Inspired by a recent conversation I want to share my thoughts on the concerns raised by unions or workers’ councils. On three occasions I’ve now been confronted with their worries on too much transparency and the potential threat to employee’s freedom.

Presence Information in Instant Messaging
The little ‘traffic light’ indicating availability or absence of a user is supposed to add efficiency to 1:1 communications or ad hoc group communication. It should simply support the decision, which way to go:

  • quick and informal connection via IM (green light)
  • asynchronous channel (e.g. e-mail), leaving instant message w/t the expectation of an immediate answer or a quick phone call if a person is away (yellow)
  • definitely an asynchronous channel if the other party indicates busy/don’t disturb (red) 

Now comes the concern: companies will be able to monitor how much time users are away or (dare them) be even offline. Or worse: home office AND offline (definitely sneaking themselves a day off!!).

My only answer to that is: how valid will be a statistics of people’s presence status? The ‘activity indicator’ is simply to be blurry to be even remotely reliable as a controlling tool. Being offline when ‘working from home’ for example isn’t an indicator for taking it easy, is it? Probably it’s more about concentration and the intention to get things done without being disturbed. Furthermore: will corporations really (I mean really…) go through the effort of establishing an intelligence group trying to hunt down potential cheaters? I don’t think so.

Personal Profiles with Skills and Operations Information
Competence based business would gain a lot of benefit from LinkedIn like profiles that contain sufficient information on skills, experience and interests/passions of a person. It would be a lot easier to find the right person to help and contribute a potential solution w/t going through formal processes. Just today I had a discussion with leadership members of an industrial manufacturing company that suffers from the distribution of talent and skill across geographies and functional silos.

In particular workers’ union members have raised the concern (with me being in the room) that detailed profiles would allow companies to compare them one. Less detailed profiles could be interpreted as disinterest. Weaker profiles could lead to an employee being managed out of the organization – or even worse: be simply laid off.

That concern I can actually understand – to some extend. At least from the intention to protect the employees that simply are overwhelmed with the requirement to maintain a profile. However, if we really want to improve access to skills and expertise and if we want to establish a help culture inside corporations we have to be more transparent. As mentioned in my last post I have to emphasize: social business contains the word social. It’s referring to people and the ideology of the power of networks.

Networks need nodes and in business context these nodes will (at least to a significant portion) be represented by shared personal attributes or the need for a particular one. Transparency for skills and expertise will deliver more opportunity for employees than threat. My recommendation would be a careful approach towards the concept and proper hand holding for employees as well as managers because a more transparent and social way of creating networks will require the respective work and collaboration culture.

Activity Feeds as an Indicator for Commitment and Involvement
That’s the most recent concern that was brought to my attention… Basically activity feeds are the most efficient way to structure the constant stream of information in a company. Plus: it’s the ideal way to include the communication component into e.g. project workspaces and finally solve the problem of disconnected content and communication (posting a file on a SharePoint and notifying the team via e-mail just isn’t state of the art anymore…).

Now workers’ councils seem to have identified two threats: either your heavy (and visible) involvement with internal social networks indicates that you can’t be bothered to get your real stuff done. Or your inactivity indicates that you’re not interested.

Erm…sorry. Whatever you do in an activity feed might indicate something negative? And that’s why we should ban the option to finally connect content and communications? You just cannot be serious… 😉

My reaction to #1 and #3 might be a slightly (or maybe fully) subjective and emotional. However, I truly believe that corporations have to start their transformation into social businesses – and corporations include the employee representation as well. We need a new work culture that is much more geared towards collaboration and the combination of the intellectual assets that we have available.

Let’s give it at least a chance 🙂

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