Are collaboration vacations part of my benefits package?

Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Fri, February 15, 2013 - 3:15:53

Here is some news that may make anyone over the age of 18 gasp: Not everyone is on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. Some people are more private and more introverted than others, not wanting to share every thought and event in their life with "friends." On average people have between one and five friends who would be there for them in times of trouble. The average American Facebook user has 214 friends. These connections are all labeled friends, when 212 of them are really more like acquaintances. How much information do most people feel comfortable sharing with acquaintances? How much do people really take the time to group their acquaintances into meaningful groups so that they can communicate on a more personal level? Facebook groups have not caught on. They are still not obvious, and users are never quite sure if their posts are private or not. Google circles are a bit more obviously presented, as a cohesive group, therefore making it easier to see who belongs to it. However, neither has been overwhelmingly successful. It seems that fewer and fewer of my acquaintances on Facebook are posting on a regular basis and even fewer participate on Google+ or Twitter. Don't need to broadcast your life to acquaintances? Is Facebook too much work? Too much of a time sink? People are said to be taking vacations from Facebook lately. It's also been said that Facebook can make people feel depressed about their lives. If all of this holds true, how does this notion of using social environments to collaborate transfer over to using social environments for professional purposes?

How are companies using social intranet sites? Some are for purely social purposes and others are for work collaboration. For those using these sites for work-based collaboration, how is their work impacted? How will these environments make people feel about their work? Are users finding they are more productive in these social environments or, like participation on other social sites, are they a time sink that will find participation at work petering out? 

With more and more workplaces asking their employees to reach out and be visible, what does all this mean for the way introverts and less confident people might work? Will workers post more to appear more productive? Will conversations be more superficial and less productive? We have all struggled to keep up with email and learned how to manage the volume. We have learned the social graces and norms of the email environment. Now we must transfer all we have learned to new environments, learning how to manage the information being brought to us through the environment and the new social norms. For example, we would not call out a coworker on something, pointing the finger mid meeting. nor would we reply all in email and corner a coworker, and we would not post one-off comments about a coworker’s efforts on a collaboration site without thinking first, or else contacting them privately. On the other hand, a coworker who might not feel confident enough to speak up at a meeting might feel more comfortable seizing the opportunity to mull over a response and share ideas via a post. 

Collaboration does not equate to being social. Employees who are forced to be outwardly social with their work are not going to thrive. In one case, on a professional collaboration site a user stated, "Am I the only person who would like to have separate conversations for this work (have targeted discussions) and then post the agreed-upon decisions?" 

Most users find themselves setting up one-on-one or smaller, more intimate conversations on the side. How many times on Facebook have users posted, "I will email you separately?" Our social environments are not supporting these scenarios because their mission was to tear down the social barriers. It’s a wonderful idea and an honest one; however, personalities and human nature are just not that easy to change.

Internal collaboration sites need to offer the ability to communicate on smaller more private scales before going public with information, while still keeping the "communications" affiliated with threads and related materials or projects. In the work environment individual work styles need to be taken into consideration. As online socialization and collaboration become more commonplace, they are offering effective and efficient ways to collaborate more readily and more productively. However, because users in a work environment cannot take collaboration vacations or choose who to allow into their work circles, it's important to remember that there are different types of people and different types of work styles that will need to be accommodated to promote success in these collaborative environments.

Posted in: on Fri, February 15, 2013 - 3:15:53

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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