One could argue that we’ve been working in ‘social’ businesses for sometime now, and certainly for far longer than the social media based movement has existed. For years we have suffered through open plan offices, with team work the holy grail of employee productivity. The belief has long existed that for the workplace to be truly innovative and thriving we need to have a hubub of social activity, with ideas flowing freely around the office, ignorant of title and status.
Except it doesn’t really work out like that in reality. Neurological studies for instance have shown that open plan offices destroy productivity as they provide such a constant stream of interruptions that it is practically impossible to concentrate on the task at hand.
Likewise, the workplace today is now made up of teams. Very seldom do people seem to work on their own any more. Are teams effective? I’m really not sure they are. Research has shown for instance that when it comes to brainstorming they’re not at all effective. It is much better for people to construct their ideas in solitude and then develop those ideas with others once they’re fully formed.
The deliberate practice theory was made famous when Malcolm Gladwell used the notion that you need 10,000 hours of practice before you can be regarded as an expert in something, yet the current ‘social’ setup of our work environment seldom allows us to engage in that kind of deliberate practice. So far from being the hive of innovation that they’re intended to be, they actually hinder workplace learning.
Thankfully social media offers salvation. If you look at Linux, arguably the finest collaborative project known to man, it wasn’t produced by teams in their traditional sense at all. Instead it relied upon each developer working in isolation, before subsequently sharing it with other members of the community. They had the freedom and solitude to hone their skills and work on the problems at hand without interruption, and yet they were never far from the community of like minded developers.
The difference is that it was social business with a distinct opt-in culture. Far from being expected to be social all the time, developers could pick and choose when they wanted to contribute to the community. I think the outcome speaks for itself in terms of the effectiveness of the approach.
At the moment workplaces are very much built around the needs of the extroverted segment of society. If you’re in the half who are energized by constant social contact then it’s quite possible that you thrive in our current office environments. If you’re of a more introverted persuasion however it seems likely that your talents are being wasted.
Social business tools mean that doesn’t have to be the case. Here’s hoping that the future of work will be one that is inclusive for all employees, however they thrive.