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.

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

  1. Totally agree, Greg. I also consider the social aspect to be critical to being successful at what I do, and therefore critical to the company’s success. Happiness in a job is more than half of what makes work worthwhile, in my opinion. Given how tough it is in today’s environment to achieve any meaningful degree of social interaction, the social networking tools that have recently become available are essential to the human spirit of connecting with others, of finding those insights into others you mention. Heck, maybe the difficulties in achieving those missing social interactions today are part of the reason the networking tools have become so popular, so quickly.

  2. So true, Greg. To answer your question, here is my take on they WHY SOCIAL is a four letter word: Control. In the picture you used and in the planned parties, the organization is controlling the social, carving time out for it. They even plan for a little water cooler talk. In these ways they feel they have appeased the social aspect of work. Yet at the same time, too many managers will look at the unstructured social – the discretionary and uncontrollable social – as a waste and unproductive. At that point, it comes down to the lack of trust.

    Using these social tools now puts more control in the hands of those whom they are are trying to control – thus the worry they will abuse it. It shifts the pendulum from control to trust, something many are not comfortable with.

    (Certainly we all understand these are broad generalizations, and not true in every case, yet they are true in many.)

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