Staff comprise the core of a company. Their needs as consumers and users of IT products should therefore be a priority. To make this happen, companies ought to be taking innovative approaches, speakers at the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit underlined.

“An employee should be regarded as a user.” This is how Social Business consultant Claude Super expresses his belief that companies ought to take a fresh look at how they can adapt IT-related mechanisms such as social networks to the needs of their workforce. The organisers of the Enterprise 2.0 Summit - which took place in Paris on 20-21 March – also chose to devote the first day of the event to this crucial topic. It was here that Richard Collin, Professor and Director of the Entreprise 2.0 Institute at the Grenoble School of Management, told us of his firm conviction that “the solution to all this complexity is complicity.” By ‘complicity’ he means close dialogue between companies and their employees, and between employees. These days this dialogue is channelled through enterprise social networks. However, such company-internal social networks are already past the initial adoption stage. Some innovation, notably new ways of working such as the ‘digital workplace’, are now needed.

From the 2.0 employee...

Most company employees are avid users of social networks when they get home, but inside the walls of the company, take-up is still relatively low. When staff do use social networks in the workplace, they are not always all that enthusiastic about it either. As a result, some companies have taken steps to adapt the concept. This is what EDF has done with its VivreEDFonline (LivingEDFonline). This is basically a collaborative intranet based on the ‘community’ principle, combined with an enterprise social network. Most companies prefer to keep these two approaches separate, but EDF has chosen to fuse them together. The reasoning behind this decision is that EDF staff are used to working with the company intranet and are quite happy to use the same channel to communicate with each other in exactly the same way in a work context as they do on a private basis on their chosen social networks. Carine de Usatorre from EDF’s HR and Social Communication Marketing Unit, thinks that combining these two channels helps to “break down structural silos and bring people closer together.” The initiative seems to be working, as “there are already 90,000 profiles on the network, and 130 communities have been set up,” points out Carine de Usatorre.

… to the 2.0 company

Of course there’s nothing especially new in viewing employees as users. Claude Super points to the benefits of giving staff the option of working remotely. “Staff are increasingly working from home and this can make them more efficient,” he argues. But this approach needs some refinement since “not everyone is able to telework; it doesn’t suit all types of people. So some kind of support framework is needed to help staff manage their time properly.” Allowing staff to work in an alternative way, coupled with improvements to in-company communication, might well prove beneficial, but the best way for firms to capitalise on the new technologies is to show some imagination. Richard Collin thinks that “companies need to understand that the only way of adapting to today’s environment is to step outside their rigid procedural frameworks. They need to integrate real conversations into their processes.”

By Kathleen Comte