March 30, 2017
Social technology can, and should, make the workplace more humane. That’s because it has the potential and ability to shift the power dynamic from the few to the many. It gives more people a voice: one that they’re not afraid to use. You’ve only got to look at the uprisings, and the overthrowing of governments, in Egypt and Tunisia, to see the power of greater connectivity enabled by platforms such as Facebook. What was dubbed the Arab Spring was change on a grand scale. But, as Seth Godin points out in his book Tribes, it’s “tribes, not money, not factories,” that will change the world. The consequences of this are not lost on the people and cultural practices within organisations. The functions of how we recruit, how we learn, and how we communicate are all under pressure to bring greater humanity into the approach.
To start with, the level of connection bought about by social technology creates greater transparency in the recruitment process. As an example, we’ve now got platforms like Glassdoor, where employees – current and ex – can publicly comment on their work experience.
It doesn’t need to be as overt as that though. Your people aren’t necessarily going to plaster their experiences over public social channels, but they will talk about it privately to their connections; and now, to the connections of their connections. Greater communication is flowing in the backchannels, and you simply cannot hide behind your marketing spin any more.
Social technology is changing the expectations of our workplaces; of the way we work and learn. Information is now widely available. This makes the Learning and Development role less about delivering knowledge, and more about supporting the learner to search, sort and share that information themselves. Power is shifting to the hands of the learner.
In this context, people are more important to the learning process than ever before. This is an environment where coaching, mentoring, and a holistic approach to the abilities, motivations and opportunities of the learner are all more important than learning delivery. It’s not just what we communicate, but how we communicate it, and how it fits individual needs.
In fact, there’s a growing expectation for greater communication across all organisational functions, and a demand for a level of transparency we’ve not seen before. Look at what is happening with our interactions, as customers, with consumer brands. It’s fast becoming part of our world culture to demand readily available information about the goods we purchase. We expect the same level of transparency as an employee. This includes access and communication, both across the organisation and up it.
These dynamics all have implications for the ways that we manage and organise work. The inhumane, industrial model of work is not good enough anymore. The global, connected, way we now operate doesn’t just place greater focus on creativity and innovation as a source of competitive advantage. It also means we can no longer ignore pockets of injustice, discrimination and persecution in our workplaces. They’re not isolated anymore. They are part of a far-reaching global story, a story that people are banding together to address.
The Internet, and the rise of social technology, has created an environment where people share, connect, communicate and collaborate. It’s an environment where people can – together – build a better world, and a better world of work.
Fundamental to the Internet are principles of openness and meritocracy. To be humane, we need to embed those principles in our approach as well. Technology has connected us, but fundamentally, this is about people – about human beings.
We are the people behind the technology. And that technology can allow us to rediscover our humanity; and make our workplaces more humane.
Amanda Sterling has a background as a Human Resources specialist, Learning and Development practitioner, and Organisational Development consultant. She helps organisations to enhance their people practices. Amanda is also the author of The Humane Workplace, a book about how social technologies can, and should, make our workplaces more humane.