Social networking in the workplace happens naturally everyday when you work in a physical office with your colleagues. The importance of these interactions to the health and performance of employees and the business overall cannot be understated. People naturally discuss social issues, life events and aspects of their work interchangeably in the flow of conversation. It takes time for colleagues to get to know each other through conversation and experience and feel comfortable working together. Employees that feel more comfortable with each other will tend to work better together as a team. This is referred to as social capital, a reference to the value of the relationships and networks that employees build with each other.
The Importance of Social Interaction in the Workplace
A number of studies illustrate the importance of social interaction in the workplace. Sozbilir, found that social capital has an effect on organisational creativity and organisational efficiency. Hudaykulov & Hongyi showed that findings suggest there is a large positive impact of social capital on cooperation.
If you are running a remote team it is critical to facilitate interactions between team members. Regular scheduled meetings as already discussed above are an important component. Communication on email and/or in a project management tool is different to chat because it is tightly structured around tasks. In most cases you don’t want to see unrelated comments and general social chat within email or project management comments. This is why it’s important to facilitate a chat based app.
Slack is the tool of choice for chat for most companies. Slack is a messaging app which allows your whole team to communicate. It uses “Channels” which are like chat rooms that are designated for specific discussions. A Channel could be set up for a project or a team or a client, where all discussion for relevant team members is based around that item. Channels can also be set up a company wide discussion forum, or a social forum, or anything of the like. Aside from channels It is also possible to direct message users on the platform for one on one discussions.
I’ve outlined in the screenshot below how you can access channels (box 1) and direct messages (box 2) in slack
Slack has a number of advantages. It’s extremely user friendly, you can just hop on and intuitively work with it immediately. It’s widely used and it’s likely that your clients or contractors are using it already, so you can easily pull them into your projects and take advantage of the network effects. It integrates well and widely with other tools allowing you to set up notifications and pull information from other tools like your CMS into your slack channels.
There are alternatives to slack that are free. We used Facebook Workplace Chat for some time but we didn’t like it. We thought that since it was structured like facebook our team would gravitate towards it and use it like an internal social network. However this didn’t happen and it was not very user friendly. We are now using Google Chat, which we are finding far better. It doesn’t have all the features that Slack has, but it is free, low frills and does everything we need including the ability to create channels. We also love that it integrates into Gmail, it can be used as a standalone app but also from within your Gmail account. We can access Google Chats from within Gmail and all chats are searchable in Gmail. In order to use Google Chat you need to be using G Suite.
In the screenshot below you can see how chat boxes sit at the bottom of the screen within my Gmail app and I can actively chat with colleagues while working in email. Each one of those boxes is a conversation between myself and a colleague or client. This can be extremely useful for clarifying emails.
Skype is another well known chat application. It was widely used as one of the first video and messaging apps. Lately it has fallen behind other applications and fallen from popularity.