Monday, June 30, 2014

When social is a taxing problem

One of the projects I've been keen to push on with my current employer is extending our elearning provision beyond the isolated horrors of the self-study elearning "course" to more collaborative social opportunities. In this respect we're quite lucky; with our current performance and learning management suite provider we have access to an advanced, mature enterprise social network (ESN) platform that is integrated with current user profiles. Extending access to new users is simply a process of adding that permission to their profile and they are in.

So far, so good. After a few months of softly rolling out to small, targeted groups, we find ourselves gaining traction and on the cusp of embracing a couple of higher profile groups to drive up activity. Best of all, we are now finding that groups and teams are approaching us requesting access to the system. This kind of exclusive, user driven adoption is exactly the kind of thing that we wanted to happen with our low-key social project and augers well for the future, as and when we make a decision on which platform to finally go for (despite the obvious advantages for me as a learning person of choosing one integrated with our systems, that may yet not prove to be best in the collective business interest).

However, it has brought to light one problem that I hadn't foreseen, or indeed, have heard of elsewhere.

As with most large organisations, we have a pool of contract employees that have been drafted in to help in particular parts of the business where we need to be flexible about numbers. One of those disciplines that has approached us for a social platform to help them comprises quite a few contractors. It seems an obvious solution to their problem:

  • contractors and "permies" are dispersed across different parts of the business, isolated from one another in their specific discipline
  • they are technically adept and as a group predisposed to early adoption - the idea of social networking in the work space is not one that, on the whole, would meet much resistance - indeed they are seeking it out
  • it's quite possible a lot of the audience in scope have experience working at other financial services organisations which could be useful and relevant to people on projects across our business (confidentiality and data protection issues notwithstanding).
Unfortunately, our contractor management company have raised a concern over offering ESN to contracted workers. Their legal person wants us to be sure that our social platform won't cause us to fall foul of Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs! 

The notion of the tax man as a barrier to social adoption is entirely new to me. The concern, that we are working together to overcome, is that a social network may constitute a work place feature that might be expected to be limited to permanent employees only. 

The key word here seems to be "social". For example, for similar reasons, contracted workers are not able to attend our summer party as for them to do so would give the impression that they are being treated as regular staff, and as such their status, and the tax perks it carries, would be in question. 

We're fairly sure that with careful management of permissions we should be able to allay their fears, but I'd love to know if anyone else has come across any similar barriers.