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What Workplace Networks Reveal About Your Collaboration Patterns and Influence

by Structural
on March 8, 2017

This article first appeared on Huffington Post by Richard L. Tso.

Did you know that your internal work relationships can help you be more productive in the office? Research conducted by Volometrix, now Microsoft Workplace Analytics, studied the behaviors of top-performing employees across several Fortune 500 companies and found that hi-po individuals have up to 20 percent larger internal networks than their peers. And it makes sense since highly productive people rely on their teammates to help move projects forward, push deals through approvals or work cross-departmentally towards a big product launch. According to another study, employees reporting to managers with large internal networks had 85 percent larger networks themselves compared to colleagues reporting to managers with smaller networks.

As management professor Rob Cross of Babson College wrote about in The Harvard Business Review, it’s through informal work networks – not just through traditional organizational hierarchies – that information is found and work is accomplished. After analyzing the informal networks of more than 50 large organizations over a span of 5 years, Cross identified four common personas of employees who drive organizational productivity – central connectors, boundary spanners, information brokers and peripheral specialists.

More generally, employees can use personal collaboration tools to better understand if they are conduits to information flow, gatekeepers or inhibitors. Some people may be productivity black holes without even knowing it.

Last month, our team had the opportunity to attend the Connected Commons event at Babson College hosted by Rob Cross. The conference brought together leading researchers, academics and companies committed to analyzing the power of employee networks on organizational productivity, talent management, attrition research and better measuring collaboration and engagement. While many existing network analysis models rely on surveying employees about who they interact with the most, new methodologies like analyzing anonymous email and calendar metadata are helping HR departments and researchers paint a more complete picture of a company’s network graph and influence.

Network Research Inspires New Solutions

Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Sharepoint and Skype allow for the free-flow of information between employees and teams although email remains the global backbone for professional communications. When coupled with usage trends from Skype and Sharepoint, employees using Office 365 can get a more complete picture of how people spend their time at work.

Because a large part of work today involves the sharing of information with colleagues, managers, and team members, the office graph helps unearths communication trends that help employees better understand individual and team collaboration. For example, the MyAnalytics dashboards offered in the E5 version of Office 365 provide employees with valuable insights that help employees identify who they collaborate with the most and how much time they are spending each week in email and meetings and with whom. This can be used to help fine-tune workloads and time dedicated to colleagues.

Having access to personal analytics can help you reclaim focus time and identify the best ways and times to work with others. Each person is unique with different work habits, schedules and preferences and workplace productivity dashboards can now provide a deeper level of personalization. In addition to providing a ranked list of top contacts from the previous week, time usage tools are helping people keep track of colleagues they have lost touch with over time, reminding them to maybe schedule that catch-up coffee meeting or lunch.

So how does this benefit you?

For example, your personal dashboard may reveal that you spent 6.5 hours last week working with a particular colleague and that person responded to your emails within 0.3 hours. This indicates you likely have a very strong rapport with this individual — they clearly value the relationship and are attentive to your questions or ideas. Moving forward, you might seek this person’s input a bit more often or else try to shift your communications to another team member to further enhance team collaboration and engagement. Let’s say your top 3 contacts are all in different departments like sales, marketing and engineering. That may indicate you are what Rob Cross refers to as a boundary spanner, your network acts as an important bridge to others in the company.

When you have a more complete view into your own work patterns through data, you can begin to make changes in how you work to be happier, well-balanced and more productive. Through our research in network behaviors it has become clear that investing in network relationship strength and breadth helps employees achieve their very best at work.

My only question to you is how does your network measure up?

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