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a little goofing off is good for productivity October 8, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations, Seen Elsewhere, Unsociable Networking, Wasting Time.
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Don’t be so quick to crack down on people who use the internet to goof off at work:

A new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia apparently flies in the face of conventional wisdom—and many employers’ common sense. According to the study, workers who are allowed to use the Internet for personal reasons during the workday are actually nine percent more productive than workers who don’t. The reason? Perhaps surfing the Internet for pleasure or personal reasons increases worker’s concentration levels or eases anxiety about other parts of their lives, enabling them to concentrate more on their work.

Checking Facebook: the new smoke break at work. (CC-licensed photo by MarsHillOnline)

Checking Facebook: the new smoke break at work. (CC-licensed photo by MarsHillOnline)

Admittedly, in the U.S. we don’t like hearing that people in other countries, such as Australia, have come up with ways to make employees happy (I still think mandatory mid-day exercise, as has happened in Japan, is a great idea), but this makes total sense to me.

Think about it: if you aren’t automatically penalized for spending a few minutes checking Facebook or writing an e-mail to your mom, you’re probably more likely to do only a few personal things before getting back to work. But if it’s absolutely forbidden to even log into your Gmail or pull up I Can Haz Cheezburger, employees are more likely to either do it anyway and for longer or spend that time they’d spend on TMZ complaining to their peers about how much it sucks that they can’t go onto TMZ for five minutes.

The IT policy in my new department is a little stricter than the old one — for example, I know for a fact that they monitor the ports AIM and Yahoo Messenger go out on — but I still have the freedom to check Facebook every now and then, tweet or retweet, and see whose life is normal today. I get my work done, I get it done right, and I get it done on time.

Obviously people will occasionally abuse the policy, but in my experience as a manager I’ve found that it’s better to be a little permissive and deal with the fallout than to be completely draconian and have to penalize people for posting a status update when someone in the office says something totally inappropriate and you just had to tell someone.

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the culture of time-wasting August 11, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Unsociable Networking, Wasting Time.
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I iz jus chexin mah facebuk. (CC-licensed photo by tehusagent)

I iz jus chexin mah facebuk. (CC-licensed photo by tehusagent)

A friend of mine once said that “social networking” is just a synonym for “work avoidance”. She’s absolutely right: if you don’t want to work, why not check Facebook or Twitter? Why not post to your personal blog about how bored you are? Why not peruse your favorite blogs on Google Reader or del.icio.us or catch up on the news on Fark or Digg?

Why not make your company spend money to support your goofing-off habits?

There’s plenty of research about how letting workers use Facebook or Twitter on occasion (maybe a couple of minutes an hour) to give themselves breaks in their days is beneficial for everyone and actually increases productivity. We’ve all seen stories about companies in other countries doing office-mandated naps or exercise (as with Hiro and Ando’s company in the first season of “Heroes”). Some companies have patios or exercise rooms or ping-pong tables so that employees can unwind a bit during breaks.

The problem is this: people are taking advantage. It’s easier than ever to lose the train of thought while working; it could be something as simple as checking personal e-mail or texting your spouse to say you’ll be a few minutes late tonight. Ubiquitous high-speed internet, smartphones, music players, social networking… the more options you have, the less likely you are to avoid them all.

But flatly forbidding these things is dangerous. It creates a culture of covert surfing. It pits IT guys against people who just want to see their friends’ friends’ bikini pictures on Facebook. It lowers morale and wastes more time because people are going to (a) talk about the draconian computer policy and (b) find ways around it, forcing the IT guys to work harder to block social networking sites. Or people will just sit on their smartphones, which wastes even more time because the internet connections are generally (but not always) slower.

The trick is to get employees to realize they don’t have the right to spend all day goofing around on the internet. One poster on MyLifeIsAverage.com recounted her boss’s method:

Today my boss sent all employees a facebook message to meet in the boardroom at 3 p.m. The meeting topic? It was about not using facebook at work. I felt tricked but still had to give him credit for being clever. MLIA.

I wish the poster had written a follow-up, but I get the feeling that she and her coworkers were both impressed by the ingenuity of the boss and, during the meeting, probably came to some sort of compromise.

That’s the best possible endgame in the culture of time-wasting: compromise. Compromise with management to keep them from outright forbidding social networking and other time-wasting sites. Compromise with employees to keep them from wasting too much of the company’s time and money. Compromise with the culture itself in recognizing that Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and other social sites are a vital part of most people’s lives and cutting out that part will just lower employee morale.

Which is just what we need in this economic environment, right?

This blog entry was written while I was technically supposed to be working.

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That Guy’s Tips for Not Looking Stupid on the Internet, #2 August 5, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Economic Downturn, Getting Fired, Getting Hired, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid, Unsociable Networking.
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Don’t ignore the power of social networking while you’re still employed; the moment you get fired, you’ll need it.

For the last six years or so, CorporateSpeak employed a long-term contracted freelancer named Ivy. Recently, though, it was decided that Ivy’s contract was not going to be renewed and her duties would be assumed by an existing full-time employee. Ivy was unhappy about this, but I think we all understood the economic reality of the current U.S. market.

One of the first things Ivy did when she got home was update her Facebook thusly:

Ok, I am gonna be better about updating my status. Ok, I am actually going to start updating my status. The pressure to be relevant.. sigh.

Ivy used her Facebook a little bit before this, but not as much as her co-workers did — even her partner, who was let go at the same time. She would occasionally post about what she was doing, or put up some photos, but she wasn’t active on Facebook (or, to my knowledge, any social network). Now that she’s unemployed, though, she’s got to find a new job, and she’s figured out rather quickly that networking is the way to do it.

Just don’t tell everyone. It makes you look like you’re better than everyone else, like you’re saying, “well, I had a job for a long time, and now I don’t, so I’m going to do what all the cool kids are doing and use Facebook to find a job.” Coming across as elitist on a social network is a sure-fire way to lose regard with a potential employer, especially one that you want to hire you for a high-profile or high-paying position.

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just because it’s new doesn’t make it awesome August 3, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations, Technology Trouble, Unsociable Networking.
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One of the many things my company does is provide a live video streaming service. For many years, we would help clients set up Windows Media streams because that was the most reliable thing. Then Flash streaming arrived and… and nothing. We still haven’t quite figured out the exact right way to get it through our insane firewall system, so we’re not streaming locally via Flash except by a third-party solution.

That’s right: we’re telling clients to use a third party. In principle I have no problem with that, but it’s not making us any money.

Now someone in the building has discovered Skype — which, first of all, isn’t new, but as NBC once said in their summer reruns promotion, “it’s new to you”. This person has seen Oprah do Skype interviews, and if it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for us — neverminding the fact that Oprah has a huge budget and would never air something that looked subpar.

Apparently we don’t care about that.

socialshirtMore surprisingly, our clients don’t either. They’re so wowed by the words “Skype”, “Facebook”, “Twitter”, and “streaming” that they forget web users want quality content, not just stuff thrown in their faces.

Whenever a new client is pitched, one of two things happens: either the salesperson says “oh, and we can integrate your Facebook and Twitter feeds onto your site, no problem”* or the client says “we want to set up Facebook and Twitter**; can you help us?”

Guess whose job it is to do that.

The corporate office recently created a support group (technical, not emotional) for the company’s web developers. I was talking to my contact there and he said, “the real problem is that companies don’t understand social networking; they just think they have to have it because everyone else does.”

Needless to say, I like this new guy. Very much. Because he’s put his finger on the problem: if you don’t need social networking, why have it? Do you really need a Facebook fan page for Widgets R Us? Do people who buy Widgets want to become your fan on Facebook? Do they go on Twitter? What are you tweeting? Are you tweeting deals on your Widgets, or just saying “check out our awesome widgets”?

Some companies — occasionally including mine — hold seminars to teach people how to properly use social networking to build business. The proper way is not “find the newest thing and get us on it no matter what”.

I just wish the people who work in my building understood that just because it’s new doesn’t make it awesome.

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* At which point the client says “Sure, if you set the accounts up for us.”

** Usually in a bewildered tone of voice.

That Guy’s Tips for Not Looking Stupid on the Internet, #1 July 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Technology Trouble, Tips for Not Looking Stupid, Unsociable Networking.
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Your Facebook status update is not the place to have a conversation.

Everyone’s on Facebook. Odds are good you’re on it right now — or you at least have a FB tab open somewhere on your browser, even if you’re not looking at it at this very second. And odds are even better that you’ve got a relative on Facebook who doesn’t know exactly what s/he should be doing right now.

My mom’s best friend joined recently. Here’s two recent status updates of hers, with her name changed to protect her identity:

Patricia Smith Zimmerman Thursday it is. Hopefully the weather is good for the pool after as well We will speak tomorrow to confirm what we are doing and a time.

Patricia Smith Zimmerman Hi just touching base and wanted to know if you located Rachel’s address. Let me know when you can get together. Hope all is well Patti

So, what did Patricia do here? Simple: she posted a status update that should have been a personal message or at most a wall post. If Patricia is concerned about the weather (“Hopefully the weather will be good for my pool day tomorrow.”), then she should post that. And no one wants to know if “you” — whoever “you” is — located Rachel’s address. Who’s Rachel? Why should we care?

I suppose the argument there is “why does anyone care about the minutiae of your life?”, but then, you could just un-friend someone who’s not interesting, right?

Anyway. As you begin using Facebook for job-related purposes or trying to find a new job, remember that you not only need to keep track of what you’re posting so it doesn’t embarrass you but also so you don’t look stupid.

I’m not sure how many of these “Tips for Not Looking Stupid” I’m going to do, but just in case, here’s the first.

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dick move, corporate person June 12, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Getting Hired, Unsociable Networking.
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As I mentioned Wednesday, my boss was laid off. So were about 40 others across the company, many of whom are my friends on Facebook. Yesterday, one of them, Charlene, posted this Facebook status update:

How about a Facebook page for ex-CorporateSpeak webmasters?

And Alfred, a sales-and-web consultant at the corporate office had the balls to post this comment less than half an hour later:

Great idea! are you all on Twitter and LinkedIn as well?

And I — and my cubicle-mate — just about exploded with indignation. Seriously, Alfred? Seriously, when your job is 100% safe because your results are un-quantifiable (all subjective), you have the testicular fortitude to post on the Facebook page of a woman who lost her job with literally no warning — a woman who was one of the five most-qualified webmasters at CorporateSpeak — that it’s a good idea? And to suggest to someone who’s in the web community that she should have a Twitter and LinkedIn page?

You. Idiot.

Here is the appropriate response from any corporate person not fired at the same time:

That’s right. The sound of silence. If you want to offer helpful hints, do it on the phone or via e-mail. Or in person. I offered my boss information on recruiters I have used in the past, and he welcomed it. I’m sure that Charlene would’ve been pleased to talk to Alfred about strategies for getting hired elsewhere, but for Alfred to post such a flip, cavalier message on Charlene’s Facebook page is a pretty big dick move. I feel bad for Charlene because she got fired, but I feel worse for Alfred because he’s so inept that he seemed to not even know what he was doing when he posted that.

Beyond that, Charlene will never, ever call Alfred out for what he said. And that’s too bad.

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tweeting your way to the top… or not June 11, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble, Unsociable Networking.
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It’s interesting that I haven’t talked about the phenomenon of businesses using social networks to promote themselves, but now I have no excuse.

A friend of mine, Mae, works for a TV station in Texas. Here’s her story.

Picture from Jim Milles

Picture from Jim Milles

Mae’s station is going crazy trying to attach itself to anything that works — throw enough mud at the wall and, eventually, some of it will stick is the watchword over there. Well, now that more and more of the talent — what on-air people are called — are getting involved in Twitter and Facebook, they’re trying to think of ways to use it to build viewership.

This morning, one of their anchors came up with what Mae (and I) both think is a novel idea: challenge another anchor in the same time-slot to a race to 10,000 followers, similar to what Ashton Kutcher recently did to CNN. The prize: the loser has to go onto the winner’s show live via Skype and congratulate him or her.

Great idea, right? I guarantee that day’s show, be it 6am or 11pm or anywhere in between, will be one of the most DVR-ed episodes of the news in a while. People will want to see the interplay between two sworn enemies.

Mae told me this early in the morning. Later in the day, she got on IM and said “the idea’s metamorphosing”.

“Into what?” I asked.

“They’re going to ask John Smith* to go up against Diane Simmons**, instead of Diane going up against someone from one of the other stations.”

“Well, that’s no fun.”

The great part is, though, that Diane has already issued the challenge. She posted it on Twitter and people have begun retweeting it, and at some point relatively soon I’m fairly certain one of Diane’s counterparts on another station is going to accept the challenge.

Which will then be undoubtedly kiboshed by the Big Boss at Mae’s TV station, followed shortly by a meeting with Diane, Mae, and everyone else involved.

The thing about Twitter is that it’s an immediate medium. You post before you think. You post your ideas. You post your feelings. You post your complaints. For public figures, it’s a way for them to connect with their fans in a way they’ve never connected before, and for the fans, it’s a way for them to talk directly to the public figures. Diane posted pretty much without thinking, and if her idea works, not only will she (and the station) have the potential to gain thousands of followers and viewers, but the station will also generate a ton of buzz. With everyone trying to figure out viral marketing, it only makes sense for companies to use any buzz they can.

Of course, the other problem is that the idea didn’t come out of the marketing department, and if they can’t put their stamp on it, they’ll mire it in committee until it’s forgotten about. This has happened to me countless times. I hope it doesn’t happen to Mae, because employees as a whole are pretty stagnant and when one has a good idea, it’s not smart to shut that person down.

P.S.: I do have both a Twitter and a Facebook, but because I write this blog anonymously, I will not link to them. If you’d like to make a fan page for CorporateSpeak on Facebook, I will be glad to promote it here on the site.

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* I am using a pseudonym for the name of a national morning show host because I don’t want Mae or her co-workers to get in trouble. This person is on either ABC, NBC, or CBS.

** Obviously a stand-in for the female anchor who issued the challenge.