Things have gone beyond the stage of using in-company social networks simply to share information or raise the profile of a given issue. At some companies, platforms are now being developed that enable employees to launch an internal request for work, offer their services, or raise funds for running projects.

IBM Connect: Internal Social Networks Driving Advanced Forms of Collaboration

The major trend being discussed among IBM’s research lab people who gathered at the IBM Connect 2013 conference in Orlando, Florida on January 27-31 was company-internal social networks. Researchers are trying to optimise the use of these networks and move beyond simple knowledge sharing. The next step will be more advanced collaboration, where employees even go as far as sharing out the work. Steve Dill, a researcher at IBM’s Almaden Research Centre in California, has helped to develop a platform called the ‘Work Marketplace’, which provides staff with a means of posting small ads when they want someone to carry out a basic task at the company, such as creating a PowerPoint presentation, designing a brochure, etc. Gamification is added to the ‘crowdsourcing’ approach as well, as the allocation of the task is based on competition. The task is given to the ‘highest bidder’, which might mean the person who demonstrates the highest skills or knowledge level - with the software providing a profile of all those ‘tendering’ - or the highest quality project proposed.

Sharing tasks through crowdsourcing and gamification

When the employee who can contribute the most value to the task has been selected and has completed the job, the colleague who requested the work will then reward him/her with bonus points. An in-company ranking system can be set up on this basis. According to Steve Dill, “the site uses a variety of methods to motivate the employee to participate. The system could be made even more appealing by adapting it to give monetary rewards.” Another platform, this time an in-company ‘crowdfunding’ site called 1x5 Enterprise Crowfunding, was presented at the conference by Werner Werner Geyer, a research scientist at the Cambridge Research Centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As with the Internet crowdfunding exercises that have raised serious money for company startups, 1x5 provides a system that enables staff to put forward projects and seek funding from other employees.

Crowdfunding driving a creative approach

The 1x5 platform was tested on some 500 employees, who were each given $100 for 30 days to spend on projects they wanted to support. Each employee was entitled put forward a project; these could range from financing the travel expenses of foreign experts to speak at a conference, to participation in procuring a 3D printer. “We found there was an especially high level of participation among the employees involved; in addition a level of creativity emerged which went well beyond the confines of the platform itself,” Werner Geyer explained to L'Atelier. To illustrate this he cited the example of the team that wanted to acquire the 3D printer. The team members ran a poster campaign in their offices and stuck a notice on their existing standard printer saying: “Wouldn’t your printout be better if it were in 3D?” together with a QR code with a link to the crowdfunding site.