The lack of ability to engage socially with coworkers that you might not interact with face-to-face has not traditionally been seen as a problem to be solved for many law firms and law departments. While firms may have deployed applications like Yammer or Jabber, the purpose behind such tools isn’t primarily seen as facilitating social interaction between employees; rather, social interaction happens as a byproduct of using the tool for work. Think of distribution lists created for employees to share pictures of their cats, or Slack channels devoted to Crossfit. Such employee-created groups happen organically, with little or no organizational support. Such use cases have been viewed by management as, at best, an ‘extra’ and at worst, as a waste of time.
This type of organic usage, when permitted, works well when most employees are coming into the office and interacting with their close colleagues on a daily basis. People talk about their weekend plans, swap recipes, and get restaurant recommendations from their coworkers while grabbing a cup of coffee from the break room or passing one another in the hallway. But when everyone is 100% remote, those social networks begin to fray and employees become disengaged from their colleagues and from the organization as a whole.
Enterprise social tools, when appropriately and thoughtfully deployed, help to fill this gap. Effective social networking applications allow users to search for other users or for content, allow the creation of groups related to common interests, and provide tagging and subscription services. Successful deployment of an enterprise social application requires engagement from firm management, human resources, knowledge management, information governance, and marketing so that employees understand the ‘rules of the road’, have a clear path of escalation in the instance a coworker posts something insensitive or offensive, and are able to access training materials as needed.
Full-time remote work is a challenge for both employees and firms, but providing tools and resources to facilitate social interaction helps strengthen individual employee bonds and the firm as a whole. Having easy access to like-minded communities of peers and the ability to ask and receive advice and recommendations increases engagement and lessens feelings of isolation brought on by lack of outside interactions. While many social networking tools are cloud-based, and may not be appropriate in a legal setting, on premise solutions such as Ikaun’s Pulse are targeted to law firms and address many of the unique requirements of the legal industry.
We are in a unique moment in our industry. People are social creatures, and need to engage with others to feel satisfied with their work. If law firms and law departments are able to successfully deploy and support enterprise social applications, the result will be an engaged workforce and a stronger firm culture.