Makes you feel human again …

One of the key benefits of social media tools in a corporate context for me is letting employees be ‘human’ at work. Until now, as employees we have had to lead double lives.

We get up in the morning as humans – we express our opinions and listen to the opinions of our families … we talk about how we are feeling. Then, as we approach our offices, we switch off our humanity, close down our feelings and lock away our opinions. We spend the day as part of project teams – acting ‘professionally’ … create content that says nothing about us but just contains de-humanised words lacking a human context. We browse our intranets where, very occasionally, we find a page with a photo of a human being on it … only to find the accompanying words could have been written by a robot. We dress the same, act the same and behave in an acceptable, sanitised fashion.

It’s probably not a surprise to discover that people who are made to act out of character – out of balance – and who have to suppress their natural human instincts are not likely to be engaged, happy or at their most productive and creative. Social media tools can really help employees feel and behave like human beings – it allows people to put something of themselves into their work. It allows employees to have the same kind of conversations they have at home in a work context – express themselves, express their opinions … feel part of a living organism rather than part of a machine. It allows people to communicate directly with each other rather than through intermediaries where communication can easily break down or be misinterpreted. Social media is technology embedded in human behaviour.

The sooner that work places are transformed into human spaces the better for all of us. After all, work is an activity, not a place

7 comments

  1. Great post Richard – agree entirely.

    I’ve made this point for a while, although I haven’t exclusively attributed it to social media tools more a shift in the way organisations think due to a new generation coming through into key positions in organisations.

    The key thing for me is that this is a generation no longer (or at least less) happy to replicate the behaviours of those who have come before them as the way to succeed, and rather a generation who want to be human all the time as you say – the same person whether at home or at work.

    This is not a new phenomenon in the world of up and coming entrepreneurs for instance, who have always tended to succeed based on their personality and through being human. However what is new is this culture reaching major organisations and bureaucracies and this is where social tools have helped (along with other major shifts in society and the economy).

    Long may it continue as we still have a way to go I say!

  2. Richard, great post.

    I totally agree with everything you have said.

    Question: If we humanise the workplace too much, do we break down the barrier between work/non work life and does this pose a problem?

    Whilst I am happy to humanise and make more natural the work place, I am happy to do so as long as its one way.

    Thanks for making me think about this.

  3. I think it is healthier to break down the artificial barriers between ‘home’ and ‘work’. I have worked at home for about 7 years and when I get up in the morning I view my day in terms of ‘stuff I need to do’ … this ranges from cleaning my teeth to updating the BT Intranet strategy. I choose when to do these things based on a number of criteria – what I don’t do is sit behind my desk everyday from 9am-5.30pm. If it is better to do one of the ‘home’ things mid-morning I will do it. If it is better to do a work-related activity at 9pm at night – I do that. I’m sure I’m a much more balanced person as a result and I’m definitely more productive in both work and home matters.

    The fact that my employer trusts me to manage my life in this way is a great credit to them and has built up a huge reserve of goodwill and loyalty in me … I’ve worked at BT for over 10 years – this is SIGNIFICANTLY longer than I have ever worked for any other employer – trusting your employees to be ‘grown up’ and having an effective performance management system pay huge dividends!

  4. Richard, but surely that is less to do with humanising the workplace and more how you manage your work/life balance.

    For me the value of humanising the workplace is as you said in your post, we get to feel more like a person and less like a staff number: we can relax, open up and become more productive. There is no question in my mind that this is forward thinking, progressive and ulimatley will happen. I think my concerns come from (my own)personal experience, and as someone who does struggle to cope with work/life balance (am in a similar position to you, working mostly from home, working odd hours depending on what is happening that day) will the blurring of these boundries make this harder to achieve?

  5. I suppose the question is … what is a ‘workplace’? I think your ‘workplace’ is wherever you are when you need to carry out a work-related activity … this is less and less sitting behind a desk in a traditional office.

    I think it is more than ‘work-life balance’ … ‘balance’ implies they are totally separate and need to be juggled … I think that integrating them better is ‘humanising’ in both contexts. This can be achieved in an office environment as well as a home-working environment. Of course, you need to be disciplined in the sense that you must give both activities appropriate attention to meet the needs they have … to neglect one for the other leads to an imbalance which can only result in unhappiness and dis-engagement.

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