When I meet with people, especially after I speak about privacy and technology in the workplace, I can’t tell you how often I have heard, “I’m not a techie and I’m not interested in the way social networking, texting, and cell phones work.” Usually this is followed by a litany of the evils associated with with new technology. Since this post is being done in the relative privacy of cyberspace, I’ll confess that sometimes I just allow my eyes to glaze over. On occasion I feel the need to confess that I enjoy getting email soliciting my aid to help rescue a person whose bank account is frozen by a rogue government official or offering investment opportunities with rates of return that exceed those promised by Bernie Madoff.
The truth is that you cannot afford not to understand social networking, texting, instant messaging, and any other new technology that is used by your employees. Let’s be honest, phones are not just phones anymore. The days of the rotary phone and party line have come and gone. Your employees, who also do not consider themselves to be techies, are familiar with all of the latest technology and how it works. Understanding how these technologies work will unlock the keys to understanding your employees. For example, I know that if I need to reach two of my employees a voice mail will get a returned call in a reasonable amount of time but a text will generate an immediate response. When I asked them their preferred method of contact, they told told me text, following by email, followed by voicemail. They prefer a text message because its quick, to the point and devoid of all the formalities that fall under the heading of phone etiquette. The upshot of this was that I had to learn how to text and, guess what, I found that it is an efficient way to communicate especially when you are in a rush.
As with anything, there is a good side to technology and a bad side. When personal computers and Internet usage became mainstream, there was a concern that employees would spend too much time playing Solitaire or surfing the web. Following that, concerns arose about inappropriate email usage. Now with the advent of Blogging and social networking, the alarm bell is sounding again. This time it is a concern over what is being posted on social networking sites or what is being tweeted to the world.
Deep breath. If you are over 30, especially if you believe 50 is the new 30, you need to understand the difference between your perspective of privacy and that of people that are not as chronologically advanced as you are. To the under 30 generation (I know I am generalizing), posting things about their life on the web is an accepted practice. That means they don’t think twice about posting their feelings about their personal and work life. This is turn means that they post things that do not depict you, your company or your employees in a favorable light. It also may mean that things get posted on the web that may be considered confidential. What you need to understand is that this is not always done out of malice but, merely, because social networking sites (I including Twitter in this definition) have replaced the local pizza joint or neighborhood bar as places for people to vent. The problem is that this new hangout is in cyberspace and every one with an Internet connection is privy to the conversation.
As an employer the key to getting a handle on this dynamic is to spend sometime learning about social networking, Blogging and texting. You might be surprised in that you may just learn something that you can use in your company. Once you feel you have a grasp on the technology, communicate with your employees. Explain through meetings and policies what your policies are and why you are concerned that disclosure of certain information in a social networking context could be detrimental or embarrassing to your company. At the end of the day, you will find that you and your workforce have more in common than you thought.