How to Make Web 2.0 Productivity Tools Work

By Elizabeth Millard  |  Posted 2008-10-16

As social networking tools hit the enterprise with full force, employees that have developed a fondness for Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace are now eager to extend their blogging and network skills to applications like Yammer and Dotster. But how can companies make sure the digital tools are enhancing productivity, rather than providing a digital water cooler where work gets put on hold?

Tying productivity to activities like microblogging is a challenge, and likely to get even more difficult, as new technology enters the marketplace. But there are a few strategies for making the most of the tools:

Abandon Measurement
Although some companies will likely explore different methods for measuring employee productivity in the Web 2.0 world, some experts believe that trying to track such gains may be a questionable proposition.

"When it comes to most knowledge workers, corporations don't audit the productivity of their phone use, or emails, or the use of meeting rooms," says Gil Yehuda, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "Management assumes that the best measure is overall productivity on projects and tasks."

Instead of trying to create metrics, companies should take a something of a leap of faith and trust that productivity gains will be achieved. "It is widely acknowledged that Web 2.0 technologies improve productivity, and only technological laggards fail to appreciate its value," according to Josh Holbroook, a director of enterprise research at Yankee Group.

Allow Personal Tech Use, To a Limit

Savvy companies also allow for a reasonable, small amount of time and technology for non-work use.

For example, if an employee checks a Gmail account for three minutes in the morning, it may be against the spirit of the corporate technology usage agreement, but trying to clamp down on that kind of minor personal usage could have the employee pursuing another personal task: updating a resume in anticipation of job hunting.

Similarly, companies should allow for a bit of personal conversation and flair on microblogging sites, as long as the content isn't inappropriate. Clamping down on opinions or personal thoughts on a microblog would be like asking employees not to express their feelings at work -- sometimes, such an admonition is warranted if it does against company policy, but often, sharing conversation is a way of connecting with others.

Use Microblogging as a Recruiting and Retention Tool
"Social networks have proved the ability to reduce employee churn rates, particularly among highly distributed workers," says Holbrook.

Improved collaboration from tools like wikis have already demonstrated a shorter time to market for products, he adds, through faster development and quicker customer feedback cycles.

That type of speedy pace is appealing to users of microblogging and other social networking technologies, since they tend to appreciate fast-track projects. Also, collaboration can keep some employees from feeling isolated if they're at branch offices or doing telework, notes Gartner analyst Scott Morrison.

"The trouble with people that telework at home is that they don't get the decompression of the water cooler chat," he says. "People that might be extremely productive and creative in the office may find themselves at sea when they work from home."

Encouraging employees to stay digitally connected through a microblogging tool can be useful for replicating that "what are you working on?" conversation that tends to permeate an office environment.

Create a Community Manager
For extensive implementations, where every employee is microblogging, companies may want to create a position that handles the information flow, notes Catherine Brown, director of business social networking at Dotster.

Although a community manager is best suited for handling customer-facing applications and making sure that feedback is routed properly, the manager can also watch over internal blogs, chatter, and directory updates to ensure that social networking tools are being used to their full potential.

"A community manager can be useful for an intranet," says Brown. "They're best with a customer-facing network, which boosts innovation from using customer suggestions more effectively, but they can apply those same skills to an internal effort."

Streamline and Standardize

To create a more cohesive social networking framework, Brown suggests limiting the number of applications that are in the enterprise. Not only will this create fewer headaches for IT, which has to secure the data and networks, but it also allows for faster communication.

For instance, an employee doesn't have to jump from one application that houses the employee directory to another that's used for microblogging. Finding one that has all relevant features, and training people to use it, is similar to streamlining the number of applications used in standard business operations.

Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done, Brown notes: "Particularly at larger companies, it may be difficult to bring it down to one platform, because these tools crop up in different departments, and then spread organically. You may not be able to use just one platform, but as long as you're getting employee needs met and their questions answered, that's a good start."

Get Executive Buy-in
If only the technophiles are microblogging, it doesn't create the kind of productivity gains that can come from everyone at a company being linked together.

Brown notes that when she used to work at Cisco, the company's comprehensive intranet was where employees would go when they had a question, since everyone was connected. The same is true now of full-featured tools, she adds.

"With social media applications, you just have access to people with more expertise," she says.