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Six and a half lessons learnt from Workplace by Facebook

"Experiencing how readily the power of online connections – the lifeblood of social media – can transform the workplace has been an eye opener; not merely for the transformation itself, but for the ways in which it has manifested." 

In his recently published book, Dying to Wake Up, Dr Rajiv Parti makes the claim that life is given its meaning by the quality of relationships we experience. 

The good doctor came to this realisation after a near-death experience put his until-then materialistic existence into stark relief.

Dr Parti and I share the same belief, only (thankfully) I didn't have to almost die to develop it. Instead, I managed the rollout of Workplace for nbn, the first large business in Australia to introduce Facebook’s new enterprise collaboration platform.

Relationships in the age of connection 

As you know, we live in the age of connection. Enabled by ever-advancing digital technologies, we can interact and engage with each other across huge distances, almost at the speed of thought.

Experiencing how readily the power of online connections – the lifeblood of social media – can transform the workplace has been an eye opener; not merely for the transformation itself, but for the ways in which it has manifested.

So here they are: six-and-a-bit ruminations from implementing, managing and embedding a social collaboration platform at nbn – a business with literally thousands of employees.

1: Don't call it social collaboration

Before it was dubbed ‘Workplace’, Facebook’s tool for the enterprise was called ‘Facebook at Work’.

The brand change is no coincidence. One of the challenges to address with this tool is the perception it’s all tip and no iceberg – pure water cooler gabble on steroids. It can be that, of course, but it’s also more.

Workplace can enable productivity by allowing teams to come together around issues faster and collaborate towards solutions more efficiently.

That’s a powerful benefit to sell it. And sell it, you should.

2: Cohesion will die, mourn it quickly and move on 

If you like the idea of the “company message”, of the one-to-many model of Corporate Comms, do not go anywhere near Workplace, because that model will die overnight.

In a socially connected enterprise, everyone has a voice. This will fragment your audience. If that sounds scary, remember the flipside is employee empowerment.

And just as we recognise that a diverse range of talent, background and experience makes an organisation richer and more resilient, so should we understand the benefits of providing diversity of voice.

Promoting this diversity and using it to create and highlight unique, valuable content – exactly the kind of content a tool such as Workplace allows to flourish – will form a large part of the contemporary communication manager’s skillset, in my opinion.

3: Email will not die, it is the zombie of corporate communication… 

Some teams at nbn (my own included) have off-boarded almost completely from email, communicating and collaborating via our group on Workplace. Others are less enthusiastic.

Of course, email remains important for commercially confidential and other types of sensitive documents, but the key message is this: less email is good – it’s good for you; it’s good for your team; and it’s good for your organisation.

I’m not going into the reasons why just now (that’s a discussion for another day) but using a tool like Workplace allows you to communicate more effectively and efficiently than email. Be warned, though – that message can be a tough sell.

4: Transparent, open communication is awesome. So encourage secrecy at all costs 

Open communication is awesome because staff engagement surveys tell us so. When your CEO posts on Workplace, you can ping her or him right back. And everyone sees you do it.

That’s a win in any Corporate Comms playbook you care to mention, but this kind of interaction can only flourish if the more mundane, business-as-usual-type communications are kept quarantined to the relevant audiences.

This means mirroring your org structure in the setup of your Workplace groups and closing, or ring-fencing, the membership of those groups when required.

The relevancy, and therefore value, of the information passing through to your people in their newsfeeds will be greatly increased.

5: Workplace isn't so much a mirror held up to your company culture; it is a microscope 

Which is quite brilliant actually, but just be prepared for it.

Because if something is working – or not working – in your organisation, your people will use this platform to make it known. Which segues nicely into…

6: People are actually impressive and amazing

You might be underestimating the skills, knowledge and experience of your people. No, honestly you really might be. You probably don’t believe it, but it’s true.

A tool like Workplace will make that very clear.

Not only will people in the company start up amazing communities that engage and empower and embody your values, but they will draw on collective expertise to socialise and solve issues no one even knew existed before.

I’d recommend trying out Workplace on this point alone.

And the half lesson?

If you’re part of the employee comms team, or charged with managing Workplace (or any enterprise collaboration platform), get ready for change. What you do and how you do it is part of a model that is dying.

But, like Dr Parti, we have the opportunity to make this experience a transformative one.

Transitioning your organisation to this new paradigm is a huge challenge (take my word for it) but the benefits are alluring: democratisation of communication; superior employee engagement; increased productivity.

Realising these, however, requires a redefinition of what corporate communicators do, how they do it and why.

Connected technologies aren't only transforming corporations; they're having a big impact on small business. Take a virtual tour of small business in 2020, and see how other industries are also benefitting from the digital marketplace.

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