The power of social: tools for connecting teams and making smart decisions

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson on 30 June 2015
The power of social: tools for connecting teams and making smart decisions

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows

Last year, when a young girl visited her local Tesco in the Scottish town of Fraserburgh to buy a limited-edition pack of teabags and receive a complimentary stuffed monkey, she was disappointed to find that the store was not promoting the product. A few years ago, the girl would have simply gone home dissatisfied. However, thanks to a quick-thinking employee who used the retailer’s social portal to contact 30,000 colleagues in stores across the UK, the next day she received a monkey from a Tesco store more than 450 miles away in Yorkshire. Not only did the platform – which uses Microsoft Yammer and SharePoint Online in Office 365 – allow Tesco to provide a level of customer service that would not previously have been possible, but it also motivated employees across the country to unite together and help a fellow colleague.

This is just one example of how far the business world has developed from the days where colleagues working in separate offices, cities and countries would only have been able to help one another by using telephone, fax, written mail, or travelling for face-to-face meetings.

“Advances in cloud, mobile and social technologies have delivered a deluge of information directly to employees, which has significantly altered the nature of work and the way they interact in the workplace,” says Bryan Goode, senior director of Modern Collaboration at Microsoft. “Work used to be a solitary pursuit, but now it’s a communal effort where the only way to get ahead is to share information, build a collective knowledge base and collaborate in real time with colleagues, whether they work remotely via mobile devices, sit in the same office, or live 2,000 miles away. However, just as in the past, enterprises must still ensure that their employees are motivated to work as one cohesive unit to help the company attain its business aims.”

To do this, many companies have invested in enterprise collaboration or social interaction tools. In fact, the 2014 The Case for Embracing Social Media at Work survey carried out by Mike Rognlien, Facebook’s learning and development manager, and David Maxfield, vice president of research at VitalSmarts, showed that 77% of employees used social interaction platforms to connect with colleagues. In addition, one in three used the tools to develop work-related projects.

However, although nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated that this has improved their working relationships, around half of companies do not encourage employees to use social media for work-related processes and three-quarters do not offer formal training.

“Enterprises can’t easily stop the incursion of social collaboration platforms into the workplace, employees regularly use them to communicate in their personal lives and expect to be able to use them to collaborate with colleagues,” says Goode. “Although many retailers, financial services and insurance companies, and public sector organisations use social tools to interact with customers, they don’t make similar platforms available for employee to employee communication.”

When implemented effectively, Goode believes that enterprise collaboration tools will also help workers to strengthen relationships with colleagues, share their insights and become more motivated.

“Many front-line employees who work directly with consumers or clients have plenty of ideas that could help to boost their company’s operational efficiency, improve its products, or enhance customer service,” he says. “However, because they are lower down the hierarchy, it can be very difficult for them to propose these ideas to the senior executive team, leaving them feeling undervalued and disengaged. Making it easier for teams to share information using collaboration tools may quickly raise staff morale and engagement levels, which is likely to drive productivity and revenue.”

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers is harnessing Microsoft Yammer to ‘give a voice’ to 26,000 employees across 450 of its restaurants in the US and Canada. Not only does the CEO use Yammer to post business results and personally congratulate high-performing employees, but staff across all levels of the business – including those in the restaurants, office-based employees and executives – use the platform to share ideas. When corporate chefs designed a new Pig Out burger, employees shared suggestions to improve the recipe over Yammer. Four weeks later, the burger was being served in restaurants. In the past, this process would have taken 12-18 months.

Red Robin also used Yammer to launch a company-wide challenge for employees to suggest the best cost-saving idea in return for a US$1,000 prize.

“Yammer enabled us to have a really rich dialogue with team members and managers on all the cost-saving opportunities we have in the company and I’m convinced that the winning idea – a reusable kids’ cup – would never have surfaced if we didn’t have a social network,” says Chris Laping, CIO and senior vice president of business transformation at Red Robin. “Yammer encourages team members to feel connected to each other and plugged into the heart of the business, and when people care about their jobs, they execute beyond your wildest dreams.” Enterprise collaboration tools can also connect teams in different countries, enabling colleagues to speak to each other, or share and edit documents in real time, while ensuring that all data is stored compliantly in the company’s corporate network.

Earlier this year, German food manufacturer Dr. Oetker replaced its Microsoft Lync 2013 collaboration system with the new Skype for Business Server 2015 to enable employees in more than 40 countries to organise video meetings with multiple attendees and share content more easily.

The central product development team uses Skype for Business to help manufacturers in other countries to adapt the products using local ingredients, while the central marketing team uses it to evaluate regional packaging to ensure it complies with corporate branding standards. In addition, the IT team can connect new offices and manufacturing plants to the corporate network remotely, saving time and travel costs. “As we continue to grow internationally, we’ll use Skype for Business to make it faster and smoother to integrate new employees and offices into the business,” says Frank Pickert, senior executive manager of IT services at Dr. Oetker. “This helps the business be more agile and responsive to local customers and markets.”

Implementing such technology can help companies achieve significant benefits, but empowering employees to connect with their colleagues and collaborate more effectively on projects ¬requires more than just new solutions.

According to an August 2014 Social Media for Internal Business Communications: A Survey of IT and Business Executives report from Dimensional Research and Dell, 96% of organisations have an enterprise social network (ESN) and two thirds of the companies operate more than one. However, around 97% indicated that running multiple ESNs caused operational challenges and over two-thirds said they experienced difficulties related to content duplication and IT support costs.

“Over the next couple of years, it will be necessary for many organisations to consolidate their ESNs onto a single platform that is integrated with their existing enterprise application environment if they want to significantly boost communication and collaboration,” predicts Randy Rempel, senior product manager of Windows Management at Dell Software.

Microsoft’s Goode agrees, adding that operating a single integrated platform prevents useful data from being lost in separate data siloes. “Social enterprise tools have the potential to completely transform businesses, but only if they are part of a fully integrated platform that provides employees with the applications they need for different tasks,” he explains.

Deploying a unified enterprise collaboration platform also provides powerful insights for users across the company that can help them to improve business processes and drive revenue.

“Our Office Graph fabric uses machine learning and data mining to analyse the full suite of Office 365 applications to identify who an individual employee interacts with regularly, the type of content they share, the meetings they attend and more,” he says. “This provides personal insights that are delivered directly to employees via Delve, helping them to monitor their productivity and make changes to ensure they meet their targets.

“There is no doubt that if implemented in the right way, a single connected enterprise collaboration platform can help to create a truly engaged organisation, where social interactions are easy to manage and contribute to a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce.”

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