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The virtual workplace disconnect

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Tuesday May 13, 2008 )

Working from a virtual office can isolate you somewhat; even from your fellow online workers. There’s an increased risk of dehumanizing the workplace as we fly headlong into an increasingly “always on” and online world.

For me, I enjoy the quiet and less distractions of the virtual workplace; but sometimes when I’m communicating with colleagues, merchants, affiliates and suppliers it’s so easy to forget there’s a human behind the IM nick or email address. A human with hopes, fears and dreams. Who is this person and what are they about? I’ve worked with a couple of guys closely for 6 years and while we talk just about every day via text, we’ve never really met. It can certainly make a difference in how you treat situations when you’ve never physically met the person.

Back in my pre-Internet BBS days, I was totally blown away by an AI program called Lisa. You could ask Lisa questions and she would respond. Inane comments like “great weather, huh?” .. would receive a response of “yes, it is”. Sometimes when we communicate with others in the online world, that’s about the depth of the relationship we have – even with those we chat to daily.

Establishing personal connections with co-workers does have hazards, but it also builds stronger relationships that can carry you through the rough times. A joke exchanged when the shite is hitting the fan in a business can bolster solidarity, alleviate tension and help bring things back into perspective.

Sure, we may all have Facebook and MySpace profiles we can send our co-workers out to, but something in-house, the equivalent of a water cooler, is a far better way to build those internal relationships as there’s no competition from external static. Additionally, the water-cooler, while often seen as a time waster; is also a place where valuable information is exchanged that allows people to better fulfil their roles.

The boffins at IBM have recognized this and are busy getting Beehive ready for rollout. Beehive is souped up intranet software that allows employees to describe their roles and skillset – pretty valuable but dry stuff, but in addition, they can post images, videos and some more light-hearted material. The important question is though – does it include glitter text features? ;).

You don’t need to wait for IBM to roll out this software – I’m not even sure whether it’s just going to be in-house anyway. There’s now a ton of social networking software applications you can install yourself and password protect to keep outsiders out. Mashable has a list of what they consider the best freebie applications around.


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