Working in tomorrow
Copyright 2009, Jim Penny
Word count: 1010
I frequently work at home. Being able to telecommute is good for both me and the company. I don't have to waste as much time driving, much less getting all pretty, and the company gets more for it's money. It took management a very long time to realize this important fact.
When I'm working at home, I tend to keep two or three emails systems and FaceBook open. All that mess is generally on three machines depending on exactly what I'm doing. I don't run FaceBook much when I'm in the office because doing so tends to attract unwanted attention. Management and IT have not yet figured out just how many competitors and clients are on the social networks, and it'll be another good while before they figure out about Twitter. They really need to get with the program, but they're just people too, and one day, they'll catch up.
However, I don't have Big Brother managing my home network, or so I hope, unless Google counts, which means one of my machines is running FaceBook in Firefox, and I check for FaceBook updates periodically. Peers and above at work wonder about that, and I have explained that my reason is simple. As a telecommuter, I can easily become separated from social interactions. More to the point, the people in a work place will simply forget about you when you're missing for a week or two.
With FaceBook open, I can remind people that I exist through status updates, wall posts, and the occasional private message. It is also not unusual to receive a “call me” note from work on FaceBook. It really interests me that FaceBook was chosen over email or the phone for such communications.
Most people are clueless about the importance of social interactions in the workplace, and in my case, many of my colleagues are unidimensional communicators in that they rely on a particular form of communication. Specifically, they require face-to-face dialog. Notice that I said “many.” I did not say “all.” Email is the close second, especially among the introverts and those who do not fear the data trail. Those who fear the data trail want verbal, not recorded, communications.
That was me about nine years ago. I was Mr. Email, and then I started working at the Center for Creative Leadership. During my personnel review at the end of my first year, my supervisor and I were discussing communicating with others, especially those people from whom we needed information and action. She said, “Jim, we have to be smarter.” Of course, my memory includes “...than they are.” However, she does not recall the conversation at all, and I'll edit the memory to the less egotistical form.
Her point was that we need to adjust our communication to match the preference of the other person. It took me a few years to see this point clearly, but she was spot on accurate...as usual. Some people, you just have to see in person, though these people will often speak on the phone. Others need email, if not a paper letter. I have one client who used faxes exclusively until six months ago when he switched to email. I have another who used Yahoo! IM to reach me until last year when we discovered we were both heavy text message users. I have one client that started using FaceBook for professional purposes just last month.
The thing is that I took Ellen's advice to heart. I work to learn how the other person wants to communicate, and then I reflect that, whatever it is. Bear in mind that it's not just the style of communication. Oh no, it's also the substance of the communication. Some people need to discuss the weather a few minutes before we get down to business. Others start the business discussion directly after a hello. Some want bullet points. Others want illuminated text. Some are only interested in demonstrable facts. Others want to know what I suspect. Once I know what they want, that's what they get, as best I can provide it.
So where does FaceBook fit in all this? FaceBook provides one more form of communication. It helps me remind the people back in the office that I still exist. A client just last night used FaceBook to lot me know a peep had arrived in DC safely. Last month, an account manager used FaceBook to tell me that I needed to call someone in California. Last week, a peep was facilitating a meeting and using FaceBook to ask me questions regarding what direction to take in the meeting.
All of those people knew both my cell phone number and my email address. Yet, they used FaceBook. Why? I suspect because (1) they were sure I'd receive the message faster, and (2) it was easier. They were wrong about the speed of delivery, but I do not know about the ease. However, what I enjoyed was watching my boss roll his eyes as I described these instances as though it were business as usual.
That's because it was business as usual. This world changes. We can change with it, or we can crash and burn. Notice how I skirted around Twitter earlier? I love me some Twitter. I receive live updates from the North Carolina General Assembly using Twitter. They arrive as text messages on my cell phone. Some of those tweets are from representatives. I hear it from the horse's mouth long before any news organization has a chance to report. Yesterday during a storm alert, the local news was reporting on tweets! A colleague complained that this was not news. What makes news and the source of news is changing, especially the definition of a news source, and it will likely change even more and in ways we cannot expect.
Folks, it is not yesterday. It's a little before tomorrow. We can deal with it, or we can be left behind. I, for one, choose to move forward.