Yammer, NationalField, And The Future Of How We Collaborate At Work

With their unprecedented ability to collect and communicate data, enterprise social networks are fast becoming essential to business–and the smartest companies will maximize their potential.

Yammer, NationalField, And The Future Of How We Collaborate At Work


Reading this, you may have just clicked away from Yammer, NationalField, or another enterprise social network. All those status updates are creating major shifts in the way we work, say Dion Hinchcliffe and Peter Kim in Social Business by Design, available now from Jossey-Bass. Fast Company talked with Hinchcliffe about how social media is blurring the line between company and customer, killing off status reports, and making the activity steam the new center of work–and why that’s a good thing.

FAST COMPANY: Why do businesses need to become social businesses?

DION HINCHCLIFFE: Because their customers have moved: Where they used to be visiting their website, watching TV, or reading the newspaper, they don’t do those things so much anymore. The developed world primarily uses social media, and it’s been that way since 2009. A billion and a half people, and they use it more intensely than anything else that they do.

What does a highly functional social workplace look like?

One in which people narrate their work. The organization finally has visibility into what people are really working on, and it also enables the process to be open and participative. We’re talking about a natural and open process of collaborating that looks just like a Facebook feed: You see what’s going on in your company, in your department, or with your team all the time. You gather information that you need and you share the information that others need.

What are the other elements of the enterprise social ecosystem?


A fully social ecosystem has the marketplace, everyone out there that you potentially want to connect with, the customers that you already have and need to support, or want to sell to, or need to communicate with;  your business suppliers in your entire supply chain; the whole B2B story around social; and it’s of course your workers themselves. The ecosystem consists of all the connections and all the conversations happening between all those constituent pieces.

I imagine that this creates a ton of data.

This is the famous thing that Clay Shirky said, “Information overload is not the problem; you want all the information. It’s filter failure.” You can’t listen to everything that’s going on in your company all the time. You want to filter it down to what matters to you at the moment and help you get your job done. You want to be able to find it all when it does matter. Later on, you say “I know they were working on this last week and I just realized I need to know what they were doing because it affects my work.” You can go find that. You can go find that conversation, that collaborative scenario, catch up on how its going, and maybe even join in on it, or start it back up if it’s not going.

If I’m a manager of company that’s not the most technologically nimble, what should I do to move toward becoming a social business?

The farther you are away from the technology industry, the less likely you’ll find social networking to be a natural thing for you to do. There’s more work you have to do.

You can try and find out what others in the organization are doing, because I guarantee you, if you’re a medium-sized business, or a large business, your organization is already doing social in some way. Don’t duplicate it, go and find out what’s going on, and see if you can join in and adapt your part of the organization.


Other than that, you can start looking at doing something locally. We know there’s really good tools for social CRM–customer support and care. It’s a really good scenario: high value, easy to do, and it’s something you can pilot without involving the whole organization.

Involved in this is a dissolving of the barrier between business and customer, is that right?

The customer wants more control. I think companies are uncomfortable with that, but if the customers really like something, they want to tell you how to improve it and change it.

For customer care, we find a bunch of examples in the book of companies that allow customers to talk to each other, the customer ends up being the best support people. They usually know more about the product collectively than the company does.

We see a blurring of when does the company end and when does it start, because customers are actually providing many of the most valuable functions, not the company itself, in this new model.

What’s the next trend?


We’re really seeing social moving to the center of work–right now it hangs around the edges, it forms the narrative fabric of what we do, but more and more we see evidence that over the next five years, with more companies, it will be the center of work.

You can wire in all the systems you use and have one activity stream, where all your collaborations are happening, all your records that you’re working on are right there, and they’re kept in the right place. You have this place that you’re working in that also involves everyone that you need to work with, wherever they are in the world, inside or outside the company. That seems to be the grand unified vision.

Why’s that such a good thing for managers?

They could keep track of what’s going on better than they ever could before. Often managers have to ask for status reports–can you imagine status reports going away? A lot of the traditional processes we have are highly duplicative: You do the work, and then you’ve got to describe it again in a status report, and then your manager has to look at it again–all that process goes away, you eliminate that duplication. You just acknowledge the work and the conversation. You don’t need those extra pieces. It will simplify what we do and improve the cycle times.

If I’m an entrepreneur, what’s the most important thing for me to keep in mind regarding social business?

We open the book with forward from Jeff Dachis, “everything that can be social will be,” and we also say that “everything that can be mobile will be, too.” I would really look at the hot areas as those that enable that vision, and we have a long way to go of making it simple, easy, and delivered the right way in terms of user experience on the right devices. There’s a lot of work left to be done.


The hottest area right now is social analytics. The data explosion has happened. We have the collective intelligence of the company out on display–now we have to do something with it, so there’s literally hundreds of startups focusing on mining that so we can get better decisions made faster than the competition.

And avoid that filter failure.

Yes, exactly.

To get a bigger glimpse of social-to-come, read our excerpt from Social Business by Design.

[Image: Flickr user Andreas Levers]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.