There has been a huge increase in the popularity of social networks in recent years. This is demonstrated by a study by Smart Insights, which found that in January of this year, Facebook had 1.8 billion active users, whilst 1 billion people actively communicate on both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Despite this high usage, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has released its annual survey of internet habits and found that use of social media is only the third most popular activity when using the internet, having been beaten by emailing and shopping for goods and services.
The report found that 66 per cent of respondents use the internet for social media; however, a report from Ricoh UK (Digital Dexterity: Denied) revealed some startling findings about social media in the workplace; for example, 46 per cent of respondents said that Facebook was banned in their office, followed by Twitter at 34 per cent and Instagram at 31 per cent.
There is clearly a startling gap here between the wants and demands of British employees and those of their employers. It is critical that this is addressed to ensure the creation of more productive workplaces. Despite confusion over the complexities of technology investment and fluctuating working models, a company's most valuable asset remains its employees. The use of social media to collaborate must be harnessed to avoid a digital dexterity crisis in the UK.
The new world of work
The new wave of millennials and ‘Generation Z' entering into the workplace is bringing a fresh approach to work. The ubiquity of social media and proliferation of its use in our lives has meant that new recruits can very quickly embed themselves into workplace operations due to these existing skills. Furthermore, millennials in work today expect easy-to-use video conference systems and proper Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes in place, to effectively collaborate with colleagues.
Whilst this might seem like a basic need that most employers do indeed meet today, our research revealed that there is a worrying ‘appearance vs reality' gap when it comes to implementing social media in the workplace. Over a third of workers surveyed (37 per cent) say that they would move to a company which offered better digital skills. This shows that employees today consider improving digital dexterity as a crucial factor in their future career decisions. Couple this with the fact that only a modest 18 per cent of respondents rated their digital ‘skills' as excellent, and it would seem that businesses across the UK still have a significant amount of work to do to ensure that the rights skills and tools are given to employees to help them best use digital tools.
It's not just about equipping people with the right tools - creating a culture of digital dexterity is also about welcoming new ideas and innovations into the office. The use of wearable devices, for example, is on the rise. Should it get to a point where many businesses offer wearable devices equipped with health apps to a benefits package? Should it also get to a point where the full use of social media and messaging channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp are fully encouraged as a means of collaboration? Outlawing such ideas and innovations could not only damage working relationships in the office, but could also hinder the efforts of sales, HR and customer engagement teams, who could very much use these tools to their advantage.
A long-term skilled workforce
Driving digital dexterity in the workplace is essential for building a long-term skilled workforce that can adapt to changing working practices. Many workers will realise that their employers do recognise the need for change and the importance of a strategic approach to technology deployment. Moreover, many workers will also recognise the need for technology to encourage stronger working relationships and how various tools and platforms can bring people together for the better.
However, many employees looking to develop their skills are finding that full digital dexterity benefits are being denied. The vast majority of workers surveyed in our poll said that they have no confidence in their employer's current use of technology. In addition, they do not consider their current skill set as excellent. Worse still, with social tools like Facebook currently banned in workplaces across the UK, many businesses are simply missing out.
If used correctly, the use of social networks can indeed be one of a company's greatest strategic assets and Ricoh recommends the following steps to keep employees happy and engaged.
- Don't shy away from collaboration: omit the blanket bans on social and collaboration tools and start thinking about how they might bring your workforce together
- Drive a culture of digital dexterity forward: employees today expect things faster than ever, and loyalty is certainly as not long lasting as it used to be. Build a strategic plan around technology and provide the right training and investment to ensure your workforce is part of it.
- Put your people first: technology has the power to create a more dynamic and digitally adept workforce whilst driving significant revenue growth. Build an approach with your people at the heart of it. After all, they are your biggest asset.
Only when we lose the perception that social media is a productivity drain and start to place trust in our staff to get their jobs done effectively - with the best technology at their disposal - will British businesses truly contribute to a booming, digital economy now and for years to come.
Chas Moloney has been marketing director at Ricoh UK since September 2005, where he has been fundamental in helping to restructure and grow the sales and marketing division - developing and bringing Ricoh UK's professional print and Managed Document Services propositions to market, and focusing heavily on building strong customer-supplier relationships. Under his stewardship, the Ricoh UK sales and marketing teams have built a reputation for providing premium solutions and services that are relevant to customers' business situations, and that address real business needs.
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