Ways to take action

When Your Corporate Social Media Becomes your best Ally to Engage Your Workers in the Work-From-Anywhere Era

Mohamed Hédi Charki , Professor

Mohamed Hédi Choudhury, Professeur Associé à la Harvard Business School (2020), donne son point de vue pour favoriser l’implication des employés séparés géographiquement de leur entreprise...

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25 Oct 2021

Covid-19 global pandemic has caused significant business disruptions to workers and managers alike. Nonetheless, it has helped many of us realize that today’s knowledge work does not necessarily need colocation with colleagues in closed cubicles. As Harvard Business School Professor Choudhury (2020) explained, the Covid-19 crisis has opened senior leaders’ minds to an already brewing movement of Work-From-Anywhere (WFA) for all or parts of their workforces. Thus, as WFA is getting standardized, a natural and essential question on leaders’ agendas becomes: how can they nurture the engagement of their distributed – but still digitally wired – workforce?

We propose a five-step journey that leaders should follow to transform what is thought to be a disruption of the classic work conditions to an actual opportunity for corporations and workers alike.  

1. Boost your workers’ curiosity

Corporations are known as the ideal host for processes, routines and patterns of actions that prescribe the way things should be done. While this is necessary for the day-to-day functioning of operations, corporations become, unconsciously, responsible of stifling the occurrence of surprises and from there suppressing curiosity[1]. Internal corporate social media can become managers’ new reservoir where workers will seed unexpected initiatives and original proposals that defy the expected patterns or come-up with surprises that will create new conversations as they ignite managers’ and workers’ curiosity about others’ work, expertise, and initiatives. Corporate social media has the potential to build bridges between workers’ expertise and knowledge and from there to nurture the development of the collective wisdom based on permanent feedback giving and seeking and co-creation of ideas. This gives meaning for workers about the value of their contributions to a greater purpose.

2. Show how authentic you are as a manager

Managers can leverage their corporate social media to spread authentic video messages to their troops rather than dropping cold documents on their static intranets or diffusing cold emails with corporate jargon that would make little impact. In these messages, managers can show their emotions and feelings as they spread authentic messages rooted in sincere solutions and/or optimistic messages to their workers. By using live and/or recorded videos, managers can meaningfully signal their attachment to their workers in a way to make a deeper impact. Research shows that managers’ vocal social media has simplified communication and emotion propagation on social media networks (Dai, Han, Dai, & Xu, 2015). We contend that managers can leverage social media to show the authenticity of their messages and generate positive impact on their employees’ psychological conditions.

3. Show you leaders’ humility

Modern corporations used to rely on managers to enact strategies that are expected to lead to performance as they anticipate the future and deal with uncertainty. Corporate social media can play the role of the vehicle where managers can humbly show their humility. In concrete terms, managers can leverage corporate social media and ask their workers – from C-Suite level executives to front-line employees – to engage by proposing original ideas in terms of both operational initiatives and even propose more strategic option to be considered. We argue that this has the potential to convince employees about the sincerity of their managers when they seek their contributions on corporate social media.

4. Create genuine forms of diversity

The need to bring diversity to the workplace has been a key priority to considerable numbers of CEOs and CHROs. Still, despite numerous initiatives, diversity programs have been doomed to failure (Asare, 2019). Corporate social media can help managers to create a new genuine diversity that spreads organically in a bottom-up way. Rather than implementing an already chosen diversity agenda, managers can encourage workers’ nonwork engagement on corporate social media by showing their workers that they care about their passions, hobbies, leisure, and nonwork interests. As corporate social media has become part of workers daily toolkit, on one hand, and as corporations have witnessed a surge in workers nonwork contributions, on the other hand, a new form of natural diversity has emerged and needs to be tapped in.

5. Develop and expand your networking

Actually, what happens is that we are tied to specific roles, in geographically dispersed offices, in specific departments with specific people relevant to meet our workflow obligations and operational deadlines. This is necessary to get our jobs done. Still, it creates a kind of sticky information[2] that sticks with certain people in certain locations despite having the potential to benefit others. Corporate social media can help workers – in the WFA settings – to rethink their networking behavior by offering them the opportunity to efficiently expand the range of their awareness of who is whom, who knows what and who knows whom. Research has already shown that networking behavior offer advantages such as brokerage where the brokers – those actors who connect two actors or communities who are otherwise isolated – become better at developing creative ideas, earning faster promotion, and enjoying better performance (Burt, 1992; Burt, 2007; Halevy, Halali, & Zlatev, 2019; Lingo & O'Mahony, 2010).

Corporate social media is not a catchall. No technology is. As the WFA is growingly adopted by many corporations, the journey that we suggest via corporate social media offers the solution to wire the work and nonwork expertise of geographically dispersed workers. By doing so, we will take a technology that was meant to leverage our potential to be more connected as humans to actually be more humane with each other.  

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