Imagine a modern working environment where emails are a rare and novel occurrence – where that familiar “ping” from Outlook becomes as obsolete as the long-forgotten dial ‘n’ crackle of a 56k modem, or the click-wurr of a floppy disk drive. Imagine no more version control problems, unnecessary clutter from clumsily cc’d messages, or warnings from the server about your inbox at 98% capacity. Imagine instead that while working through an assignment, a piece of information arrives for your consumption unfixed, accessed through a dynamic digital space, and within seconds it updates in front of you courtesy of another colleague in your team, somewhere in another office. “…the delivery date was wrong. Corrected.” she clarifies. You are now able to review and add value to the most up-to-date version of reality, and it wasn’t initiated, modified or influenced by email.
Since the mid 2000s, the exchange of information has fragmented across different channels, as the development of new electronic communication methods has offered more appropriate ways to interact with colleagues and clients alike. Provided the relationship is candid enough, I will sometimes text members of my client, to convey a brief but urgent message, with the knowledge it will be received and read without fail. And this is becoming more effective with the semi-recent introduction of iMessage, amongst other mobile messaging services that provide ‘delivery’ reports. (Victoria Snell from Capgemini Consulting’s MSS capability gives an overview of mobile communication options here). Similarly, less-directive bulletins, questions or polls are broadcast to the masses using applications LinkedIn, Yammer et. al, drawing on the collective knowledge and/or opinions of your digital network and supported by the strong likelihood that one or many will engage in discussion. It seems that these traditionally informal means of communication are contributing toward closer business relationships in a post-mobile, social networking era, and this can only be a good thing – Sharing information, provided its relevant, enables better decision making and more accurate results.
It is unlikely, however, that organisations, global or not, can entirely substitute email with the recent offerings of social networking platforms in the foreseeable future. Much to the shock of the digital world, ATOS Consulting in fact made this concept a reality. In December 2011, ATOS banned internal email, encouraging its employees to communicate using business networking tools like instant message communicator and wikis to connect with colleagues. The long term success of this strategy is of course yet to be established. Regardless, email still provides the fundamental communication infrastructure that allows companies do the majority of their business and operate effectively. A study by Plantronics in 2012 demonstrated that across the globe, professionals still feel that Email trumps social networking in its contribution to success and productivity at work (Email: 83%, Social networking 19%). Furthermore, for business use specifically, only 43% of respondents said they used Social Networking all the time/frequently and 57% not very often/never. Conversely, for personal use, 66% said all the time/frequently, 34% not very often/never.
Should this come as a surprise? The ‘social space’ is still in its infancy, and despite consistently being cited as a fast-growing channel, it is limited by its very nature next to traditional business tools for commonplace requirements like reporting or sharing attachments. In its current form, social networking can’t replace the tried-and-tested methods that have served organisations for decades, but that doesn’t mean that tweets, comments and likes have nothing to add to the bubbling business communication cauldron – far from it, in fact.
The introduction of CRM Software as a Service (and more recently cloud-based variants) revolutionised the way in which (larger) organisations could sell their products and services – by providing a platform on which information sharing was encouraged, and up-to-date data was available to all who required it. Furthermore, when Salesforce.com released “Chatter” (the engine’s social networking element) in 2010, it meant its customers could use the front-end familiarity they had acquired on social networks in their personal lives and apply it directly to tasks as part of their job.
An unlikely cross-over? No, sheer genius.
Suddenly, information sharing went from being linear and quantitative to an intricate web of discussion, harnessing the collective knowledge of the entire company, A social networking construct had been layered on top of a pure business tool, and people had the ability to communicate across a scalable channel about the very work they were involved with. This method of information flow was less clumsy, more interactive, and most importantly provided a dynamic source for the latest data.
To say that our inboxes are soon to be replaced with these modern online tools would be foolish. But it can be argued that social networking is inexorably linked to the future of collaborative working, not by force or coercion from senior management, but a combination of innovation and necessity. If you can remove the barriers between communication up, down, and across the organisation by implementing a familiar platform, the results are higher productivity, better quality outputs, and a new, digital, method of working. Dynamic information flow in the office environment is picking up momentum, and that Outlook “ping” is starting to sound dated.
LinkedIn Jun 2009: 50m users Jan 2011: 100m users; 100% increase
Facebook Jan 2010: 350m users Jan 2011: 640m users; 83% increase Source: Browser Media
Special thanks to Simon Hodge from OM&PI, Capgemini Consulting UK.