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Relationships without frontiers as workers take advantage of new technologies


Rise of “social technology” helps develop all-important relationships no matter where you work

Social media is having a real impact on the workplace, concludes a new report published today by The Work Foundation, supported by BT Global Services. Employees, used to establishing friendships in the blogosphere and in chatrooms at home, are successfully using the same tools to build and maintain contacts at work.

The independent study, “Changing Relationships at Work”, commissioned by BT Global Services, examines the effects of changing work patterns - such as multi-location, flexible, and remote working – and the use of new technology on office life and its impact on workplace culture.

The research calls into question the notion that workplace friendships can only be built around the water cooler and cemented in the pub after work. Rather, it reveals that nearly two thirds of respondents (64 per cent) do not work in the same physical place as most of their work friends, with many of those with access to ‘new’ technologies such as instant messaging (IM), wikis and social networking style applications and blogs using these to maintain strong relationships with colleagues, clients and friends.

While nearly half (45 per cent) of the UK office-based workforce uses one or more of these technologies on a daily basis, crucially, the survey found that the majority of respondents first started using many of these technologies in their personal life.

These 21st century relationships are not merely the domain of long-distance colleagues. While face-to-face contact remains important and the most heavily used form of communication, the study found that employees who regularly use new communication technologies at work are also more likely to trust their immediate colleagues, wherever they are based. Organisations that allow their employees access to these technologies were much more likely to have a work culture described as loyal, emphasising achievement and committed to innovation, highlighted as preferred organisational characteristics for the majority of respondents.

Royston Hoggarth, CEO of BT Global Services UK, said: “This report draws interesting links between an organisation’s use of technology and its workplace culture. Employees clearly thrive in businesses that embrace new technologies which encourage knowledge sharing between colleagues, clients and business partners. In addition, the report pinpoints what can only be described as the ‘perfect accident’ when it comes to the use of collaboration technology in the workplace. Without necessarily instigating it, in many cases, employees are collaborating more effectively than ever with tools and technology familiar to them from their personal lives.

“The breath-taking rise of technology in homes all over the world for keeping in touch with friends and family and having fun is now having a massive positive impact on UK organisations. The benefits of these applications are multi-dimensional but organisations which have been slow to adapt need to harness this brave new world of collaboration quickly and allow the secure use of new communications technologies in the workplace. There is a real opportunity and subsequent challenge for every organisation.”

The report highlights that employees use different tools depending on who they are communicating with and the task at hand. Twelve per cent of those with access to instant messaging use it to contact clients while 69 per cent use it to contact immediate colleagues. Sixty-one per cent use instant messaging to share information internally, but only 15 per cent use it to manage others and 11 per cent to manage conflict.

Alexandra Jones, Associate Director at The Work Foundation and lead author of the “Changing Relationships at Work” report, commented: “Working relationships clearly matter to employees: the more trusted they feel by the organisation, the more likely it is that they will be satisfied with their jobs Organisations that use new collaborative technologies to complement traditional methods of communication are able to continue fostering strong working relationships amongst employees in the most modern and flexible of settings, ensuring an environment in which workers can thrive.”

The report highlights how work and personal friendships are increasingly blurring. Sixteen per cent of respondents claim that most of their friends are work colleagues, while over a quarter of respondents (27 per cent) say they frequently socialise with work colleagues outside work hours. One in ten respondents has been on holiday with a work colleague.

Notes to editors

* “Changing Relationships at Work” and an interim report, “The Changing World of Work” by The Work Foundation is available on request.
* The survey undertaken as part of the report was conducted by YouGov. YouGov polled 1243 employees in organisations employing more than 500 people between 5th and 10th November 2008.

Additional findings:

* 37 per cent of respondents work with colleagues on different sites; 19 per cent work mainly with colleagues in multiple locations.
* The most commonly cited reason by respondents for their organisations not having access to new technologies was a fear of misuse (54 per cent), not thinking they would be useful (52 per cent) and concerns about security (40 per cent).


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