Here's the new social network game changer at the workplace

From putting up their own corporate version of the Ten Commandments, that include, among other ‘don’ts’, a ban on the social media during office hours, it finally seems to have dawned on sections of India Inc that Twitter and Facebook just cannot be wished away. The naivety of some human resource head honchos who thought they could keep social networking at bay through a fiat to their IT departments to block these sites is evident every time you see employees hammering out with gusto, tweets or posts from their mobile phones. The average tech-savvy, reasonably clued in employee follows the principle ‘Think and I shall tweet’! In this new age of voluntary disclosure, how can anyone possibly police legitimate thought and expression?

If you can’t beat them, join them! So instead of clamping down on the social media, there is a new reverse trend emerging in corporate India. Companies are now designing their own social media platforms. Not to be confused with feedback pages on their company websites, these exclusive intranet hubs have the equivalent of timeline posts. Of course, there is a semblance of regulation. But the moderators intervene only if a broad line is crossed. Fair enough, I guess. Some organisations are even contemplating adding features such as chat windows to cut down on the need for more storage space in email folders. The option to chat off the record like what Google offers could well end up as quite a draw. The idea is to promote a healthy interface among colleagues, team leaders and subordinates and across departments or group companies in the case of conglomerates. Provoking thought is one thing, honing communication skills, quite another. A senior HR manager recently shared a blooper that appears to be a symptom of scarce and understandably pathetic communication. A candidate sent in his job application. The curriculum vitae was prefaced with a reference to the newspaper advertisement and a gem: “For your above, I produce my below”!

The other day, I was within earshot of a conversation between a Corporate Communications head of a big business conglomerate in South India and her counterpart from another department. Apparently, since the inception of their own social media sites, there has been a perceptible improvement in the standard of communication among employees. The quality of writing seems to have gone up several notches. So has the promptness in responding to internal communication. Now that’s a game changer, isn’t it?

It’s better to have outspoken employees operating on your own systems rather than heavily policed staff, for whom the urge to publicise anguish and dissatisfaction would inevitably be irrepressible. And good leaders would be keen to know how people who work for them really feel. On contemporary issues as well as industry or company-specific matters. It has the potential to pan into a parallel 360 degree assessment of just about every aspect of internal corporate governance. Information, in any form and from any source, is power. It is indeed prudent for companies to learn to live with what is here to stay. As some have discovered, improvisation is even better.

It’s not just the private sector that is swearing by the benefits of the social media. Government babus are also using this tool to simplify their work, ensure transparency and also remain accessible to those they are meant to serve. A case in point is that of R. Nataraj, the retired Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission. Credited by many for making the body ‘more about service and less about commission’ (!) the former top cop’s Facebook timeline is plastered with public announcements about exam dates or selection lists or appointment orders. This medium furthers the cause of the Right To Information by jettisoning secrecy — that is otherwise synonymous with the corridors of power.