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The Dark Side of Web 2.0

We have to get involved in Web 2.0! Hurry, we have to start planning for our rollout strategy for Web 3.0, whatever the hell that is. Or maybe we have to stop and think about things a bit.

Social networks are fun, conferring with our peers can be enlightening and informative. However a major question in the minds of those we are trying to convince of this is how do we prevent this from becoming a huge time sink for our employees? No one really wants to talk about this, but it is a problem. All employees are not equal. Oh, under the law and all that, they are, but in reality, they are not. Every employee is different and requires different levels and types of supervision. This is the standard set piece you get from most supervisors whenever you bring up telework.

Take a playground monitor with unruly kids. Kids are all different. Some you have to bark at to get them to behave. Some you cajole, some you coddle. The wrong strategy for the wrong child can be disastrous. In a way, it’s the same with employees. Some require tight supervision to enable them to produce their best work, some not so much. Others would work best if they only saw you once a year to get rated. Some are very needy and require constant atta-boys, others couldn’t care less about praise.

And so it is with attractive time sinks. Some will handle this tool well and gain from its use. Others will lose themselves in it. Now this is why God made supervisors. If everyone just sat at their desks and worked like automatons, we wouldn’t need them. But adding a new and delicious time sink like social networking to an all ready established working environment is going to be a matter of concern to the supervisory staff and we, the cheerleaders of this brave new world, have to address this to win them over.

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Jeffrey Levy

Absolutely. Managers are still responsible for their staff members’ time. But people have been finding ways to waste work as long as there’s been work. Too many agencies just block everything to “protect” productivity. Which is exactly the same approach they took to email and Internet access. Yet everyone now accepts these are tools that can help us do our jobs better provided they’re not abused.

Your point is well taken that proponents of social media need to acknowledge this issue, and I agree. But acknowledging it shouldn’t be taken as supporting the notion of blocking the tools entirely. I’m not saying *you’re* taking it that way, but that’s how many do.

Thanks for raising this point!

Mark D. Drapeau

The initial assumption is that these tools are a time sink, rather than starting at the assumption that they are valuable. I would like to see the analyses of the break room, the telephone, and email as time sinks, and then compare that to the analysis of social media tools. It would come about about the same: They might be productive, they might be a time sink, they can be abused, there should be rules, people need to be supervised.

Everyone should be productive at work. Picking your nose in the bathroom or filing your nails on a 30 minute coffee break is just as bad as surfing Facebook or writing a personal blog, if not worse. So what’s the “so what” here? Don’t waste time on social media OR ANYTHING ELSE in the workplace, inasmuch as that’s possible to enforce. Is there really any other discussion to be had on this topic?

Deb Lavoy

I think there’s an important think you’re all missing here. Which is that through the use of both external and internally facing tools the supervisor can create a level of transparency which enables her or him to more effectively coach the employee, and enables the employee to more effectively see what more mature (or at least different) workstyles look like. Its not just the content but work culture, expectations, patters, sources and context generally that are conveyed through social and collaborative tools.

Paula Thrasher

Ever have a fellow employee send an ill-advised email forward to the all-staff email list? Bad judgment transcends technology.

Attribution can limit that behavior in my experience. But why invite the issue at all with “Social Networking”? Because you need trust needed for true collaboration, and social networks can help build that.

First, never underestimate the power of “attribution” as a CLM (Career Limiting Move) -inhibitor. Ensure all actions in the system are logged (edit a page, search, comment, etc) and that the log is shared with all users. Example is requiring log-ins to edit the wiki, and tracking all edits. I can personally vouch that having this log alone creates community police-ing bad behavior. Obviously managers also need to punish bad behavior and reward positive actions, but a system that attributes and tracks should enable managers to have full visibility and transparancy. (Reality check: Most social collaboration tools have at best a 10% participation rate – getting adoption is still very hard. You would be lucky to have the problem of so many people actively using the system that abuse/ time-wasting was a problem.)

To address why you would invite the issue in the first place by implementing social networks – Because Collaboration requires trust. Try this experiment if you don’t believe me. In a large organization (Government agency..etc) ask someone you’ve never met, outside your organizational group for a favor. (Can you send me a file?). Does it work? Now try that cross-agency. Good luck with that, right? But if you knew that person personally and asked the same favor – odds are they will help you out. Because they trust you. Social networks can help your employees maintain relationships cross organizational boundaries (Former co-workers, outside friends), and help them develop new ones (based on common interests). And just like email and the internet – that accelerated flow of information is far more valuable than the potential for time wasting that comes with it.

(P.S. Do you have an email policy? Do you have a Social Networking policy? You should…)

Julia Gregory

ALL of these very good points in the comments are evidence that MANAGERS and Supervisors need to learn these tools quickly and well so that they can continue to lead. Like any new skill or technology, there will be a learning curve and as workers mature in their social media behaviors, they will become more proficient. It’s not about the technology, it’s about adapting to new and more effective ways of communicating.

Ed Albetski

Jeffrey, totally agree. Web 2.0 tools shouldn’t be blocked out of hand, but actual thought has to go into the decision either way. Decision makers will actually have to educate themselves (the good ones anyway) and make one.

Mark, no, I think the assumptions are more of a mixed bag. We have folks here at both ends of the scale, some are all gung ho on the subject and some want to circle the electronic wagons. Every good supervisor realizes that a certain amount of “work time” is wasted. You have to balance morale with productivity. There is a time for everything. Too many rules often result in too few employees; they leave. My point is that we, as proponents of Web 2.0, have to acknowledge supervisors’ fears and help them make informed decisions.

Deb, I agree to a point. In my experience the supervisors know much less about these new tools than the folks they supervise. This is what makes pushing these tools to upper management a tough sell.

Deb Lavoy

Ed – its often the case that sr. management is less involved with social media tools than the rank and file – but not always. So the challenge is to get them to understand what is going on, and to engage them in the collaborative network – party by showing them the influence they can have and the “intimacy” it creates with work style, product and expertise. In other words, what Julia said!

Henry Brown

It has been experience that the perceived easy solution by management is to simply ban the use of tools that PERHAPS they don’t fully understand. I have been involved with organizations that prohibited the use of email for contact with either their customers or co-workers, apparently because they were concerned about security leaks AND “time sinks”

IMO the secret is to set high but attainable goals for each member of the team and the goals other than supporting the organization mission should be “customized” for each member of the team. If management engages in the required effort to set goals and the team member meets those goals and still finds time to engage in a significant amount of totally non productive effort would suggest it MIGHT be time for some new goal setting.

Agree with Paula, if I read her comments correctly, in NOTHING should be done without attribution, and that peer pressure is probably one of the most powerful behavior modification techniques known to mankind.

Adam Arthur

Ed, great post. I am of the crowd who believe that a platform is the answer. Managers and Brass can easily get a “dashboard view” of what’s going on and how productive each person is or the team overall. The platform can be configured to allow anything a Gov 2.0 guru would want down to what a manager thinks will be most effective. I believe the guru should represent everyone in what features get “turned on” and you measure the data from there. If something is needed, just plug it in.

Jack Holt

It is about working differently. These are social media tools and as such should be defined by the society they are connecting. We need to get out(look) of our (in)boxes, open our Windows and get on the platform.

Dan Matthews

Great discussion here about the perceived “Dark Side” of Web 2.0. Here are my thoughts about the perception that the tool is a “time sink” and how to move the organization past it.

1) The telephone and fax machine are valuable office tools – but we do not ban or audit them (necessarily) because they have proven their worth. Social media will prove its worth with consistent use. A formal method of communicating its regular use in productive office endeavors needs to be fostered (GovLoop is an excellent platform to do just that!) Wiki’s are fast replacing Encyclopedias and “How To” books; perhaps agencies should make some “best practices guidelines” for wiki use.

2) Good managers are not overly concerned that good employees are wasting their time on the web. They may feel “uninformed” about the tools – so educate them and show them about the tools. Of course capturing their imagination is difficult so buy pizza for lunch and do demos in the conference room.

3) Find 3 or so SES champions and get them to publicly advocate good use of the technologies. Volunteer to be on a best practices sub-committee of the FCIOC or Small Agency CIOC and populate some best practices. Then use GovLoop and other resources (such as conferences and trade publications and news outlets to get the word out.

And keep on blogging – it helps educate others about lots of stuff!

4) prepare for the day when the phone on your desk goes away – that day is coming – quickly!!

paul Vale

Someone has to evaluate the value of the tools, and decide which ones add value in the environment. Blogs and wikis have value that most people could defend. Other tools, like Second Life, might not work everywhere, but they might have tremendous value in the right situation. Then it becomes a cost-benefit tradeoff. The temptation is to hear ‘Web 2.0’, and think of a bad example and decide, ‘not here.’

D. Scott Cobeen

I concur 100% with..
Julia Gregory “Comment by on May 26, 2009 at 1:39pm
ALL of these very good points in the comments are evidence that MANAGERS and Supervisors need to learn these tools quickly and well so that they can continue to lead. Like any new skill or technology, there will be a learning curve and as workers mature in their social media behaviors, they will become more proficient. It’s not about the technology, it’s about adapting to new and more effective ways of communicating. ”

Caveat…computers are not robots yet..so the human interface is still relevant to all Web/Gov 2.0…Leadership/Management needs to either get smart , or get away…I’m really tired of hurry up and wait for others to figure it out…multiply times all others that get it…

Brett Husbands

God did not make supervisors – factory work made supervisors. I don’t recall ever hearing a good manager that I respect making analogies to children except when talking about children.

Anything 2.0 is about empowering people to express themselves. The use of the new tools or not has little to do with managing people, though their nature will undermine command-and-control thinking.

Ed Albetski

In countering the expressions I used, Brett, I’m not sure you fully got the point of my blog. The point is that supervisors like the ones I describe exist. They need to be convinced that Web 2.0 can be a blessing and not necessarily a curse to their projects. Your use of phases like “command and control thinking” seems confrontational. When trying to get hostile management to buy into a concept they are not comfortable with, this tactic is unlikely to work.