How to win friends - can using social tools really stimulate productivity at work?

Social media is supposed to undermine productivity not enable it, so can social tools really make a positive difference to the workplace?

Whether or not technology actually improves productivity has always been open to debate. In April this year US business research company Conference Board released a set of figures suggesting that despite our digital revolution of tools and services, economic productivity was not improving. It's not the first time that a research study has reached this conclusion and yet counter studies, such as the Centre for Economics and Business Research report in 2013, claim the opposite. Technology, it says, has accounted for an 84 percent productivity per hour increase in office workers since the 1970s.

Fast forward six years and we are still getting mixed messages but perhaps the most significant impact is yet to come. As more businesses digitally transformation and change how they and their employees work, we could yet witness a significant productivity shift. Messaging and collaboration tools, such as Slack, Facebook Workplace and Microsoft's Teams (there are others) are widely touted as essential ingredients in making this happen, and while they are still relatively new, they appear to be growing quickly in popularity.

Slack, which direct listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the summer, now claims to have around 12 million daily users. This, says the company, represents a 37 percent growth on 2018 user numbers. Microsoft claims that Teams, launched just two years ago, now has 13 million daily users, no doubt benefiting from its free inclusion within Office 365 (and boosted by the company's plans to discontinue Skype for Business in 2021). Facebook Workplace, which was launched in 2016, now claims to have over three million users, up from two million at the beginning of the year.

One of those users is global enterprise software company IFS. According to Sal Laher, the company's Chief Digital and Information Officer, Facebook's Workplace platform has transformed IFS's internal communications. Interestingly it has done so at a time when IFS is going through its own digital transformation, shifting to the cloud with its own enterprise software and incorporating a range of digital tools including Office 365 and Teams, Skype and its own intranet developed through SharePoint.

"We use Workplace as an internal social and direct communications platform," says Laher. "While our intranet is for the whole company, for policy documents, service tickets and so on, Workplace enables us to co-ordinate smaller groups and provide direct communications and information sharing within special projects or specific areas within the business, such as marketing or IT departments."

IFS has around 39 groups set-up at the moment, something which Laher says would be complicated and costly using other methods such as SharePoint or the company's original process of email distribution lists.

"It's a platform for collaboration and employees are engaging with it, asking questions and sharing ideas," says Laher. "It's doing what we wanted it to do and its saving time and resources."

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