One of the most persistent criticisms of Enterprise 2.0 is that collaborative tools like wikis and social networks are needless distractions that undermine productivity. Or put simply, they're a time sink.
Scarcely a week goes by without yet another survey telling us that more than half of companies ban Facebook and other social networks
at the office due to concerns about productivity and compliance. In many cases, the same surveys just happen to be commissioned by IT consultants or software vendors who have discovered that scare-mongering is a good way to drum up business.
True, Enterprise 2.0 has been making steady progress -- thanks, it must be said, to the efforts of evangelists who also have a business interest in its adoption. The launch of Facebook-style collaborative software like Saleforce's Chatter
have given the movement brand appeal. The semantics of the word "chatter" challenge the values of rigid bureaucracies where anything "social" is regarded with suspicion as an invitation to goof off.
And yet there is still pervasive hostility toward "social" interaction in the workplace. The fear factor persists.
It was no different with the advent of the telephone and email. It was argued, in like manner, that they'd undermine productivity by giving employees a social distraction. True enough, many employees even today chatter on their office phones and send frivolous emails to their friends. Just as many senior executives waste valuable company time networking on the golf course and noshing in posh downtown restaurants.
But show me the corporate executive who would give serious consideration to banning the use of office telephones and email in order to boost productivity. The very idea is ludicrous.
Let's face it -- employees and managers alike spend many office hours engaged in "social" activity that cannot readily be quantified according to formal measures of productivity. But if socializing is condoned for top management, why not for employees, too?
This question came sharply into focus recently when I was in Vilnius speaking at a Web 2.0 conference. One of the other speakers was Andy McLoughlin, co-founder of enterprise software company Huddle. Andy told the audience that at Huddle, employees are not only encouraged to socialize at the office, but informal free time has been structured into their work day.
Everyone at Huddle, from the intern to the CEO, gets together for weekly standups on an open floor. No one is excluded; everyone is in the loop. What's more, Huddle employees devote 10 percent of their office hours to "hack time." Or as they put it at Huddle: "Hack time to build cool stuff." At uncool companies, this is probably called goofing off, but at Huddle it's part of the corporate culture -- and it pays off.
Andy listed a number of cool things that were invented during "hack time" -- like Google Maps. The history of great inventions confirms the wisdom of this approach. Many inventions that today we regard as banal aspects of daily life -- from corn flakes and silly putty to Post-it notes and the microwave oven -- were discovered completely by accident.
True, most employees in large-scale companies have not been hired to invent things. But in a corporate environment, both morale and productivity can increase if people are free to interact and discover.
Employees will be more productive if they feel engaged not only in their own work, but also if they feel aligned with the company’s overall strategy. And that will be achieved if the corporate culture is open, transparent, and connected.
Enterprise 2.0 is not just an IT add-on that comes as a packaged software suite. Yes, you need the software. But more importantly, Enterprise 2.0 is also a value system that implies a whole new definition of work.
— Matthew Fraser is a Web 2.0 strategist and an adjunct professor at the American University of Paris.