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Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

IF you’re a peo­ple watcher like me, you’ve prob­a­bly no­ticed a wide­spread so­cial phe­nom­e­non in our com­mu­nity and beyond that rep­re­sents a dis­tinct and in­ter­est­ing shift in peo­ple’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­hav­iour.

For in­stance, if you re­call, years ago when smoking was popular, you would see a group of in­di­vid­u­als gath­er­ing and/ or walk­ing down the street with a cig­a­rette in hand.

Then, as smoking be­gan to be so­cially taboo, we started to see peo­ple gath­er­ing in groups and/or walk­ing down the street with a pa­per cof­fee cup in hand. Of course, be­ing ob­ser­vant, we would quickly check to see if the cof­fee brand was Tim Hor­tons or Star­bucks. Frankly, not be­ing a cof­fee drinker, I didn’t un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence un­til some­one in­formed me it is not just the taste of cof­fee, but it is the cul­ture of the brand that is im­por­tant.

So where are we to­day? Well, as a peo­ple watcher, I’m sure you’ve no­ticed another shift. And that shift is from the cof­fee cup to the Black­berry or iPhone de­vice. At least with a cof­fee cup in hand, peo­ple tended to look straight ahead while they were talk­ing. How­ever, with a smart­phone in your hand, an in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­cates by look­ing down at the de­vice. The per­son be­side them on the side­walk doesn’t seem to mat­ter and as well, with a “heads down” fo­cused ap­proach to walk­ing and talk­ing, some­one could eas­ily step right in front of traf­fic. Dan­ger­ous to say the least.

How­ever, there’s another shift that’s tak­ing place. With all the new de­vices we’ve grav­i­tated to, peo­ple to­day are con­nected 24/7, and this has changed how we find and ab­sorb in­for­ma­tion and how we in­ter­act with oth­ers. It has also im­pacted the level of skill de­vel­op­ment we need, both in the work­place and in our per­sonal lives.

What does all this mean? In my view, it means ev­ery­one has to pay much closer at­ten­tion to what we say, who we say it to, how we say it and when we say it. Not only that, the ex­pec­ta­tions for com­mu­ni­ca­tion have shifted. We are now ex­pected to be avail­able 24-7-365. We need to be re­spon­sive and ac­ces­si­ble be­cause peo­ple want their in­for­ma­tion NOW!

Yet, there is dan­ger lurk­ing in our new com­mu­ni­ca­tion world. That’s be­cause most in­di­vid­u­als are not trained com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ists. They don’t re­al­ize at­ten­tion must be paid to iden­ti­fy­ing and get­ting the at­ten­tion of a par­tic­u­lar tar­get au­di­ence and care­fully se­lect­ing the words needed to con­vey the right mes­sage. They don’t re­al­ize shar­ing in­for­ma­tion they per­ceive as hu­mor­ous might well of­fend an un­in­tended au­di­ence who re­ceives the mes­sage from another party. They don’t re­al­ize shar­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­for­ma­tion it­self speaks loudly about their own per­sonal val­ues. And they also don’t re­al­ize their mes­sage can go around the world in 30 seconds and con­tinue to cir­cu­late for weeks, months and years.

A sec­ond dan­ger is the fact most cell­phone de­vices and mo­bile tablets th­ese days also have photo ca­pa­bil­ity. Sud­denly, ev­ery­one is an am­a­teur news re­porter, snap­ping pho­tos and sub­mit­ting them to tele­vi­sion and news­pa­per ed­i­tors. Within no time at all, the photo is flashed around the world and be­comes new “break­ing news” that trav­els at the speed of light through tele­vi­sion, ra­dios, cell­phones and other mo­bile de­vices.

It’s true many of us feel com­forted that we are “in the know.” How­ever, we also all know some­one who has been dis­ci­plined at work and/ or lost their job for mis­be­haviour cap­tured by some­one’s cell­phone. In fact, man­agers com­plain of be­ing in­un­dated with com­plaints of in­ap­pro­pri­ate email mes­sages. Then again, we can all name a politi­cian whose rep­u­ta­tion has been ru­ined as a re­sult of leaked pho­tos, in­ap­pro­pri­ate emails, and/or Face­book mes­sages.

In ad­di­tion, the com­bi­na­tion of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, so­cial-me­dia is­sues and our new so­cial cul­ture of “in­stant re­sponse” is cre­at­ing pres­sure on or­ga­ni­za­tions. From a cus­tomer-ser­vice per­spec­tive, at least 53 per cent of peo­ple us­ing Twit­ter to­day ex­pect a re­sponse within one hour. It’s also re­ported 43 per cent of in­di­vid­u­als mak­ing an on­line re­quest also ex­pect a re­sponse within one hour. Another 66 per cent of cus­tomers ex­pect at least a same-day re­sponse. Fail­ing to meet th­ese ex­pec­ta­tions causes neg­a­tive feel­ings about the brand with more than 60 per cent say­ing they would not hes­i­tate to make their neg­a­tive feel­ings known. Many or­ga­ni­za­tions are forced to re-ex­am­ine their cus­tomer-ser­vice poli­cies and guide­lines.

Hu­man-re­source man­age­ment is also be­ing sig­nif­i­cantly im­pacted by the ex­plo­sion of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy and so­cial­me­dia sites and the fact work and home life is be­com­ing blurred. Many or­ga­ni­za­tions now ex­pect their em­ploy­ees to be avail­able 24/7 de­spite the fact em­ploy­ees may be pay­ing for their own mo­bile de­vices. How­ever, this raises a common is­sue: Should the em­ployer be pay­ing for the mo­bile de­vices if they ex­pect em­ploy­ees to be avail­able?

So­cial me­dia and tech­nol­ogy are cer­tainly cre­at­ing chal­lenges for hu­man-re­source man­agers. Many are scram­bling to de­velop and im­ple­ment poli­cies and guide­lines in or­der to deal with the is­sue of so­cial me­dia. On one hand, re­cruiters value be­ing able to use so­cial-me­dia sites to search and source po­ten­tial can­di­dates. On the other hand, em­ploy­ees don’t want to see their em­ploy­ees wast­ing valu­able time on In­ter­net gambling or shop­ping sites.

Yet, th­ese days it is the blur­ring of home/ work and the use of so­cial me­dia and tech­nol­ogy that’s caus­ing the most anx­i­ety for HR man­agers and se­nior lead­ers. The ques­tion is, “Should an em­ployer be con­cerned about em­ployee be­hav­iour out­side of work hours?” Most em­ploy­ees con­sider so­cial me­dia as their per­sonal plat­form for free speech and re­ject em­ployer in­ter­ven­tion as valid. There­fore, it is im­por­tant for em­ploy­ers to pro­vide guide­lines with re­spect to what is con­sid­ered ac­cept­able be­hav­iour in the use of so­cial me­dia, both at work and on one’s own time. Be sure to in­clude so­cial me­dia and In­ter­net us­age in your dis­ci­pline process and pro­vide clear ex­am­ples of what would not be ac­cept­able.

While our in­ter­per­sonal so­cial-com­mu­ni­ca­tion jour­ney has grad­u­ally moved from smoking folks to cof­fee groups, the world of tech­nol­ogy is ex­plod­ing with new de­vices be­ing an­nounced ev­ery day. We seem to con­tin­u­ally be con­fronted with a “new fron­tier” that pro­pels both in­for­mal and for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. While there are al­ways many ad­van­tages to th­ese new ways of do­ing things, there are also many chal­lenges for or­ga­ni­za­tions that arise. Yet, there is no go­ing back. Peo­ple want and like be­ing con­nected 24/7. They want news and in­for­ma­tion right now in real time. There­fore, we have no choice. We must have the per­sonal goal of at least stay­ing par­al­lel with tech­nol­ogy changes and, if pos­si­ble, we need to stay ahead of the game.

Bar­bara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is pres­i­dent of Legacy Bowes Group and pres­i­dent of Ca­reer Part­ners In­ter­na­tional, Man­i­toba. She

can be reached at barb@lega­cy­bowes.com

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