There's a disconnect on the enterprise social networking front. Nearly half of employees report that social tools at work help increase their productivity -- but more than 30 percent of companies underestimate the value of these tools and sometimes even restrict their use. So says new Microsoft research.
According to the Ipsos-conducted survey of 9,908 information workers in 32 countries, 39 percent of employees feel there isn't enough collaboration in their workplaces. What's more, 40 percent believe social tools help foster better teamwork and 31 percent said they are willing to spend their own money to buy social tools. That last finding may come as a surprise to some enterprise execs.
"Just as e-mail accelerated the pace of business in the '90s, enterprise social will be the driver of greater agility and transformation in the 21st century workplace," said Kurt DelBene, president of Microsoft's Office Division. "As we look ahead at how collaboration and communications continue to evolve, we believe the tools people use today -- e-mail, instant messaging, voice, videoconferencing, social -- will come together and be deeply integrated into apps in ways that will speed collaboration and truly transform the way people work."
Microsoft's Social Motives
Microsoft envisions enterprise social as a fiber connecting all collaboration tools within an enterprise, not as a separate Web site or app that needs to be added into employees' daily mix of activities. Of course, Microsoft has a motive in pointing out the disconnect -- and trying to make the connection. It peddles Yammer, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Dynamics CRM for collaboration, sharing and communicating outside and inside their organizations.
With its survey findings, Redmond is sending a clear message: enterprises that start to use these social tools can benefit from an increase in team collaboration, employee engagement, organizational connectedness, and the flexibility they need to react nimbly and quickly to business changes and demands. Microsoft pointed out specific benefits, such as improving how employees connect, share information and work across teams and geographies, as well as beyond the firewall to customers, vendors and other key relationships.
"Employees are already bringing their own devices into their workplaces, but now they are increasingly bringing their own services as well," said Charlene Li, founder and analyst at Altimeter Group, a firm that studies social media and other technology trends. "Employees expect to work differently, with tools that feel more modern and connected, but are also reflective of how they interact in their personal lives. Enterprise social represents a new way to work, and organizations embracing these tools are improving collaboration, speeding customer responses and creating competitive advantages."
Carts and Horses
"Enterprise management is all about containment. Public social tools are all about making connections without containment," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "Corporations may still think Notes is a collaboration tool, but that's not the way it's used. The internal tools for the most part aren't good at creating connections, so employees use public tools, which creates conflict."
Enderle notes that there are insider trading problems and risks, as well as the risk of employees leaking confidential information. Driving enterprise social tools is not a technology problem, he says, it's more of a policy and behavior issue.
"Enterprises have to figure out a way to fix the behavior and policy problems first and then you can lay in tools that people will use. But the tools won't change the behavior," Enderle told us. "Enterprises need to start with what it means to be social and then grasp the organizational aspects of the problem before implementing the tools."