Working from home reduce the Social Capital of your Organisation and what can you do about it?

We have a small office in Panchsheel Park, in South Delhi where I spend most of my time when I am not doing a workshop for a client. The small team, eight of us sometimes walk across to Shapur Jat a small village full of aspiring designers’ small shops and some nice cafes, for lunch. Then there are causal brainstorming over a coffee using a white board to scribble ideas and sometimes these discussions in the evening lead us to some bar in Hauz khaus village. After of couple of drinks someone will call up a colleague who is in Mumbai or Bangalore and say that we all are having a drink and check what they are up to. 

Since March, we are all working from home coming together only when needed, when the calendar says there is a meeting.  How does working from home impact our social relationships, bonds, the trusted relationships, something collectively we could call the social capital. 

Social Capital 

Pierre Bourdieu, the French Sociologist defined social capital as ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more of less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition’.  

Robert Putnam, the American Social scientist defines social capital as ‘those features of social organization, such as trust, norms and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.  

Looking at both these definitions we can agree that social capital stands for the ability of individuals to secure benefits by virtue of membership in social networks or other social structures. In other words, the specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks.

There are other concepts that explains how physical presence and interactions increases the social capital. 

Related concepts 

The Proximity Principle is the tendency for individuals to associate, befriend, and be attracted to those who are nearby. So the person who sat next to you in the classroom in school might have become your best buddy or someone who sits close to you in office. 

The Elaboration Principle is the tendency for groups to form when smaller groups (e.g. dyads and triads) develop ties and linkages to form larger more functional groups. Essentially, core group members tend to reach out and create new acquaintances, allowing the group to expand through the Elaboration Principle. 

The Similarity principle is the tendency for individuals to join groups in which the members are similar to them in some way. The types of similarities that can attract group members to each other can be related to values, attitudes, and beliefs. They can also consist of more irrelevant similarities such as race, sex, age, and other demographic factors.

All these three, proximity principle, elaboration principle and similarity principle, as you can see require social interactions and connections. 

Now we can understand that working from home has an impact of social capital of individuals and collective social capital of an organisation. So what can Organizations do to manage this situation and nurture collaboration and knowledge sharing at an informal level? Social network analysis or Organisation Network analysis might help.  

Organisation Network Analysis 

One way of understanding social capital is to understand the networked structure of the social capital. Networks are a way of understanding social systems, community or an organisation and here we focus on the relationships among the entities that makes the social system. The social relationships and connections between a group of  people are shown here in the diagram as a network. The nodes in the diagram represents people and the lines represents their relationships with each other. 

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If Organizations can identify people like Faiz who is connected to large number of people and Abhi who is acting here as a bridge and leverage them in effective way to hold the network together, there could be better engagement and sharing of tacit knowledge .  Then there could be customer facing people who become boundary spanners because of their ability to pass on  the information from market to key pockets in the organisation. An Organisation network analysis could also identify key boundary spanners in a network and create strategies to make sure that they are connected to key people and the information flow happens. 

A social network analysis(SNA) or Organisation network analysis(ONA) maps the social relationships between people and visualise this like the diagram I have show above. This way leaders can identify the key people and drive more engagement and collaboration. 

ONA is also used to understand key influencers, hi-potential employees, the silos, the level of Inclusion and organisational culture . 

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