There are some impressive numbers being bandied about in the recent announcement that RBS is the first bank to sign up for Facebook at Work, the social network’s fledgeling business offering. By the end of March they aim to have the service available to 30,000 users, and all 100,000 employees will be “using the tool” by the end of 2016.
There’s not a huge amount of visibility of what the Facebook at Work platform offers, but a look at the iOS and Android Appstore pages shows (particularly through the reviews) what a nascent product this is at the moment.
What we do know – it’s a ringfenced service that exists parallel to your not-work identity which enables users to create groups, have conversations and organise events.
It seems that collaboration tools are still focusing on the battle to replace email, which has already been lost. The wide spread availability of collaboration tools in workplaces has barely dented the growth in email traffic.
One of the biggest challenges I see ahead for RBS is a seeming lack of clear purpose behind the launch of Facebook at Work. The research I’ve done so far for the #sharingorg project seems to show, again and again, that initiatives that are focused around a clear aim for collaboration tend to yield better outcomes. “Build it and they will come” tends to result in disappointment. If the aim is to “create a better network” then that itself needs great effort, as anyone who has attempted to found online communities will know.
So far I have seen one good example of where an organisation went through a process of intentionally building a social network within their organisation to allow them to reap unknown rewards in the future. At Coca Cola in the UK the Internal Communications group launched Chatter throughout the business in 2012, and they ran a very focused campaign linked to the company’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games. Regional teams were tasked to report on the progress of the Olympic Torch relay, and were trained up in their locations to coincide with the passing of the torch. Three years on and that work that went into founding the platform is now reaping dividends for the firm. A very clever use of corporate sponsorship linked to training and a concerted execution to achieve the goal.
That brings me to the other big alarm bell that the RBS commentary rings for me: they talk about how, because most staff already use Facebook, they’ll be able to use Facebook at Work without any training. This is the same argument I heard fifteen years ago for why Intranets would be so successful. That turned out well…
There are two problems. The first is context: I use Facebook to post pictures of my children, joke with of old friends, and occasionally arrange the odd trip to the pub. I struggle to see how those things translate to business use within the conservative and regulated environment of a bank. And other than by branding, the Facebook at Work product is a different product to normal Facebook.
The second is that culturally banks have tended to be very restrictive about how most of their staff use external services. My own personal banking advisers at RBS seem uniquely disconnected, and the tools they have available within branches seem locked down and old fashioned. Getting people to suddenly think that “It’s OK to Facebook” is going to take a significant shift in behaviour. You might not call that “training”, but you should think of it at least as “change management”.
There are no magic answers to how to foster collaboration within organisations, but there are some general principles emerging from my work.
First of all, people need to have a common understanding of what collaboration is, the breadth of things it might cover, and why it might be important.
Then you need to understand the reasons why you, you team, and your extended networking might want to become more collaborative – to what end are you needing to co-operate?
Then you need to understand what currently gets in the way – behaviours, resources, technology, culture can all factor here.
Then you can start to put a plan in place to get better… and only then can you start to see where technology would fit within that plan.
I’d be fairly sure today that many of the barriers that RBS have in place today to more effective team working are little to do with an absence of technology. It might be a factor, but there will be many more issues in the way. Establishing a common platform for collaboration across the organisation might be of benefit longer term, but it would take a big initiative like the one that Coke did for that to happen (and external events like the Olympics would be far more engaging than internal things). And assuming that everyone will just “get” any tech because they use something similar outside is a big risk…