Summary : there’s no biggest enemy for any enterprise social network than the email it’s supposed to replace and that will remain central on user’s screen for years through its client. What is a big barrier to change. But some may also choose to take the bull by the corns : deep integration of email and social networking solutions and clamping email capabilities. A directive approach that’s not that stupid.
It’s very hard to make people change their practices in the workplace and adopt new tools. No need to envisage deep changes to hit the barrier. The only fact people are asked to switch channels to do the same things they used to do (understand : no additional task), what is supposed to be neutral for the user and beneficial for the collective is often an impossible mission.
In fact, even this kind of change is not that neutral and that’s often the first point of friction. As a matter of fact, asking people to do with others tools what they were used to do with email often means they have to play with at least two tools. That’s more than a barrier : a true wall because the email client is often open and is continuously in front of the user’s eyes and will stay as long as there’s no credible option to gather all the possible kinds of interactions, regardless to their nature, object and participants. So, as long as the good old Notes and Outlook will have pride of place on our screens there are few chances users lose their time by going to talk and collaborate somewhere else.
Email, or rather its client, is central in any strategy that aims at getting rid of it (paradoxical…but true). If people are not able, through their email client, to share files in the right place instead of sending them as attached documents, follow what’s happening in communities of any collaboration space and (inter)act there, there’s few chances that the wonderful social networking platform in which you believe so much won’t be adopted by more than 10% of employees, the convinced and passionate ones. A little weak and not very profitable. In a perfect world, things would look be a little bit better : convergence between the social stack and the email that does not disappear but changes of nature and goal, integration with business tools and portal…in a digital workplace everyone expects to see in the upcoming years. But don’t get carried away : interoperability between email and social networks is already a good start as so many organizations miss this critical point.
That’s the condition that makes the change of channel neutral. But a strong enemy is still to be defeated : habits. When people face a tools they’ve always used in a given way, using is differently is very difficult. So they keep on sending emails to 200 people instead of sharing within a community or group, send attachments instead of sharing a single copy etc. At this point there are two possible options.
The first is the one we can see at work most of times. Evangelize and pray. By means of being explained what the good practices are, people will end up adopting them. That’s efficient, respectful of end users that are not mandated to do anything. But it’s very very long because, in the end, the user still decides.
The second is much more directive and will upset those who love change without change. But, as someone involved in this kind of change recently told me, knowing there will always be malcontents, we should decide that changing practices is either essential or has little importance but there’s no credible option in between. Saying that’s essential but behaving as it was secondary ends in waste of time, energy and money. So either go at it once for all…or do nothing.
Limit the number of receivers of an email to two or three (situations when email makes change). I’m not talking about email policies but technical clamping. Beyond 3 people that’s a community, a work group, an unidentified social group but in no way a place for emails. Then limit the size of attachments to 1 Mo (500ko being even better). If you really want change to happen I can tell you that it will be radical and that after 3 months of grunts that would happen anyway but on a longer period if a softer way is chosen, you’ll see a deep change in practices.At worse you can adopt a step by step approach, changing the threshold every months or quarter.
A method that should be known by both organizations and vendors who are also willing to make this change happen.
Email client / social network integration + email clamping = start from old habits to adopt better ones.
Pray is still an option. Experience teaches that the result is often lower than expected and that it may take a decade to happen. At least.