Building a Collegial Online Workplace Using Social Intelligence
by James M. Fraleigh
Social technologies have introduced novel ways to form relationships online, but the instantaneous nature of having a status update “liked” or retweeted might make these interactions seem deeper than they are. As social networks become integral to the work world and we partner with clients and teammates 140 characters at a time, workers must learn to communicate in these virtual spaces with as much nuance and depth as they do face to face.
Social intelligence can help establish collegial and productive online work relationships, whether the goal is to collaborate with overseas colleagues, launch an organization’s Facebook page, or simply build a professional reputation. This ability to make meaningful connections both online and in person will become a key workforce differentiator. In fact, Future Work Skills 2020, a report by Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute, pinpoints social intelligence as one of 10 key proficiencies required for success during the next decade.
As organizations become more global in scope, social intelligence will help match disparate virtual workgroups with best-fit roles. Already online bidding sites and work platforms like Elance and oDesk help pair jobs with freelancers. Likewise, microworkers—distant collaborators skilled at breaking major projects down into smaller tasks—are completing functions like programming, translation, and data analysis in far less time than a single employee. Distributed networks of talent, in which a small number of permanent workers manage independent professionals who are brought onboard as new initiatives demand, will be a rising trend.
Cultivating these ad hoc teams, and ensuring that they perform in a cohesive manner, will require cultural sensitivity and a grasp of how to motivate and reward people for each stage of work, a process inspired by the psychology behind online games. Managers of remote team members might eventually structure projects as a series of periodic challenges that keep workers focused on reaching goals, while also promoting strategic interaction to keep teammates engaged.
Beyond collaborating with distant coworkers, social intelligence will also instill some much-needed soul into cyberspace. Humans’ inherent empathy will be a competitive strength as machines and computers automate rote tasks. Robots and artificial intelligence currently assist with medicine, manufacturing, and education, but the ability to feel hasn’t yet been duplicated. Only a person can provide leadership, encouragement, and that unmistakable spark of presence behind an avatar or chat window.
In the decade ahead, socially intelligent workers will find innovative ways to make a weekly Yammer chat or tweet-up as inviting as an impromptu strategy session in the local coffeeshop.
Learn more at www.apolloresearchinstitute.org.
James M. Fraleigh writes on a wide range of topics for Apollo Research Institute.