking your nose. But seeing each other, and seeing a glimpse of our normal lives makes us human. It makes us connect, empathise with each other’s needs and guess what: we’re a face. Seeing faces, seeing smiles is so important – so let’s do it when we can.
- 1-2-3: A simple rule when using collaboration and social tools. Try to respond to the posts of others more than you post yourself. And like the posts of others even more – for every single post you make, comment on two other posts and like three more (not your own!). This shows that you are listening as well as talking. As a leader, knowing when to shut up in a meeting room is critical to building a high performing team – and the same applies online.
- Be there. Mark out time each day to simply be there – be in a digital space where your colleagues are. It’s like making time to speak with your team over coffee. If you’re not there regularly, having conversations, people trust you less when you suddenly appear, make a loud noise, then vanish.
5. Leaders know when to shut up
Good digital leadership isn’t about being the centre of the universe. It’s about removing the barriers a team needs to thrive, giving them direction and, significantly, listening to them. In digital teams, leaders are usually front and centre when the teams establish. In time, though, we want to see leaders taking a back seat and letting team members interact with each other. If the majority of posts in, say, Teams or Workplace are made by the leader, this implies that the team members don’t trust the environment to engage with each other (this may happen out of sight of the team leader in private chats or in the corridor).
To enable a team to proactively discuss their work, leaders need to step back – encourage colleagues into conversations but not dominate them. Be there if needed, but not to act as the gatekeeper. The digital workplace is simply a place of work – just like an office building, a shop, a warehouse. And like physical workplaces, the digital workplace is an empty space that won’t achieve anything unless we fill it with people. It’s the people side of digital working that solves problems, that connects seemingly unconnected things, that creates novel outcomes. But this won’t happen unless we collaborate. And effective collaboration won’t happen unless we trust one another.
This is compounded by that in the digital workplace, we don’t see each other in person – creating a barrier to emotionally connecting to our colleagues. Overcoming these barriers is key to our digital workplaces being full of real people having real conversations.
“My passion is creating workplace environments that stimulate conversations and innovation, through employee experiences, collaboration and innovation techniques.
As an innovation manager in a global engineering firm, my brief was to ‘make us be more innovative’. And that was it. Except that there wasn’t any budget. And so there began my approach to working on the behaviours rather than the tools – let the people drive the change. It’s more effective, sustainable and brings the best out of both people and the tools.
At Innosis, I work with some amazing companies, facilitating ideation, running workshops to build trust in collaboration and designing innovative workplaces around their social collaboration tools.“
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