Are social tools used by optimists, or do they make optimists?

A new report from Google reveals how social media is used in the workplace.

There's a strong correlation between business and personal optimism, and use of social tools in the workplace, according to a new report from Google and Millward Brown.

After interviewing 2,700 professionals from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, the researchers found that frequent users of social tools at work are:

  • Happier in their jobs. 38 per cent are very satisfied with their jobs, compared to 18 per cent of non-users
  • More successful. 86 per cent have recently been promoted, compared to 61 per cent of non-users
  • In faster growing companies. Frequent users of social tools are more than twice as likely to be working in high growth companies compared to non-users.
  • More optimistic about their future growth. 59 per cent expect the performance of their company to improve over the next year, compared to 38 per cent of non-users.

Sadly, Google and Millward Brown don't unpick the most interesting part of these findings, which is the direction of causality involved. Clearly the internet services giant has a vested interest in pushing the idea that using social tools will make you happier, more successful, and more productive; but it would be an equally interesting finding if it were the case that people who are optimistic, both about their own prospects and their businesses.

Similarly, Google will want to emphasise the idea that social tools may help your company grow faster, but an alternative causal story may be that fast growing companies have more freedom to experiment with new technologies and work styles than those which are struggling to stay afloat.

Thomas Davies, the head of Google Enterprise in the UK, argued that adoption of social tools in the workplace wasn't an if, so much as a when, and that as such, what is important for Google and other purveyors of such tools is to understand the where and the why of social adoption. He added:

It won't be long before sharing online is as natural in our business lives as it is in our personal ones. . . Having the ability to find the people and information you want faster speeds up the decision-making process allowing businesses to be more agile and competitive.

Also present at the report's launch was Matt Knight, Ocado's marketing chief. Discussing the online supermarket's social strategy, he described how the company, which now has 5000 employees spread over 10 sites, deliberately attempts to retain the manoeuvrability it had as a smaller company. They had great success with an internal wiki, and 18 months ago, switched their company to Google's enterprise tools. Knight also spoke about the company's consumer facing social media strategy, which, frankly, seemed a lot more barebones.

Ocado, like so many companies, seems to know it ought to be using social media to interact with customers, but doesn't really know why. Ten per cent of Ocado's customers follow them on Facebook, and Knight envisaged a situation where a customer could "like" an individual product, but there was little vocalisation of what this would bring the supermarket. Whether social media is publicity, marketing, sales or something else entirely, it seems clear that internal tools are used in a far more result-driven manner than external ones.

One correlation which Google weren't so keen to highlight: The two countries in the study which are the most enthusiastic users of social tools? Spain and Italy, with 74 per cent of respondents eager to use them. Meanwhile, the least enthusiastic was Germany, where just 53 per cent. Linking those figures up with the macroeconomic state of those countries doesn't paint quite such a rosy view.

Businessmen utilising social tools outside of the office environment. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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