Questions and Answers About Social Intranets and Social Collaboration

In the last few years, the terms "Intranet 2.0" and "Social Intranet" started appearing, describing the development of more interactive and communicative intranets. Since then, "Social Collaboration" has become an oft-requested feature of intranets, contributing to the development of the notion of "Social Business".

What does Social Business and Social Collaboration mean?

Social Business (not to be confused with Mohammed Yanus' economic concept), refers to a business, where the company does not see itself as an island in direct competition with others.

  • In social business, enterprises are part of a larger ecosystem including various stakeholders, including suppliers, customers, and partners.
  • This eco-system encourages communication, sharing, engagement, and collaboration with each other (competition does not exclude this!)
  • This collaborative approach is anchored in the operation and culture of the organizations.

Social business is not just for companies, but also for employees and managers, as well as partners (customers, suppliers, neighbors). Social collaboration is all about collaborative work on tasks, topics and issues. This includes the creation of a shared work environment that allows and promotes collaboration.

Originally, social intranets were developed to support enterprise social networking, but more often these days,  functionality to enable collaboration is the primary goal of social intranets.

Are Social Intranet and Social Collaboration only for large companies?

Social collaboration is less tied to the size of the company than to the following factors:

  • Do employees work in multiple locations?
  • Must employees collaborate with others in different departments and/or locations?
  • Does the company collaboratively work with suppliers and partners? Are documents or messages regularly exchanged?

In collaboration and communication, there are multiple distances that must be bridged. These are more important than the number of employees.

  • Spatial distance: different buildings, locations, countries.
  • Time distance: different time zones, or fragmentation of the work day, allowing for only a few common blocks of time (for example, because of meetings and project work).
  • Social distance: can employees get to know each other easily? How can they get to know each other better, even when they rarely meet in person?

Although these factors clearly play a role in large companies, they also influence medium-sized companies and smaller, especially in how well employees work with each other and with external partners.

Just as globalization and digitization has led to increased competition, social collaboration will contribute to the future success of a company.

What is the future of collaboration?

The future of intranets looks more flexible and less strictly regulated. Employees will be required to work independent of location and time (with a home office, mobile office or co-working). At the same time, employees often demand this flexibility from companies (for example, to raise their quality of life by spending less time commuting).

The digitalization of collaboration encourages and enables a results-oriented focus. It is less important where or when an employee works, but that results are consistently delivered (see also Results Oriented Work Environment). The Workplace is being replaced with a Working Environment. There are still face-to-face meetings, but they are better prepared for, tightly focused and with partial remote participation.

Will this digital transformation change the company culture?

Corporate culture is still dominated by the three main forms of organization: hierarchy, process and project. "Knowledge is power" is a characteristic phrase uttered by management working in such a company. This does not work in a social business or collaborative organization.  Instead, it is about the spirit of partnership, such as in role-oriented organizations such as in communities, sociocracy and holocracy.

That does not mean we should ignore the past achievements of any organization. But there is a growing paradigm shift from "knowledge is power" to "my network makes me faster and better".

Such changes in understanding and approach are not achievable within a short time span of a few weeks, or when demanded by a manager, because they are a change in values, behavior patterns and beliefs.

Organizational culture, or corporate culture, is a concept of organizational theory, describing the emergence and development of cultural value patterns within an organization. (Wikipedia)

Will Germany adopt and learn to love social intranet?

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

(William Gibson, Science-Fiction Author, e.g. Neuromancer)

Many initiatives from large companies are particularly visible. Partly because large companies have the resources to approach and implement changes systematically, and partly because they publicize their efforts. There are also many medium-sized companies with social intranets.

Because the introduction of a social intranet and social collaboration requires a change in corporate culture, the implementation, training and behavioral change leading to the success of the social intranet takes longer than that of a simple Intranet 1.0.

What can German companies learn from companies in other countries?

Learning does not just mean simply imitating successful examples, but instead requires constant experimentation and adjustments. German companies often want to plan a project strictly from start to finish, with guaranteed success.

Companies in other countries are more comfortable with experimenting. They understand that something that worked in another organization will not likely work when transferred 1:1 to their own company. Every company is different. Even though some things are the same (same departments, similar size), it does not mean the corporate culture is identical.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

(Samuel Beckett from Worstward Ho)

German companies should trust themselves more: just do it, try something, watch and listen. Start with small initiatives, even when the success is not 100% guaranteed.

As James Tyler (global lead of social collaboration at Kellogg) said about social collaboration:

You can be more networked, you can be more agile, you can respond to consumer demands, industry market demands, and employees.

This article is translated from a German article written by Frank Hamm.

Frank HammFrank Hamm is a consultant for communication and collaboration who supports companies in their digital transformation. He has written for INJELEA-Blog about social business, intranets, enterprise 2.0 and company communication practices since 2005. Frank is an avowed nexialist and writes about this at Der Schreibende.

You can find more articles by Frank Hamm in our intranet special.