In the course of my interviews for the mobile learning book, Robert Gadd (OnPoint Digital) made a comment that’s stuck with me. He opined that the new ‘cigarette’ break was the social media break where employees will stand outside with their mobile phone and check in on their social networks. The reason, of course, being that their companies block social media access via their IT infrastructure.
As a grad student, I took a summer consulting job with a defense contractor looking at their education policies. At the time (and this was circa early 80′s), the company was investing in a new IT system (we’d now call it an ERP system). I remember this because the company asked that the vendor turn off the email system as they didn’t want folks frittering away time being social. These employees had phones, but the company didn’t trust them with email for some reason!
Now, of course, we would be hard-pressed to conduct business without email. I know many of my cutting-edge colleagues are talking about life beyond email these days, but it’s still a mainstream tool, for better or worse. We wouldn’t think of not allowing it, in fact we’re expected to provide it for employees. Yet that same mentality of not trusting employees to use resources responsibly comes in with social networks. We’ll trust employees not to steal office supplies, and use phones and email responsibly, but we won’t trust them with “the web”! Instead, we block access to certain sites.
The lack of trust in employees is sad. I believe in education over censorship, coupled with careful observance to ensure that there are no abuses. It says a lot if you feel you have to restrict your employees instead of letting them know what the expectations are and ensure that they can follow the guidelines.
The worst part, to me, however, comes from the recognition that it’s no longer about ‘know how’ but about ‘know who’. With my ITA colleagues helping me recognize that increasingly “work is learning and learning is work”, and that conversation is the best learning technology, cutting off folks from their networks is like cutting off part of their brain and still expecting them to be productive!
I always joke about how we cut off the flow of blood to the brain before we expect men to conduct business (my take on the business ‘tie’), but this is really a serious impediment to successful problem-solving in the coming workplace where continual problem-solving and innovation is necessary. Innovation isn’t solitary, and your best colleagues are not necessarily in your workplace. You may need some discretion, but that’s already covered by policies about communication, and mediated interaction isn’t any different.
I reckon connecting to your colleagues is as important to work, going forward, as is your schooling and experience. It’s the network, baby, so enable connections, don’t stifle them!