When a large percentage of the workforce adopts an enforced new way of working, the organisations that have the technology in place, are quick to adapt their methods of communication, and understand the impact of such a drastic change on their workforce are better placed to weather the external disruption to their business by minimising the internal disruption.
Technologies that enable working online
Working from home would not be possible without internet-connected digital tools and platforms that allow workers to connect, communicate and collaborate. These Enterprise 2.0 technologies are networked through internet connections and contain ‘social’ or collaborative layer functionality such as sharing documents with other workers, communicating in faster, less formal ways through instant messaging, and finding information across a wider pool of sources.
Types of Enterprise 2.0 technology
Enterprise 2.0 technologies are defined by their characteristic collaborative layer that increases workers productivity through fostering connected, collaborative ways of working.
The technologies include:
- Shared documents
- Social networks
- Video sharing
- Video conferencing
- Instant messaging
- Prediction markets
Video conferencing, social networking and collaborative document editing are the most adopted of the various types of technologies. These are all internal working tools, perhaps suggesting that companies haven’t yet fully realised the benefits of using these technologies to create more permeable boundaries between the organisation and its customers, suppliers, other organisations, etc., in order to increase openness and drive innovation.
Benefits of Enterprise 2.0 technology
During a time of global crisis organisations might consider the ability to continue to operate to be a sufficient benefit from having implemented Enterprise 2.0 technologies, but there are also additional longer term benefits. Andrew McAffe says that Enterprise 2.0 “offers significant improvements, not just incremental ones, in areas such as generating, capturing, and sharing knowledge” (McAfee, 2009).
The top five measurable benefits from technology adoption are (McKinsey, 2013):
- Increasing speed to access knowledge
- Reducing communication costs
- Reducing travel costs
- Increasing speed to access internal experts
- Reducing operational costs
Enterprise 2.0 technologies grew rapidly between 2006 and 2013 (McKinsey, 2013) with 61% of companies reporting using video conferencing in 2013. The growth of these collaborative tools had plateaued (McKinsey 2015) but it is not inconceivable to assume that during the lockdown far more companies are utilising the benefits of technology to undertake almost every business task. The lockdown may serve as an accelerator for better utilisation of collaborative working technologies and achieve greater and previously unrealised benefits than if organisations had not been forced to adopt them.
Communication methods that support distributed workforces
The emergence of Enterprise 2.0 as a new form of interaction (rather than purely a technological phenomenon) between workers has enabled those who had to work from home during the lockdown to continue to communicate effectively with colleagues. The new communication methods required acceptance of the reconceptualisation of how information flows in Enterprise 2.0.
Traditional enterprise communication followed the lines of organisational hierarchy whereas Enterprise 2.0 communication follows the paths of a network and so flows more quickly and efficiently.
Steven Johnson (2010) suggests that individuals perform better when they belong to more networks as they can benefit from information shared by other people. The more nurturing a network, the more information openly shared, the more innovative ideas that can emerge.
Enterprise 2.0 enables the creation and growth of collaborative communities; groups of people that leverage technology and communication networks to organise themselves around different principles to the traditional hierarchical organisation, in order to have a collective means to participate and collaborate. This means of organising, foregoing the authority of traditional means, would have enabled employees to quickly mobilise to figure out new ways of responding to the challenges they faced during the lockdown.
A collaborative community could include the following characteristics (Savalle et al, 2010):
- Varied in size
Collaborative communities emerge bottom up when people see the value of their contribution. In this there are network effects occurring as the more people contribute to the community, more people experience a benefit and so contribute more.
Companies benefit from providing the technologies and allowing this type of organisation to prosper as information sharing and crowd thinking can solve problems that traditional siloed team structures cannot, it supports new ideas to emerge, and strengthens social ties.
Ways of collaborating
Different types of organisational structure require different ways of collaborating, especially in a crisis situation such as lockdown. Allowing collaborative ways of working to emerge through communities takes more time than companies may have to enable effective working from home, and so considering the ways in which collaboration can be initiated and supported can speed up adoption among a distributed workforce.
Pisano and Verganti (2008) proposed a model of governance and participation that whilst describing how companies can approach innovation with partners could also be a valid model for describing how innovative ways of collaborative working could be understood. This model provides some understanding of how bottom up communities and top down hierarchies may interact in collaborative ways to develop innovative solutions to problems, such as the pressing problem facing companies at the start of the lockdown of how to begin working collaboratively.
Impacts on employees
Introducing Enterprise 2.0 technologies and ways of working to an organisation carries with it a considerable impact for its employees, especially if undertaken during a crisis such as lockdown. Understanding the social ties between individuals, how they develop social capital, and what motivates them to adopt the new technologies and ways of working can provide some insight into how the shift to Enterprise 2.0 can be more successful.
McAfee (2009) described four types of ties people have with others. The ties can be weak, strong, potential or none. Strong ties exist between people who know each other and work together, but it is weak ties that are important for connecting people who don’t know each other very well in order to spread information (Gravonetter, 1973). Enterprise 2.0 enables more weak ties to form across an organisation and so encourage information to flow that might have otherwise if it was reliant on the hierarchical structure.
Social capital exists in the relations between individuals in a group. Faraj and Wasko (2001) refer to it as a “collective orientation”, a social system that develops because of “closure, shared history, goal interdependence, and frequent interactions”. When those interactions happen online whilst using Enterprise 2.0 technologies the norms of acceptable behaviour become even more paramount, and the opportunities for sharing information and resources are increased.
Achieving adoption of Enterprise 2.0 technologies and ways of working requires an appreciation of the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of the employees, even more so at a time of crisis where they may have additional pressures outside of the workplace. If workers are intrinsically motivated to be successful in the roles, and they understand how new technologies can help with this, they would seem to be more likely to adopt and adapt to the change.
For some businesses the coronavirus lockdown will serve as an accelerator for the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 technologies, new ways of working, and new ways of unlocking value within the organisation. This enforced innovation that is making the organisational boundaries more permeable, spreading knowledge and new ways of collaborating, and enabling employees to make the most of the shift to Enterprise 2.0 has the potential to support businesses to be more innovative and successful.