Social Networking and Workplace Productivity

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace-these are common social networking sites/services that are on the tip of the tongue nowadays. Beyond their relative novelty, they've brought fresh attention to long-standing questions and engendered new ones. Recently, Takeshi Numoto, Corporate Vice President of Office Product Management Group, submitted a post, "Productivity + social media = goodness for the workplace". In it, he suggests that, "if leveraged in a strategic way, [social media] can help businesses be more efficient and productive." He suggests the social media help people in the workplace form "communities" outside of their own immediate workgroups that fosters a culture of diversity, respect, and openness. He also advances the idea that these communities in turn foster "faster discovery of data/insights/opinions that impact personal and professional decision making." Finally, he recommends that social media impacts collaboration among employees such that it increases "the ease and speed of sharing and cross-pollinating ideas that may now only exist in pockets throughout the organization."

Do these ideas hold true? Can we measure the positive impact of social media in the workplace? What are the downsides? Do they negate the potential advantages of social networking in the workplace?

Perhaps the questions aren't completely new. They may in fact be existing questions re-cast to address new technologies. For example, I recall back in the 90's when some companies were moving toward putting employees in large collective work areas rather than in separate offices. Many organizational behavior specialists sought to determine if this helps or hinders productivity. Long before Facebook came on the scene, two

Ray Reagans (Carnegie Mellon) Ezra W. Zuckerman (Stanford) published a scientific study in 2001: Networks, Diversity, and Productivity: The Social Capital of Corporate R&D Teams. In their study (Organization Science/Vol. 12, No. 4, July-August 2001). They tested two hypotheses:

  • The greater the density of a team's internal network the higher its productivity.
  • The greater the network heterogeneity of a team, the higher its productivity.

Now, they were studying R&D teams, and the needs and behaviors of an R&D team do have some unique properties. But, their conclusions are likely application outside the context of R&D. I won't go into the scientific setup of their testing and measuring. But, here are their conclusions:

"Teams that average more frequent communication among their members achieve higher productivity. Better communication links among members of a group enable its members to achieve a greater degree of coordination, and hence a level of productivity that is unattainable by teams that are less well connected."

"Communication ties which cut across demographic boundaries-and the different sets of information, experiences, and outlooks that such boundaries divide-enriches the research process and promotes greater productivity."

Their conclusions appear to be congruous with what Takeshi suggests, that social networks in the workplace can make people (and thus the business they support) more productive. Social networking applications undoubtedly make it much easier to initiate communication between team members across geographies, departments, divisions, and job functions.

A key success factor for social networking at work lies in the phrase Takeshi uses as the lead in, "If leveraged in a strategic way.."

Rock Thought of the Day:  More (down tempo) Songs For Your Consideration

I'm still in that "Ryan Adams" kind of mood. So, while I usually amp it up to some Zakk Wylde, I take things down a notch with these beautifully textured songs:

The Horrors: Scarlet Fields (on album "Primary Colours")

Devotchka: How It Ends (on album "How It Ends")

Hey Marseilles: Marseilles (on album "To Travels & Trunks")

Mojave 3: In Love With A View (on album "Excuses For Travelers")

Rock On

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