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Re-Thinking Social In The Workplace

There’s a lot of talk in the world of work about the social aspect of work. It goes something like this: “When you go to a Results-Only Work Environment, don’t you lose the social aspect of work and people don't want that to be lost.” Let’s analyze that statement. Is it the organization’s role to manage their employees social lives? Is it up to employers to make sure there are social opportunities for employees? We say, NO.

People Will Be Social

The company doesn’t need to tell employees how to be social or force people to be together whether they want to or not. In fact, it's the very “socialness” of the traditional workplace that causes us to focus on everything but the work. A big aspect of adaptive change is unlearning behaviors. In a ROWE, the objective focus is on achieving results and if people need to communicate and collaborate to achieve those results, that’s what they do.

How Do You Define Social?

The challenge is how we define what it means to be 'social.' For the baby boomer generation, social means everyone together in the same place. If that is the definition, then a large part of the workforce (80 million boomers) is going to have issues with a workplace where “place” is optional. Do Gen Y & Gen X appear anti-social? They are interacting with people on-the-fly globally. They use emoticons to communicate emotion. When they want to physically see their close friends, they get together. Social for them looks different. They want to be social on their own terms.

Social Aspect of Work Redefined

One of our clients said this when we posed the question in our training forum and it sums up everything we’re talking about here:

Q: When groups implement ROWE, we sometimes hear that they miss seeing people, the human interaction is less. Is that true for your organizations? How do you keep the human side of relationships going in a ROWE?

A: I think initially people did miss the social aspect, but as time elapses and we become more and more focused on results, the feeling has subsided for most people. We do have some individuals that continue to have this need and they do seek out co-workers to join them for lunch, or coffee or cocktails. It's 100% up to the individual to make that connection, though. It's not our job, as the employer, to ensure social needs are met and for that reason, we do not host or coordinate such activities. Pre-ROWE, we did coordinate these types of activities and for many people it was a forced and uncomfortable attendance and just another display of presenteeism. It's nice to socialize with co-workers because you WANT to and not because you feel compelled to do so just to give the boss the appearance that you're engaged.

What this all boils down to is this, if people want to catch up, have fun, or shoot the breeze, then they’ll make it happen. And that type of socializing can be enjoyed in so many ways that don’t interrupt someone else’s work flow or create distractions or delay deadlines or feel forced. Note the difference between personal socializing and professional collaboration - each has a place.

What are your needs when it comes to the social aspect of work? Let's talk about it in the comments.