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- Kevin Olp, DWG Research Author and Lead Strategy Consultant
As DWG’s latest member research report is published, Research Author and Lead Strategy Consultant, Kevin Olp, drops into the Digital Workplace Impact studio to unbox his findings on the evolution of enterprise social networks (ESNs).
In Intranet 2.0 and enterprise social networks: How they’ve changed the way we work , Kevin examines how ESNs have been adopted (or not) by organizations, considers the extent to which they’ve changed how we work, and explores how they’ve evolved over the last decade and a half.
Together, Kevin and host, DWG’s Nancy Goebel, use this latest podcast to dig into whether early expectations have been realized, uncover the barriers that have stood in the way, and ponder what can be taken into the future. And, indeed, they ask whether taking a step back to view progress reveals important learnings that will help practitioners to create and sustain thriving ESNs for the future?
So, if where you’re going doesn’t need roads, take a listen today for more that could help you on your journey back to the future of ESNs!
Show notes, links and transcript for this episode:
Download the report excerpt: Intranet 2.0 and enterprise social networks: How they’ve changed the way we work
Related blog: Is this the era of the intelligent digital assistant?
Related podcast: Why passionate people create the best digital workplaces – Digital Workplace Group
[00:00:00.570] – Kevin Olp
We are all here together to be able to do a job and to serve customers and serve the organization. And so there’s got to be a balance as well between each of our workforces strongly held feelings and positions and the tasks that we’re all here to do. And those organizations that flex too strongly only one way or the other tend to struggle. The ones who can find that balance are the ones that seem to be thriving the best right now. If there is one thing that we have learned over the last ten or 15 years, it’s that you have to approach the employee as a whole human being. And that whole human being has not just work needs and goals and objectives that they’re trying to reach, but also has a need to be able to connect with other people within the organization on a deeper level.
[00:01:02.690] – Nancy Goebel
Today was a special treat for me. I had a chance to catch up with Kevin Olp, one time DWG member turned fellow DWG colleague. Kevin is a DWG research author and lead strategy consultant, working with a variety of members day to day. This is actually Kevin’s third visit to the Digital Workplace Impact podcast studio. The first two centered around member research related to accelerating adoption in the digital workplace in addition to intelligent digital assistance. And Kevin dropped in today for a chat to help us unbox the latest research that he’s authored for DWG members. And it’s looking at enterprise social networking as an evolution. It’s an exploration of intranet 2.0 a decade and a half on felt a little bit like a Back to the Future moment because we looked back in order to think about what’s needed next. And so the conversation explores what happened to enterprise social networks a decade and a half on from the dawn of Enterprise 2.0. And this report is one that looks at how ESN, as they’re known for short, has been adopted or not by organizations, the extent to which they’ve changed how we work and converse with each other, and of course, how they’ve continued to evolve, and even a few crystal ball moments looking into the future.
[00:02:49.370] – Nancy Goebel
And so this conversation really digs into what early expectations have been realized, what barriers have crept in along the way, including some recent challenges. And taking that step back to view progress in this area really does furnish practitioners with some salient learnings and advice for creating and sustaining thriving enterprise social networks going into the future. Join me now in conversation with Kevin Olp. This is Nancy Goebel, your host. Digital Workplace impact is brought to you by Digital Workplace Group. And as always, happy listening.
[00:03:32.570] – Doc Emmett Brown
Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
[00:03:36.670] – Nancy Goebel
So, Kevin, welcome back to the Digital Workplace Impact podcast studio. Am I right in thinking that this is your third guest spot?
[00:03:46.830] – Kevin Olp
It is. I’m starting to feel like this seat is is very familiar to me. Thank you so much for having me back again.
[00:03:53.210] – Nancy Goebel
And just for our wider listening base by memory, I’m thinking that you’ve shared two research spotlights from our member research program. Reports that you’ve authored around accelerating adoption and intelligent digital assistance. Have I got that right?
[00:04:12.160] – Kevin Olp
You’ve got that right, absolutely. This one was a lot different than the other two though.
[00:04:18.280] – Nancy Goebel
So do tell, what’s the title and give us the insider perspective on what inspired this paper.
[00:04:27.490] – Kevin Olp
So, if the title is Internet 2.0 and Enterprise Social Networks: How they’ve changed the way we work and what makes them different from the other papers that I’ve done with Digital Workplace Group is that it is more of a retrospective looking back in history. So much of what we do at Digital Workplace Group looks forward. But the inspiration behind this particular idea was that back around 2008, the introduction of enterprise social networks into the traditional network was such a seminal moment and a change in how digital workplaces looked and felt, that we felt. It made sense to look back to 2008 and take a look at what’s happened since then and what the ultimate impact on that has been on digital workplaces in general, but more broadly, on the way that we do work today. So very different from the other research papers that I’ve had an opportunity to participate in.
[00:05:32.080] – Nancy Goebel
I think that’s quite an interesting way to look at this slice of the digital workplace. I can tell you enterprise social networking is having quite the resurgence among members and our wider circles, not only because of the swirl in the land of Microsoft around Yammer, then the announcement of Microsoft Engage. So on a technological level there was a spotlight moment that’s continued into the new year. Also we saw that quite a lot of member organizations gave a great deal of focus around Microsoft Teams and neglected the enterprise social arena. So we saw a level of refocus and repurposing of enterprise social as part of the wider employee engagement strategy, calling it a space to have enterprise conversation. And I’d say it’s sometimes moving away from the term social networking in a way in that context. And then of course there are some organizations that have multiple platforms in play and are trying to do some sense-making about whether to leave those things intact, rationalize and focus. And then also there were some cases where there were very mature Yammer practices and enterprise social networking in some organizations and then teams shook things up and people were trying to refocus and repurpose.
[00:07:17.840] – Nancy Goebel
So those are just a couple of scenarios that have come up in the past year. So I guess is there a deeper sense of the why now with all of that in mind?
[00:07:30.930] – Kevin Olp
Well, I think that one of the things that Microsoft does so well is that they are so good at anticipating and responding to the moment and what’s happening. And so Teams came into really its own at a time during the pandemic when we all needed to figure out a way to get our work done. Just the very basics of being able to still get to meetings, still be able to collaborate on documents and be able to get things done. And so if you think about the journey that we’ve been on, that really is what’s inspiring and driving a lot of what we’re seeing right now in this phase two. So we started all together. For years, as digital workplace professionals, we have been trumpeting the cause of being able to enable people to work from wherever they are, whatever time that they are in. But we were all together and it was very difficult to move that needle. Then came the pandemic and suddenly, instead of being all together, we were looking and finding ways to be alone together. Right? And Microsoft teams played a really big role in making that happen. And to be honest, at that point, everyone was seeking just to keep their head above water, weren’t thinking about some of the cultural, some of the interpersonal social things that happen at work in order to be able to really make work calm.
[00:09:05.470] – Kevin Olp
Now that we are coming back together, either in a hybrid format or in some organizations, everyone back to the office. We’re looking to bring the best of what we learned while we were out there alone back to the organization. And one of the things that is now the thing that’s capturing everyone’s attention, particularly at the organizations that I talk to, is how do you rebuild, reimagine and maintain those cultural aspects of who you are for your work base? And so when you’re thinking about that, what was previously known as enterprise social networks and now is just being seen as being together both digitally and also in person is starting to take the forefront.
[00:09:55.870] – Nancy Goebel
And I think the other thing that comes to mind for me, Kevin, is that there’s a whole cadre of people who weren’t impacted in the same way by going through pandemic to endemic. And of course, that’s the front line, whether those are people who were in trucks, in plant facilities, individuals who were delivering health care services in hospitals and the healthcare system and all the rest. And so for them, the way conversations need to happen has evolved, but they aren’t necessarily directly impacted by the return to office or the tug of war per se between employers and employees about how to manage that and how to juggle this hybrid workplace that you were talking about as well. So lots of different scenarios. And of course, I’m really keen to start to really now peel back the cover of the report literally and figuratively and talk about the significance of intranet 2.0 in the evolution of enterprise social networking.
[00:11:09.970] – Kevin Olp
Well, this is where this paper became very interesting and fun because it took us back 14 years. There’s a story in the paper in 2008 that’s actually one of my personal stories at the time, director in communications, large financial services firm and I was called into my boss’s office and he loved to whiteboard and what we were whiteboarding that day. I’ll bet you we whiteboarded a dozen things throughout my career there most of them I have no memory of whatsoever. This one I remember to this day because it was around at the time, some of the enterprise social networking tools that were becoming prevalent. So everything from RSS feeds at the time to Yammer and the predecessors of Slack and some of those other tools starting to become a part of our culture at that organization. And the senses of loss of control, the senses of uncertainty, and how as a communications organization, we were going to be able to get our messaging out. And just the fears at the time of how these platforms would be used for things other than what we would like people to be doing at work. Right. Remember the whole fears around cat pictures and people talking about things that were perhaps sensitive and were scary to us in organizational leadership at the time.
[00:12:49.110] – Kevin Olp
That’s the beginning of this path. At the time, intranets were really repositories of information, places where people went to be able to find a document or maybe to be able to find out what the lunch menu was that day. By the time we came to the end of this first phase of this evolution, intranets had taken big steps towards becoming digital workplaces, which is really in our work that we all do together. And all the people that are listening here is significant because it really started to shape the landscape of what we do today. Intranets, not just as a place where we go to find a document, but digital workplaces that truly drive every thread of the fabric of our daily work from the meetings we attend to the offline conversations that we have to still being able to find what we need in a timely manner when we need it.
[00:13:55.760] – Nancy Goebel
I’m just drawing a parallel here for a moment with a book I had read some years back and the headline of the book was are you a worrier or a warrior? And when I think about that moment in history, the history of intranets or intranet 2.0 at the time and digital workplaces, we saw very much a split. And there were the worriers, and there were the warriors. And I’m thinking about an example of one large scale hardware store that put themselves very quickly in the warrior camp and used the idea of enterprise social as a space to lean into the fear of the cat pictures. And in their case, it was a story of people who wanted to be able to find each other because they had an affinity for all the zombie films and the different zombie cons and things like that that were very much in vogue at the time and wanted employees to be able to connect with each other. With the thought that in retail you often have such high attrition. So if they could offer a space for people to feel a sense of community and connection that was social in nature, that might very well help with retention.
[00:15:17.810] – Nancy Goebel
And in their case, they saw that to be the case. And there was almost this maturity curve that followed that then went from the social interactions where people were testing the muscle of enterprise social to then the work applications and how additional products were sold. So I’m really curious to dig into some of the deeper understandings that you pulled out as part of this research.
[00:15:45.420] – Kevin Olp
Well, that’s so insightful that you bring that specific piece up, because when you look at the pieces that were added beginning in the mid 2000s, they were the pieces that really started to deal with digital workplace as it can influence culture and how people experience the organization. So in the case of the major firm that you’re talking about, really what you were seeing is you were seeing them looking at a very, very tangible, measurable business metric, retention, and how they could utilize the enterprise social environment to be able to impact that in a positive way. Right. So it’s a business metric, but it’s a very, very soft kind of cultural thing that they were looking at doing, creating a place where people felt like they had peers that understood them, they had other people that were interested in the same thing that they’re interested in. And organizations, as you know, today are still wrestling with that. I’ll tell another story from one of our case studies within the research paper. It was Chris Harrer over at Comcast shared the story in their call centers. Their call centers, like with most firms of their nature, are big, large, warehouse size call centers.
[00:17:21.590] – Kevin Olp
Lots of people, lots of interaction, lots of competition amongst teams, lots of helping each other. And when they went remote, one of the things that was their big worry was team chemistry. It would be just as important in an off site or in a hybrid situation as it is when people are on site. And what they leveraged is they leveraged their social network at the time to be able to still hold their morning meetings, to still be in a place where people had a voice and they saw all of their peers. And they had a chance to be able to interact in terms of competitions and contests that were such a big part of their culture when they were all on site together. Couldn’t have been done without having the strong social network that they had in place.
[00:18:14.190] – Nancy Goebel
That’s a very powerful story. I know that there are lots of different scenarios that we could work through just as part of this level set. One more that I think is critical without naming names is to really dig into this fear space where I still think there is a level of concern about employees having certain conversations. If you think about the moments when some of our social justice issues were very prominent in the press over the last few years, there was a resurgence in that fear factor around. Do we shut down those conversations? How do we navigate them? Do we let those voices come out? Because the workplace should be a space of trust and inclusion. And I think one of the conversations that often comes back is that these conversations flow like water. If you don’t give them a space to naturally pool together, water will find another way. So translate that into the ESN arena. You can have the internal channels where this conversation can play out with guidance, expert facilitation on the part of the employer. Otherwise the risk is that those conversations play out publicly where it’s harder to create, whether it’s a teachable moment, clarification of a corporate point of view on something, or any number of other conversations that might otherwise be allowed to plant seeds and grow inside of the organization and set that culture tone that you were talking about.
[00:20:03.970] – Kevin Olp
It is such an interesting and challenging topic right now because I think the organizations that have managed the best keep in mind three things. First thing is that is exactly what you said. You can choose to have those conversations and provide a space for them to occur internally or they likely will occur externally. The second piece is that even those internal conversations, it is important, as we’ve seen just from watching the media, that those internal conversations happen with as much care and authenticity as possible because even internal conversations can ultimately find themselves externally and in the press. Right?
[00:20:49.660] – Nancy Goebel
[00:20:50.590] – Kevin Olp
How we react to things has to be transparent, has to be consistent with who our values are and be fair. And then the third thing that I think the companies that are managing at best right now are doing is that they’re also balancing it with the fact that we are all here together to be able to do a job and to serve customers and serve the organization. And so there’s got to be a balance as well between each of our workforce’s strongly held feelings and positions and the task that we’re all here to do. And those organizations that flex too strongly one way or the other tend to struggle. The ones who can find that balance are the ones that seem to be thriving the best right now.
[00:21:42.130] – Nancy Goebel
Well, those are some really valuable call outs around those key tenants and I appreciate that you’re able to call upon those things as part of this conversation. Another tricky one, Kevin, that I’d love to get your take on. The Microsoft space comes to mind often because it is a force. Right. We see a significant percentage of our members in this space, although there are some that are in the G suite space and working best of breed versus taking the suite approach per se. Forgive me while I use the Microsoft example, but certainly I see this as something that extends beyond platform. And the idea is that if you boil this down there are some organizations that really did pivot around chat and collaboration, i.e. Microsoft Teams during the pandemic and they rolled that out very quickly in order to be able to enable large numbers of people to work from home. And so as the hybrid paradigm shifted, some were questioning why bother with enterprise social or enterprise conversations. Nowadays in the Microsoft space that’s a combination of Viva, Engage and Yammer, although it won’t be long before we see that just converge into Engage, I think.
[00:23:15.550] – Nancy Goebel
And so what’s your best advice for those digital workplace teams that are being challenged still about why bother with ESN?
[00:23:27.800] – Kevin Olp
Well, I think the answer is deceptively simple is that if there is one thing that we have learned over the last ten or 15 years, it’s that the employee, you have to approach the employee as a whole human being. And that whole human being has not just work needs and goals and objectives that they’re trying to reach but also has a need to be able to connect with other people within the organization on a deeper level. I think the best way that I can put it, and I think most of the people that are listening will probably be able to resonate with this is that when you’re working in an office, there is a certain amount of work that happens in meetings and there’s a certain amount of work that happens when you are alone at your workstation. Heads down. But many times the grease that makes the project that you’re working on, the effort that you’re doing actually hum and occur are those one-off meetings that you have with people that are informal. It might be, I’m going to call them the olden days. It might be when you’re walking from meeting to meeting and you run into someone in a hallway or it might be when you have an opportunity to sit down and have lunch with someone or have a cup of coffee or just bump into them during the course of the day in a totally unexpected way.
[00:25:03.090] – Kevin Olp
In today’s environment, enterprise social network is what replaces that. We may not have the opportunity as consistently. If you’re in a hybrid work environment you might be only in the office three days a week and it might not be the same day that you are. Nancy, if I’m trying to run into you so I may not run into you the way that I used to. The enterprise social network space is the space that we can use to be able to replace those chance meetings and enable that third leg of the stool to be able to really hum and really help us to make the best decisions with the fullest information and the perspectives of all the people that we need to have. That is part of the road left to travel. Because I think while we have a lot of the tools in place to do this, I think the positioning of those tools and our ability to use them is developing. And the goal is to reach the place where we can still have that access to those people we might not formally be in meetings with up and down the command chain that allow us to be able to come to our best decisions and do our best work.
[00:26:18.120] – Nancy Goebel
I think that’s such an insightful comment because what I’m thinking about is the fact that there were groups of people who came into roles without the window of time to build relationships in person and start to create the social capital that you described. And so some employers over the last couple of years, whether it was when you had large groups of people who were remote or more recently in that mixed space of hybrid, and they didn’t necessarily have the same ability, to create their spheres of influence within their own orbits, let alone build community across divisional lines where you would have like minded individuals working across Finance or HR or name your function, where people would be able to say, hey, we’re working on the same thing. Why don’t we join forces? Because the danger of a collaboration and chat platform is that it’s based on what you initiate with a small group of individuals or some sort of high performance team that’s coming together for a specific purpose. But inherently that can be a very insular way to operate. And you could have the same parallel conversation happening in multiple places and never connect those up.
[00:27:59.260] – Nancy Goebel
Sometimes there’s a need to elevate the conversation to share what’s happening beyond the individual team, small team finds.
[00:28:07.350] – Kevin Olp
And if I can build on that, think about the mentoring opportunities as well, those same opportunities of people you might not be working directly with a project on, but every organization is looking to develop the next generation of leaders and to be limited in that in the contact that you have with senior leadership. I think that is one thing that most organizations can say has been showing positive steps forward within the last twelve to 18 months is just the accessibility of senior leadership to the voice of the workforce. And so those mentoring opportunities, that ability to knock down silos is one of the, I think, road yet to be traveled opportunities that we have is to continue to build on that momentum.
[00:29:08.350] – Nancy Goebel
And are there any themes under that road yet to travel that we’ve missed or have we picked them up?
[00:29:18.530] – Kevin Olp
We’ve picked up most of them. I think to conversation that I had with one of the executives I had an opportunity to speak with, Kristy Litchford from Campbells, is that our ability to be able to take the tools that we have and to be able to embed them into the way that we work at a deeper level. We are doing some things very well right now, but there is a large amount of untapped potential that these tools have for us to be able to continue to grow that.
[00:29:56.160] – Nancy Goebel
And the reality is that capabilities will evolve over time, whether it’s in the form of integration into other spaces, as we’ve seen early days with Viva Engage, or wider capabilities that haven’t even been conceived of. And we can’t anticipate, but we flex and grow and again go through that paradigm of worrier versus warrior to take a stance and then move through the change paradigm. I guess one of the things I’m really curious to explore with you a bit further is I know we talked about some very interesting scenarios around the road yet to travel, but I wonder if just based on your research and experience. If there are any call outs that you can give relative to the more advanced players and what they’re doing in this space and even how they’re demonstrating impact per se.
[00:30:54.550] – Kevin Olp
Well, I think if you look at Southwest Airlines in 2021, they’ve leveraged Yammer, really to provide real time engagement and support to their users and created systems where there are super users using crowdsourcing in a lot of very interesting ways. I was sitting in a meeting just this morning where one of the one of the directors in another organization said, you know, we have 30,000 employees and the ability to be able to access their points of view in a crowdsourced manner on some of the challenges that we’re facing today is one of the things that has me most excited about digital workplace. And they were in a place where they’re just at a midpoint in the journey, they’re still developing, but even they can see what the power of being able to leverage the thoughts of 30,000 employees in a crowd sourced basis can do. And I think that’s one of the things that we’re starting to see more and more of is the ability to be able to leverage all of that knowledge that exists within a workforce.
[00:32:08.330] – Nancy Goebel
And if you had a crystal ball, Kevin, what do you think might be up next for enterprise social? And if you have a thought, collaboration to go along with that, just because often the two work very closely in tandem.
[00:32:27.110] – Kevin Olp
Well, Nancy, we’ve done this three times now, so, you know, I always have a thought, for what it’s worth.
[00:32:35.150] – Nancy Goebel
You can pay me later.
[00:32:37.650] – Kevin Olp
This is a historical piece, right? So I’ll start with kind of where we’ve been. We went from static repositories of content into where we’re entering today, which is dynamic two-way channels that enable multidirectional conversations and provide a less structured, less structured platform for collaboration. Right. I think as we look, as we go forward, we’re going to see three things just in general headlines. It’s going to grow in relevance. We have needs within organizations operating in for some organizations, it’s the same old, same old. For some, very new. But this is going to grow in relevance. But it’s going to stay organic. You mentioned certain things about human beings is that they run like water. They’re going to run to the place that they need to be. I think that this is the same way. It’s going to stay organic. It’s going to develop in ways that perhaps are unpredictable, but are always going to serve the needs of the people who are using them, the people behind the keyboards. As a result, our vendors, our providers are going to evolve. They’re going to provide new tools that respond to those organic needs. I see them for fixing some of the awkward, right?
[00:34:03.620] – Kevin Olp
We’ve all been in awkward online digital conversations. It’s going to make it less awkward, better mobile integration, and we’re going to start seeing AI introduced into the mix more. We’re going to have AI coworkers, if you can put it that way, more into our lives going forward from the bots that we see within the community now. You may see more and more of that maybe in your meetings, when you’re in the meetings into the future. So I remember how intimidating that first conversation in 2008 was. And it is a great time to be a warrior rather than a worrier in your news, your words, and embrace the power of the new.
[00:34:49.400] – Nancy Goebel
I would add one more thing, and it may be an offshoot of the AI side because your list is a good one. And my thought is that there will be a level of digital coaching built into these spaces as they morph and grow some capabilities leading towards the leadership support needs and others towards employees at large. There are systems of nudges and prompts that are emerging, and those are precursors to coaching in my mind.
[00:35:28.880] – Kevin Olp
[00:35:29.580] – Nancy Goebel
Gosh, Kevin, what have we missed? Any final thoughts?
[00:35:35.290] – Kevin Olp
I am struggling for final thoughts because this was such a rich and engaging conversation. The one thing that I will say is that I think that this period of time, from 2008 to today, the introduction of enterprise social networks into our traditional intranets, really in a lot of ways was the bridge that organizations needed and technology providers needed. Between viewing our online spaces as literally just file cabinets where we could find information to the digital workplace of today. So if you think about this period as being a bridge, then looking forward now, we have a very broad and wide space of possibility to be able to move into next.
[00:36:29.630] – Nancy Goebel
And welcome to the digital headquarters, right?
[00:36:32.590] – Kevin Olp
[00:36:34.510] – Nancy Goebel
So, Kevin, it’s always such a treat to catch up with you, and I want to thank you for stepping away from all of the great things that you have going on in and around DWG working with our members and clients and who knows when we’ll catch up next. And I know that certainly if you come back to the research program soon, then we’ll have our fourth session built in, but we may find some other creative things to chat about in between in the studio once again.
[00:37:08.810] – Kevin Olp
As always, Nancy, thank you for having me a part of this conversation.
[00:37:13.050] – Nancy Goebel
Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. DWG is a strategic partner covering all aspects of the evolving digital workplace industry and boutique consulting services. For more information, visit digitalworkplacegroup.com.
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