What’s wrong with being “Social” at work anyway?

Social may be a 4 letter word in some companies, but I have to wonder why? Social is nothing new to enterprises, the only thing is we are now labeling it.

In the “Old Days”, companies encouraged their workers to socialize and party together. Sometimes even going so far to build communities for their workers to live in. Why did they do this? For the company of course. The feeling was that this interaction made people work better together producing more, generating more profit, building loyalty.

A more recent trend was to replace offices with cubes. While some would state that the purpose was to reduce cost of  real estate, others suggest that this was done to encourage casual knowledge exchange. While I personally didn’t like the distractions of a cube, the things I heard over cube walls helped me on many occasions.

Why are these social interactions important? Because they help give you context and insight into people, projects and organizations. Let’s face it, nobody trusts the “new guy” until you start interacting with him. Do you may ask him about what he does, but  you really want to know, “Who are you?”, “What do we have in common?”, “What makes you ‘tick’?”  It is only after you become familiar with him that you begin to develop that trust.

Now, we are working in new ways, interacting differently. We are being pushed out of the office (again to save real estate costs), but also to support globalization. We have less visibility into what makes our co-workers ‘tick’. Misunderstandings are easy when you don’t know a person. For example, Fred yells at you for missing a deadline. You could think that Fred’s a jerk because he doesn’t understand that you are waiting on someone else, but because you know Fred had a big game last night in his softball league, you have the understanding that there are outside influences on his behavior and a certain amount of tolerance. Perhaps Fred’s team lost. Our tendency is to take things on face value based on our personal biases and views. Without insight, it’s easy to judge. Social computing may be the key to reintroduce those insights and contexts back into a corporate culture.

Let’s not forget the other benefits either, If I’m talking about social things at work, there’s a chance that I’m connected to work when I may not otherwise be, and for that fact, perhaps I’m sneaking in an e-mail or some other work related task too. This can help companies become more productive.

Is “Social” an evil word in the enterprise? I don’t think so, I think it’s essential, but I’m curious to hear your views.

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