By Gloria Lombardi

AnaIt began in 2012. Ana Neves (pictured right) wanted to create an event to “show different ways of working through collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation, which are enabled by modern digital workplace tools”. Based in Lisbon, the Founder of Social Now has turned the traditional format of a business conference on its head. You will not find the usual case studies, no, there is only one featured company, and it is fictitious!

Vendors, consultants and panelists tackle the defined challenges the fictitious company faces. The enterprise tools showcased live on stage must address the company’s objectives. The panel of experienced professionals keep a critical eye on proceedings, asking pointed questions of the vendors, and provide practical tips on how the fictitious company could improve certain work processes.

Social Now will take place on 11th and 12th May. I wanted to catch up with Neves to discover what attendees can expect from this year’s conference. In this wide-ranging interview, she also shares lessons learned in the past five years, and provides tips for effective knowledge management.

Gloria Lombardi: What will Social Now participants experience at the conference?

26499347865_5ebcefd985_oAna Neves: Social Now will feature amazing speakers who discuss the current status of enterprise social collaboration as well as the future of work trends. But, core to the conference is this fictional company – there is a set of characters and a plot. The company faces many problems that most organisations have in the real world. During the event, different speakers will go on stage to address the objectives and needs of the fictitious company. The different enterprise vendors will show how they can support the company in overcoming its obstacles. So, attendees will be able to see how the different tools can support and promote different ways of working, not just add features. The scenario-based presentations and the immediate peer reviews are what make Social Now unique.

There will be three expert panelists, coming from real organisations like Banca Sella (Italy) or Médecins Sans Frontières (Belgium), who represent the management board of the fictitious company. At the end of each vendor’s presentation, the panel will assess the presented solution in the context of the scenario, and query the vendor on implementation, engagement, and value. They will look at it from an IT, business, and user experience perspective.

Finally, there will be short talks from experienced consultants like Victoria Ward, Chris Collison or Patrick Lambe. They will offer concrete advice to the fictitious company that will be applicable to many organisations. The scenarios and advice will focus on working practices and improving business, not just new tools.

Addressing set scenarios is a lot more work for the vendors, but this format provides a rich and recognisable context for the audience.

GL: What changes have you seen in the digital workplace space since launching Social Now in 2012?

Social Now - Tools for The Workforce Conference - Hotel Tivoli Oriente Lisbon

AN: Every year, I see an evolution in what the tools bring to the organisation, and people’s work days. In the beginning, the market was dominated by big platforms that wanted to do it all. They wanted to cater for all the different processes – wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, commenting and so on. And they did not look great from the user perspective. A couple of years later there was a trend toward more ‘sexy tools’ – the technology started to look better.

Around 2015, more dashboards started to appear. The vendors were concerned about including metrics and analytics to access their impact on the business.

Now, developers are recognising that is hard to be good at everything – so they are specialising. Their technology serves a particular purpose, and relies on integration with other enterprise tools implemented by an organisation.

GL: Do you expect to see further evolution at Social Now 2017?

AN: We will continue to see specialist tools at Social Now this year. But, the large platforms will continue trying to cater for pretty much everything. I expect to see an effort for even better user experience too – good looking interfaces that are easy to use.

I predict ongoing usability and user experience concerns. Tools need to be easy to adopt into existing workflows and should provide short-cuts – helping people do more, quicker. A great mobile experience is needed as well.

GL: With this evolution of digital tools over the past five years, what has changed – if anything – in the management practice of organisations?

25894451714_fcc97e1230_oAN: Many European companies – and this is mostly from my experience in Portugal – have started to investigate and invest in new ways of working.

But it can often involve a big transformation – it is not just putting technology out there, deploying new tools and expecting people to care. It is about changing the way they manage their work, and the way they interact with their people. And that is a slow process! The technology evolves at speed but companies do not; transformation is required to catch up to competitors and customer expectations.

Often, there are big issues with the management. In many organisations, managers progress in their career and get to the top based on their age and permanence in the company. Those people know a lot about the organisation. But, unfortunately, they are also frequently stuck in their own, old ways of working. They do not want to lose the power that they feel comes from the experience and knowledge that they gathered so dearly. And that is challenging – when those in management positions do not see the value of the change, then they will negatively influence everyone in the business.

GL: Based on your experience, what are the conditions necessary to create a sustainable transformation?

13882244184_bbe97e82db_oAN: It starts with how a company manages its workforce, which encompasses so many things.

A clear and shared vision is needed. Whatever the company does from a technical perspective must be directly linked to the business strategy. Otherwise, tech deployment will be just about providing new features, rather than greater capability. Leadership must clearly communicate their reasons for implementing new ways of working. Everyone needs to understand what new tech can help them achieve. For example, maybe the business needs to be more agile, or bring new products and services to market faster. Perhaps field workers need more mobile accessible technology, or better connectivity. Or maybe the distributed workforce needs aligning across different countries.

The organisational culture determines how much employees want to share their knowledge. If the organisation rewards an individual solely for how much they sell, how many clients they bring into the business, or how fast they deliver a project, then it encourages people to act on their own and think of themselves. But, if the organisation focuses on how much we – the collective – achieve as a company, then it immediately changes the whole mindset towards collaboration. New collaborative technology can enable people to think for themselves while thinking of the big picture.

Corporate values need to be embedded in ways of working – they cannot remain just words on the walls of the head office. Values must be lived and demonstrated by leadership at every level.

Training should encompass the ways people communicate and express themselves within the digital workplace. Only training people on which buttons to press misses the point of digital evolution or transformation.

Finally, while it is crucial to have the support from leadership, when it comes to new ways of working, a company also benefits from a bottom-up approach. Truly useful technology can go viral – the team next door will hear about it from their colleagues and will be encouraged to try it too. So, it is important to get support from proactive employees who want to do better work, and are ready to try new ways of working.

GL: Technology, together with other societal and economic forces, is changing people’s attitude towards work – working from home, to working out loud, the freelance economy, and flexible working, for example. Which skills should workers develop in this digital economy to deal with the new reality of work?

17273039692_1a5efb9947_oAN: Workplace technology is challenging. While it’s true that many people rightly expect a good user experience when working within business, some people erroneously believe that enterprise collaboration technology is so similar to personal social networking that nobody needs direction or training. The tools and processes require different skillsets; personal networking is not the same as collaborating towards a shared goal.

While the technology enables individuals to work from home or anywhere else in the world, it also requires them to be proactive and self-managed – being able to identify what needs doing and being capable of doing it; without constant supervision.

I’m just not sure if graduates coming out of university actually possess these competences.

GL: What’s lacking in the education system? Is it really providing our future generation of workers with the necessary skills to be productive and have an impact at work?

AN: Unfortunately, we still have an old education system that rewards students for having top grades, without really measuring if they can apply their knowledge to the business world. It rewards students based on marks and not on the impact and quality of their learning.

Additionally, the current school system educates people to act mainly on their own – we see, for example, institutions that only allows the ‘top twenty people’ to enter a certain University. This competitive ethos encourages individuals to fight against each other, forcing a person to think about themselves. This is the opposite of social collaboration in the workplace!


Learn about the latest collaborative ways of working at Social Now 2017. Book your ticket now with the MARGINALIA discount code to receive your 10% discount.

Social Now, Lisbon, Portugal

11th and 12th May 2017

View the agenda | Follow on Twitter

Picture of Ana Neves, Social Now – Tools for The Workforce Conference – Hotel Tivoli Oriente Lisbon, photo by Mário Pires.