This project will explore how social networks will transform the workplace, with implications for how people experience work and businesses increase their bottom line.
Organisations have traditionally been understood through hierarchical relationships – the boss, the heads of departments, line managers and their staff. Yet overlaying these formal structures and processes are informal networks – online and offline – that are growing in size and influence.
This creates an important tension for business to negotiate: the tension between what businesses can see – formal structures – and many of the things that really matter: personal networks, relationships and chemistry. Increasingly organisations recognise the value in these things, but are unclear what to do about them.
Yet whether we are socalising with colleagues or drawing on personal contacts for professional gain, the informal increasingly overlaps with the formal, whether organisations like it or not. Businesses can no longer ignore personal relationships, networks and chemistry: the question is how to live with – and benefit from – them in a way that works for everyone.
Through ‘network analysis’, this project will map organisational networks, and explore the tension between the visible and invisible by focusing on the following issues:
1. Innovation and growth: what role do personal relationships play in business growth and innovation? How far do personal relationships within organisations, and personal relationships between them, contribute to new ideas and new business?
2. Organisational culture and ethos: Who are the hidden connectors in organisations who knit together teams? And how can organisations seek to recruit, reward and retain the people playing these informal roles?
3. Privacy and professionalism: How are on- and offline personal relationships changing our ideas about what ‘professional conduct’ means in the modern workplace? How can companies distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ data? And how can employees manage the cross-over between their personal and their working lives?
The fieldwork will involve network analysis of 5-6 organisations, as a means to reveal and explore the importance of social networks to organisational life.
The project will involve three key phases.
First, collecting data for network analysis. This will be through simple surveys filled out by staff.
Network analysis is a tool already used internally at Demos (see example of the Demos network below). The data we collect can be used to spot the relationships within an organisation, and to explore different kinds and strengths of relationships within and between organisations.
Second, interviews with employees. We would use the more in-depth qualitative interviews to explore which people and relationships those working in the organisations perceive to be the most important and influential – and for which reasons.
This will allow us to explore our central tension: formal structures, relationships and positions of responsibility vs. informal networks of relationships.
We will be able to explore issues such as:
Third, interviews with those in management positions. In month six we will return for a second wave of interviews – this time specifically with those in management positions. Here we will explore the current strategies that are used to knit organisations together.
These interviews will allow us to identify whether the strategies that people use are in tension with what the people who work for them judge to be really important. Do they know who most people think are important? Which kinds of relationships and networks are they trying to build and encourage? Why? What are the tensions and trade-offs that they are dealing with?
If you would like to know more about the research, or if you work in this area and would like to talk to us about your work, do please get in touch with Duncan O'Leary or Peter Bradwell.
Humans are social animals, spinning intricate webs of relationships with friends, colleagues, neighbours and enemies. These networks have always been with us, but the advance of networking technologies, changes to our interconnected economy and an altering job market have super-charged the power of networking, catapulting it to the heart of organisational thinking.
Online social networks | Everywhere and nowhere | Economist.com
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