THE BLOG

Five Ways Social Media Has Forever Changed the Way We Work

03/24/2013 07:15 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2013

I recently attended an exclusive event sponsored by Salesforce.com to learn more about how to become a customer company. I was truly inspired by Marc Benioff's vision of the future of a truly connected company and the impact of social, mobile, app, and data on how we work and engage employees, customers and business partners. Becoming a customer company is a multi-dimensional journey that starts with a listening and learning culture, engaging customers across all channels, selling as a team, servicing customers everywhere, creating communities, connecting to partners, including products in the social network graph and delivering value added services via enterprise apps.

In an effort to learn more about the collaborative and connected organization, I asked Jacob Morgan to share his views of how social media is changing the way we work. Jacob is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Collaborative Organization - a highly recommended and one of the best social business and collaboration books - and a thought leader that I know and admire. Jacob runs a strategy consulting firm called Chess Media Group and is also very active on Twitter. He's a keynote speaker and subject matter expert on collaboration and the future of work innovation.

It's interesting to think that around than ten years ago there was no Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Linkedin, Wikipedia, Instagram, Pinterest, and pretty much any other social media platform or service that you can think of. In these ten years virtually everything we know about how we work, has changed and it's all because of social media.

It's hard to have a conversation with a business manager today without hearing about Jive, Yammer, Sharepoint, Chatter, and the dozens of other employee collaboration tools that are now making their way into enterprises around the world. All of these tools and the strategies that go with them have taken their cues from the consumer world of social media.

So what is it about social media that has changed the way we work? According to Morgan, social media has enabled several new things, among them are:

Collective intelligence

Organizations have the ability to leverage the experience and wisdom of an entire workforce to solve a problem or identify an opportunity instead of just relying on a specific team. After speaking at a conference recently someone from a large oil and gas company told me how they couldn't solve a problem of a drill melting at extremely hot temperatures. They posed the problem on their collaborative platform for the thousands of other employees to try to solve and received a solution which was worth over a billion dollars.

Serendipity

Being able to come across a person or piece of information that can be used to improve a situation is a valuable thing. Organizations who deploy collaborative solutions greatly improve the chances of this happening. Employees have the ability to discover information which they can contribute to in a positive way. Lowe's Home Improvement saw this first hand when an employee asked for more of a product to be delivered to a store which other stores were not selling much of. Eventually this employee shared a demo she was doing at one of her stores to sell out of the product and other locations quickly followed. This employee who was asking for additional product happened to share her demo which resulted in over a million dollars in additional revenue.

Easy to find people and information

Email and static intranets are the default forms of communication and collaboration within many organizations. This leads to around 25-30 percent of an employees work week spent in front of email and a large amount of duplicated content. Enterprise collaboration platforms have enabled a much more effective way to find people and information. A way which is self-sufficient (meaning you don't need to ask anyone for anything) and empowering to the employees. My company, Chess Media Group, is a small business. We deployed a series of collaboration tools and strategies and since we have done so I have sent approximately six emails over the past four months, so yes, this is applicable even for smaller organizations.

Anyone can be a leader and employees have a voice

When most employees think of a leader at their company they typically think of an executive. Social media has changed what it means to be a leader. Employees now have a voice where they can share their ideas for anyone within the company to see and read. These employees have the ability to become leaders in their own right on any topic that they care about. One of the world's largest consulting firms in the world (hundreds of thousands of employees around the world) has seen this happen first hand where junior and mid-level employees have the most widely followed internal blogs in the company. These employees are not executives but they are leaders with a voice that everyone listens to.

We are also seeing the complete destruction of work-hours as being set from 9-5. I'm in my late 20's and grew up using social and collaborative tools in every aspect of how I work. For the future workforce not having these tools is the foreign way to work.

Transparency and flatness

Most organizations in the world are hierarchical and not transparent. It's analogous to climbing a ladder where only the first few rungs are visible and the rest are hidden. This is changing and many organizations are no longer using this as the way to work. Employees (including managers and executives) are now sharing what they are working on, how they are feeling, who they are meeting with, and what is happening with their department or the company as a whole in a discoverable and public way. There is greater insight for employees to understand not just what is happening in their organization but how their individual contributions are impacting something greater. Managers and executives are now able to interact and engage with anyone at any level and vice versa. Entry level employees can communicate and share information directly with top-level executives and executives have the opportunity to discover and recognize employees and their ideas in a public way. The CEO of the world's largest grocery retailers prides himself on being able to gain insight into what is happening inside of his company (through an internal Twitter-like feed) while quickly being able to discover ideas and recognize employees, even it means doing something simple such as waiting in a cab at a red light and "liking" an idea that someone submits. A small action with a great impact.

Organizations seeking to evolve need to not only recognize the changes in technology and behavior but they also need to take a strategic approach to changing how their employees fundamentally work. Technology without strategy won't get you very far.

The ability to connect and engage with people and information anywhere, anytime, and on any device is fundamentally changing everything we know about how we work, how we lead, and how we manage and it all started with the consumer web and social media. Now, these changes in behavior and technology and rapidly entering enterprises. The smart organizations are the ones who recognize this and are evolving to become collaborative organizations.

This post was co-authored by Jacob Morgan. Jacob is the principal of Chess Media Group, a management consulting and strategic advisory firm on collaboration. Jacob is also the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Collaborative Organization.