Should you allow non-business use on your intranet, collaboration platform or enterprise social network? By non-business use I mean personal interests, content that helps the day go by and non-work related user-generated content. Think community spaces for hobbies such as cookery or music, photo competitions and classified adverts.
Generally these days with the advent of “social”, internal communications departments and other owners are far more relaxed about it. Many large and successful implementations, such as PwC’s Spark Jive collaboration platform, are quite comfortable in allowing non-work groups.
However there was a time when the inclusion of photos of employee’s pets might have been seen as a way of trivialising the role of the intranet. It played into the hands of the critics who regarded the intranet as a vessel for lightweight or over-corporate messages coming from internal comms, and not actually much use for the most pressing daily need – helping employees to get things done. There has also been some associated concerns over risk, or costs from encouraging employees to “waste time”.
While much more needs be done to sharpen up digital channels as work tools, I’m in agreement with the new perceived wisdom that non-business use on your internal digital channels is both fine and has some advantages.
This topic came to mind this morning because of the latest revelations about the Snowden leaks which had been gathered from the NSA intranet. Amusingly some of these relate to features on the NSA intranet itself rather than any activities of the agency.
The latest leak centres on an advice column for supervisors in one of the divisions called “Ask Zelda” written in the style of an agony aunt, with nobody knowing the true identity of Zelda. (True it was issued within a wider development departmental bulletin). While actually some of the questions are work-related, there’s clearly a lot of humour in the feature, and is effectively an example of non-business use.
This is certainly one of the more imaginative uses of an intranet I’ve stumbled across, although it doesn’t trump my own favourite which is Media Molecule’s FridgeCam. This takes a picture of anybody opening the fridge in the staff kitchen and then posts the photo on to the intranet homepage.
Interestingly the “Ask Zelda” articles proved to be some of the most highly-read within the NSA divisional bulletin. This highlights one of the advantages of using an intranet or ESN for non-work use in that it helps to raise adoption and bring in the visitors. In fact there are a number of other positives:
- It is in tune with the general trend of offices and workplaces becoming less formal (at least on the surface)
- It can help the intranet channel or ESN become a more accurate reflection of an organisational culture, and is a good reflection of “trust” in employees
- It can help bring in individuals into the intranet or ESN who wouldn’t normally use it, and gets them used to using the tools
- It encourages relationships between employees in different locations and divisions which also may be important for business use and collaboration
- Most digital channels with employee participation have a devolved publishing model and applying governance-related processes to prevent “non-business use” may be difficult to implement, particularly in large organisations. so it might just not be worth worrying about
- It might lighten the tedium of someone’s working day…
Ratio of non-business use to business use
It’s interesting to observe whether there is an expected or normal level of “non-business use” on an internal digital platform, and a natural ratio between business and non-business content or usage. I’m sure somebody must have done some research into this topic which I may have missed, but one indication of it might be the percentage of groups or use in ESNs which are for non-business use. For example Cap Gemini reported in 2011 that 8% of its Yammer usage was dedicated to “private matters”, which I’m taking to be non-business use.
Of course non-business use also occurs in forums or groups dedicated to business use as well. For example a very interesting University of Sydney analysis of Yammer threads at Deloitte Australia found that 28.9% of threads contained messages the team had coded as “Social and praise” which includes “fun, praise and social conversation” sub-genres. Even more interesting is that the relative figures for threads containing “social and praise” was significantly higher for network-wide messages than those within defined groups (32.3% compared to 23.6%) which is perhaps slightly counter-intuitive, although I suspect reputation building via praise is probably the reason for this. Of course these figures do not give a breakdown between praise for colleagues (arguably work-related) and the genuine non-business interaction.
If anybody has any other information on levels of non-business use in intranets and ESNs please do add a comment or get in touch. I think overall allowing non-business use adds value to a social intranet and it would be interesting to see if there are experiences which support or refute this.