As companies shape the future of work with newer technologies, John Cho, vice president of digital platforms, services and technology at Robotic Research, a Clarksburg, Md.-based provider of autonomous mobility and robotics solutions, is in the early stages of designing a work-based social media platform he believes will help onsite, hybrid and remote employees at the company to engage, innovate and thrive at work.
At Robotic Research, one of Cho's main directives is to manage the digital transformation initiative within the company.
Like many businesses that experienced the shift to remote and hybrid work due to the pandemic, to today's reality that such work arrangements remain popular among employees, Robotic Research is turning to digital transformation to close the gap among employees who work in different locations.
Currently, Cho is evaluating collaboration software and other tools he intends to add to the platform and is thinking about ways he can encourage the company's approximately 300 workers—mostly engineers—to use the platform to drive the company's culture, values and business objectives.
Cho said technologies like Meta's Workplace, Microsoft's Office 360 and Workvivo all have social media components and features that can be integrated with a company's intranet platform. Companies can also choose any number of open-source platforms like Diaspora* or Mastodon, but more capabilities and expertise in terms of managing content and social media governance need to be added in any case.
To build a more robust immersive user interface, Cho has identified several technologies he thinks can drive a digital consciousness among workers that can tackle everything from diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to improving the employee experience and strengthening corporate culture.
Among the tools Cho believes can help the platform succeed are:
- Leveraging crowdsourcing features on existing platforms or implementing software that can be used to capture employees' ideas and gather critical feedback.
- Virtual reality tools where employees can be represented by a persona or avatar that gives participants a sense of being "present" in meetings that are work- and nonwork-related.
- Gamification tools such as Bunchball or Hoopla—the latter of which has been integrated into the Raydiant experience platform—that can inspire employee competition and can also be tied to a rewards system that doesn't always have to be connected to work-related achievements. A few examples include rewarding an idea that grew the business or where an employee made a great impact, acts of kindness toward other employees or volunteerism with a nonprofit organization.
- Advanced analytics tools that provide insights on employee sentiment, performance and participation on the platform. Many social media platforms and gamification tools have built-in analytics to measure engagement. Many of those tools also employ AI to determine trends and sentiment.
These tools can create a modern social media intranet that goes beyond a simple messaging and videoconferencing system. Cho hopes to complete the platform within an 18-month time frame.
"It's absolutely important that social media within the corporate environment is used to enable employees to move very quickly at decision-making and exchanging ideas," Cho said.
Does the Workplace Need Social Media?
The idea of a work-based social media platform, however, isn't embraced by everyone.
"It sounds like a repackaging of an old idea—the company intranet," said Ian Cook, vice president of research and strategy at Visier, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based people analytics software company.
Cook said Visier uses Slack as its communications channel, where employees post formal and informal communications. He cited one company's initiative to gather its workers for four days every quarter for business and fun as an example of what he sees as employees wanting more social interaction with their colleagues.
"I would spend the money on those four days before I would buy more technology. I don't know that employees are really looking for yet more technology," Cook said.
Brian Kropp, managing director at Accenture and former distinguished vice president of research at Gartner, fears that much of the bullying, threats and cruelty seen on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter may also find their way onto work-based social media platforms.
"I don't think that anyone would say that Facebook, Twitter or Instagram has had unmitigated success. There are good things about it: There are bad things about it. The question becomes as those sorts of social media platforms move inside of an organization, do they end up looking more like the bad parts of social media or the good parts of social media?" Kropp said.
He added that picking and choosing the best pieces of technology to add to a company's internal social media platform will be difficult and requires a lot of active management, which is what companies need to be thinking about if they are going to be going down this path.
"Anybody [who] is assuming that by just creating these work-based platforms wonderful progress on DE&I will emerge has not been paying attention to the conversations that occur on Twitter or Facebook," Kropp added.
Nevertheless, employees at all levels can benefit from an internal social media platform that encourages employees to present their ideas, share their thoughts and communicate with their colleagues.
"Through work-based social media platforms, leadership teams can understand the general mindset of employees, and with this knowledge we can reduce the risk of corporate-wide decisions being made in a glass tower," Cho said.
He added that at Robotics: "We want the staff to adjudicate, evaluate and analyze if their idea is worth pursuing. We see a platform like this as crystallizing those opportunities as well as giving employees a chance to do things that they otherwise would not have been able to do in a siloed and disconnected fashion."
Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.