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The digital workplace brings us closer together…or does it?

Disconnected, trapped in silos, stuck in a hive mind – this type of workplace communication goes against the grain of what energizes today’s employees.

I’ve spent a large portion of my career guiding organizations to empower the people who power the enterprise. I’m talking about the workers who unfailingly show up and complete a mind-boggling set of tasks, goals, and projects.

An organization is really about the people, and my passion is to empower those people to engage authentically. Not as faded versions of their resumes, but with their marvelously diverse personalities, armed with unfettered enthusiasm and connectedness.

What would happen if people from different corners of an organization were able to share ideas, methods, or past triumphs and failures? What could be the downside of connecting those people who, in typical circumstances, would never work together? A data scientist with a procurement manager, a front-line worker with a marketing leader. They’ll learn from each other and gain a sense of reward in sharing their knowledge.

Connecting the dots across the entire organization will unquestionably find new insights, innovations, and perspectives.

Of course, we can’t just put two people together and force them to be friends. They need to feel the freedom to share ideas and start initiatives without the threat of feeling shy, embarrassed, or even ostracized. So how?

Building Trust and Fostering Authentic Connections

Take a moment and think about those you most trust in life. Do you still communicate with friends from school or the old neighborhood? We do that because there’s an inherent trust that was built over time. Through making mistakes together, and while helping each other through good times and bad. We earned that trust during playtime.

There were no facades to hide behind and we were able to let our guards down. That’s how we grew the indomitable ability to trust those friends.

Now think about the idea of playing in the corporate world. It’s pretty much non-existent. But if it did exist, the evolution of a new kind of trust would be right there with it. We need more play.

How can we inject playfulness, exploration, and innovation into organizations? And isn’t it especially difficult in companies with traditional, rigid structures and distinct hierarchies?

How can we stimulate people’s connection within the constraints of the COVID, home-officed world we live in?  People still can connect in profound ways – and in today’s workplace, this has to happen digitally.

 

The Power of Weak Ties

We tend to be more open with close friends or close colleagues. Yet it’s through casual acquaintances that our perspectives are opened. In the workplace, this type of connection is important, as it brings about the power of weak ties.

Acquaintances – the weak ties – can challenge your point of view and disrupt the common pitfall of hive-mind thinking.

I’ve seen this work on multiple levels – in office hallways, breakrooms, elevators, conference calls – anywhere people meet by chance. I’ve made it a habit to introduce people to each other in these places because chance meetings can spark something – whether that be a coincidental activity outside of work or a connection to a project at work.

Small Gestures Generate Big Change

I remember once pulling together a conference call with a team from Singapore and a team from headquarters in New Jersey. These two small teams handled huge amounts of the company’s assets, but neither team knew the other even though they worked in the same function for the same company! I began the call with introductions and the mention of a new process by the Singapore team.

One thing led to another and the call ended with high interest on both sides and an agreement to adopt and improve upon the new process. There was another added bonus: to continue having periodic calls. The small gesture of introducing people can lead to great things.

Making new connections, and just opening up your mind to a different viewpoint, can shift your perception, generate innovative ideas, and bring forth real transformation.

Bolstering Engagement through Empowered People

Organizations that support employees in getting to know each other are the ones that benefit from the highest employee engagement and most innovative ideas. It goes beyond sharing work-related news: it’s also about people sharing their hobbies, talking about their family, and offering a window into their world-view.

People want and need to connect with others through diverse thoughts and interests. It breaks the chain of homogeneous environments where people are hesitant to freely provide their own perspectives.

Digital social platforms are an accessible and powerful tool to help create these experiences and connect casual acquaintances and weak ties. Once you step into an organic world of idea trading…Boom! You feel your worth. You find you can make a difference. Today’s emerging technologies continually drive new capabilities for working together, making connection easier and more natural.

That’s how technologies like enterprise social networks (ESN) and digital experience platforms can really make an impact. You hear perspectives from people you wouldn’t normally hear from. It has been called working out loud. You get connected to all sorts of people who work in unrelated departments or are geographically separated. Thanks to ESNs, you interact with them, ask questions, engage in their experiences, and gain exposure to their ideas.

Harnessing the Power of a Diverse Digital Community

A great question I once saw on a corporate ESN was, “What hasn’t worked with your customers?” That question led to insightful discussion and generated ideas on what works, what doesn’t, and what can be tried out. The community-generated solutions ultimately prevented the further waste of time and effort.

Stimulating this type of discussion is really a shift in mindset, and could be an eye-opener into what is really going on within the corporate walls. What you ‘hear’ in an ESN can put that annual employee survey to shame.

The traditional business model has to change its methods to be more inclusive of employee voices, thoughts, and ideas. These new technologies give people the opportunity to get to know each other and to build trust. And when there’s trust, true collaboration and innovation is born.

Networking is Empowering: The Shift from Monologue to Dialogue Communication

When organizations enable employees to engage in open communication in a digital space, their voices change the dynamic. Internal communication becomes a many-to-many conversation rather than the traditional top-down one.

Digital conversation spaces provide employees the power to broadcast their opinions, make their own connections, quickly find hard-to-find information, and drive the conversation. The need for authenticity and connection is more important than ever in this remote/hybrid world of work.

One of the mantras I’ve used with community spaces such as Yammer is: that problems are rarely solved in isolation. A problem shared is a problem solved!

As the barriers start to come down, employees benefit from an openness that leads to a level of comfort for people to be themselves and share ideas. This psychological safety gives employees the confidence to share what’s on their minds and speak up when they believe they can intervene and add value.

We’ve entered the Age of the Employee, make sure your organization isn’t left behind

When employees share something of themselves, they become role models.  “Oh yeah, I see it that way, too,” becomes contagious, allowing for new thought patterns and self-assurances to emerge.

They can communicate, share ideas, and have the confidence and platform to do so. The silos open up. Knowledge stored away in files on hard drives becomes new again, rewarding the time and effort it took to create that knowledge in the first place.

It’s the employees who tear down the silos of the enterprise by being active participants, not bystanders. When the silos open, strategy becomes everyone’s business, not just something created behind boardroom doors. I firmly believe, especially with the onset of Gen Z joining the workforce, that we’ve entered the #Ageoftheemployee.

Suzanne Vitale
Suzanne Vitale

Communicator. Ideator. Tech Geek. Change Agent. Creative. Strategic business leader with a passion for innovation and driving progress through communications strategy.

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