As the shift to an information-based economy has taken over much of the world's workforce, it follows that the tools people use to work should evolve accordingly.

Digital ways of working now takes over two thirds of the working day, demonstrating a shift in how people work. As businesses continue to adapt to changing habits, they must ensure that workplace productivity and effective collaboration keep pace.

A recent report from Forrester predicted that tablet use will triple to 905 million devices for work and personal use globally by 2017, pointing to the reality of a growing mobile workforce.

Many employees are now anytime, anywhere workers and the geographic nature of work has changed, with one third of all American and European countries working together from disparate environments.

A new working world

Employers are responding to these changing trends by providing their employees with digital tools in the workplace that mimic the digital social networking tools they've grown accustomed to in their personal lives.

As we're now all living increasingly digitally, such tools help foster productivity in the workplace. In fact, consultancy group McKinsey Global Institute recently found that social technology can improve the productivity of knowledge workers by 20-25%.

While this evidence is compelling, it is important to ensure these tools are used effectively. In order to maximise their efficacy, enterprise social network (ESN) tools must be applied appropriately in the workplace to prevent distracting employees from their work.

Not all social networking is created equal

It seems that there is a lack of clarity about how social technology is being applied within businesses that use it.

A common misconception is that an ESN tool, is nothing more than 'Facebook for your business,' with employees viewing it as a platform for water cooler chat and therefore not supportive of their 'real work.'

If this is the prevailing mind set within an organisation, the tool will simply become another communication medium to keep up with and add to the existing background noise.

Management involvement is crucial to ensure that the tool applies real business processes. Employees need to be assured that social tools will help them do their job more effectively and it's up to management to instil this approach in their use.

Employers who do not consider the specific tasks that the tool will be used for are setting themselves up to fail in driving effective collaboration.

Leadership involvement

Just like traditional tool implementation, ESN and other collaboration tools must be carefully managed and deployed as part of existing business process and workflows.

To drive adoption, managers should ensure that workflows and incentives are embedded in the use of collaboration tools. For example, deal strategies are now discussed only using the ESN, and purchase orders are to be shared amongst departments using collaboration tools only.

Additionally, there needs to be some level of engagement by leadership. Sustainable use and productivity gains will only come if leaders participate and stay engaged by driving the conversation.

Consider your business context

Before implementing an ESN, you must understand the context in which your workforce operates. Questions to ask from the outset include:

  • How collaborative is your office space?
  • How often are employees working from home or on the road?
  • How many employees do you have spread across different geographic offices?
  • Is the nature of your business highly collaborative (e.g., document editing, product design, etc.)?
  • If social collaboration isn't right for your workplace, should you implement other effective collaboration tools?

Assessing these factors will help you determine the role that enterprise social collaboration tools should play within your organisation, as it might be the case that although collaboration is required, social collaboration tools are not suitable, but other tools such as screen sharing and cloud storage, syncing and sharing are.

When investigating the different collaboration tools available on the market, acknowledge their foundational value in providing a platform and a connection gateway for communication, and consider the specific needs of your organisation.

The test of success will be in the implementation and in how effective the tools are in uniting disparate teams to share ideas and complete projects.

Effective collaboration now essential

Those who have been most successful in creating a collaborative organisation have a deep understanding of the work styles and typical 'day in the life' behaviours of their teams, and have been purposeful in the design and implementation of the tools.

At the heart of ESN tools is collaboration, a practice that not only benefits businesses, but is a must in today's increasingly global workplace.

Leaders must ask themselves how a new type of collaboration can make their teams more productive, and take steps to put the right methods into place whether it means social or other types of collaboration tools.

  • Lou Orfanos is Vice President of Products at LogMeIn