Do you know what the person sitting in the office next to you does on the weekends? What about a colleague in an office halfway around the world? That information may not seem relevant, but in today's business environment, where employees telecommute, travel frequently, and can be found all over the globe, building a team to work on a project efficiently can be daunting. Connecting with coworkers doesn't have to involve weekly phone calls or videoconferences; the infrastructure to facilitate it already exists in today's social media.
Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace aren't just for catching up with old friends or college students killing time. Social networks can be a valuable tool within an organization, which is something Serena Software found out when it began encouraging its 800 employees worldwide to build profiles and connect with colleagues through its "Facebook Fridays."
"We had new management come in and they were already on Facebook," says Kyle Arteaga, Serena's vice president of corporate communications. "They saw no reason why we shouldn't move our intranet onto the site, so we created a network with subgroups for employees to join, meet the people they work with, and access basic company information."
Serena's employees aren't required to use Facebook to communicate internally, but the company strongly encourages them to spend at least one hour per week updating their profile, interacting with colleagues, and even responding to customers. "We prefer that they email each other and customers using it," Arteaga says. "About 40 percent of us are consistent users, and everyone on the management team is very active."
When a project team consisting of members in different countries is assembled, often including some of the 30 percent of employees who work from home, everyone at least feels like they know something about each other. For example, Arteaga says, when he speaks to the CEO Arteaga often asks about his car racing because footage of the wrecks from past weekends is posted on his profile.
"We did have some reticence at first from people who didn't understand what we were trying to do," Arteaga says. "We emphasized that we need to start using social media because you can't control its impact and you can't ignore it."
To help with the transition from a company intranet to Facebook networks and subgroups, Serena held clinics in its large offices around the world to familiarize employees with the new setup. At the company's headquarters, Arteaga says, his boss' 16-year-old son even taught one clinic.
After three months of the program, there is a 92 percent penetration rate, employees who previously didn't even know what blogging was are updating their information daily (blogging without even realizing it), and Serena didn't have to change its code-of-conduct policy at all to adapt to using Facebook. "The company encourages customers to use Facebook when dealing with service reps, since it puts a face to the interaction and many employees respond faster to Facebook messages than email."
"Something like this won't work for every business," Arteaga says, "but this is how we address having such a distributed workforce; [for us] it fits perfectly."