Make most of your employee networksOn 10 Jun 2003 in Personnel Today In less than a generation, the social fabric of our workplaces has undergonea number of dramatic changes. Now, chief executives come and go with alarming frequency, nobody believesin the notion of a job for life and union membership has slipped to around athird of the country’s workers, with the average age of members rising fast.Meanwhile, all the evidence suggests a lack of trust in business leaders. Working people no longer feel allegiances to the institutions that used tobuttress working life. People do not commit themselves to formal socialinstitutions in the way their parents did. So what are they doing instead? They are getting together in more informalnetworks inside and outside the workplace. Analysis of how we are developingso-called ‘social capital’ reveals there is a trend towards the formation ofloose types of associations – more personal and less visible social networks. When employees leave an organisation for whatever reason, they feel thatwhile they are changing their formal terms of employment, they neverthelesstake their social networks with them. This creates threats and opportunities in equal measure. The threat is thatknowledge circulates in ways that no longer benefit organisations. Opportunity,however, lies in the fact that informal social networks are extraordinarilynimble and can channel knowledge between key people in a way top-downdecision-making never can. So today’s managers face a struggle. They do notwish to destroy valuable social capital by attempting to institutionalise it,but must be equally wary of this asset going to waste. Solutions may be found in another area of our workplaces that has witnesseddramatic change over the same period – the widespread growth of information andcommunication technology (ICT), and in particular, of networked computing.Technology is good at storing and accessing large bodies of information, butcan it develop and harness social capital? Absolutely. Employers have to stop viewing social and technological networksas separate, and start recognising that the way employees communicate via theinternet holds great potential for knowledge sharing. Technology shouldn’t beused to inhibit the way people interact, by making them fear for their privacy.As my colleague William Davies argues in an intriguing new report You don’tknow me but… Social Capital and Social Software: “Technology should tapinto the social fabric of modern workplaces and improve it”. This is one of the opportunities raised by the newly emerged ‘socialsoftware’ movement, which unites software developers and social capitalanalysts around a shared agenda – how to create online tools that facilitatefairer and more productive types of informal social collaboration. For HR managers, it is still relatively early days, despite the prevalenceof e-mails in many UK workplaces. But, over time, social software systems mayoffer considerable benefits to organisations seeking to draw on their richbases of social capital. For now, use ICT to further the emerging new forms ofcollaboration. But don’t use it to control or you will have a revolt on yourhands. By Will Hutton, Chief executive, The Work Foundation Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.