Putting Social Technologies to Work

By Perry Timms

There are certain phrases you are unlikely to hear and one of those that springs to my mind is “please don’t put your mobile phone down, I’d love you to spend some more time using it.

The mobile device has become a much loved and/or much demonised instrument. Destroying social fabric; causing anti-social behaviour; not being in the moment.

This is not a prose about using mobile phones but it is about a window to a world of learning in the workplace via social / digital media / technologies. I tend to use the term social technologies, as it is technology that enables more of the socialising. Media feels a bit “over-produced” for my liking. I love the spontaneity and sharing through “social” (as we shorthand it anyway).

Indeed the term “Social Networking sites” already seems a bit passé. We are talking more and more about things BEYOND sites that connect people, and allow them to chat online.
We’re now talking about a suite of applications (Apps); internet-accessible programmes; free open-sourced software, where people can build their own applications in; and visual digital media, either static or animated.

And we are now all experiencing the first wave of consumer built / bought / available technology (hardware and software) that exceeds the pliability, usefulness, and range that corporate technology provides. Compared to the app market place, the corporate IT system is like comparing a digital watch to a grandfather clock. Tells the time, but it’s a hell of a job to get onto my wrist…
So how do we make great use of the technology we have in our pockets, bags, and rucksacks?

Here are my thoughts on how to make the most of social technologies without having to navigate your corporate firewall.

Firstly, open up a conversation – on your internal social platform if you have one – to ask how willing people would be to do work related learning; researching; and sharing via social platforms using their own device. You can ask what devices and platforms people already use and what apps and sharing processes they already deploy. Not an audit, but get a feel for the way people are using their own device to exploit social technologies for them, and maybe even in their professional/work capacity.

Secondly, offer to train people on their devices. If there are people in the workplace who have cracked the use of their iPad to such a degree, they could train/guide and skill those who use it in a very basic sense. You will eventually form hubs of iOS; Android and Windows users but that’s no bad thing. Give up work space and time to do this and the payback could be very useful.

Thirdly, clearly offer free corporate Wi-Fi outside of your own corporate infrastructure. How can people learn how to use Prezi if they have to use their own 3G to work on the online free version? Wi-Fi is cheap, easy and helps keep your “corporate” infrastructure separate from experimental software.

Fourthly, explicitly allow people to use their own devices to learn; search; connect to social platforms; share; experiment and generally use them AS WELL AS their corporate desktop. When you move away from a corporate desktop anyway (as most people seem to be going towards ultrabooks and docked tablets) then you will already have a skilled workforce in using such technology.

Lastly, encourage people to help others use their device as a learning tool. If nothing else they can watch great YouTube or TED clips downloaded to their device which takes the heat off your corporate infrastructure, and people can use the free work Wi-Fi to download videos to watch on the way home from work about the latest in analytics; enrolling and learning on a MOOC; and learning how to use sketch note taking for their next team meeting.

None of this is – in view – controversial, time wasting, technically dangerous or irrelevant. Those of us fortunate enough to not be locked into corporate infrastructure know why that infrastructure exists – to deliver and protect the services and integrity of the business. By allowing sensible use of own devices to learn, research, and experiment EXPLICITLY, all you’re really doing is validating what is already going on right under your nose anyway.

My learning; my device; my responsibility.

Now pick that smartphone up and you can finish that MOOC on Neuroscience…

Perry Timms is an independent practitioner in transformational HR and learning;
he is the Social Media and Engagement Advisor to the CIPD; a visiting fellow at Sheffield Hallam University; and an eternal fan of the Charity Learning Consortium.