lovehate: Glitzy Corporate Portals - Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Sitting in a workshop to expound upon the new rollout of a client platform that will become the "new face" of employee interaction over the next few years, I am, at once, grateful and wary. I'm grateful that corporations are realizing the importance of Web2.0 and social networking apps to engage employees and encourage use of technology. I am hesitant and wary at the proclivity of employees to mesh their social networking activities with their employee activities.

The ability of an employer to camoflague their portal software to make it more user-friendly may enhance ease of use and familiarity with the work systems, but when I social network at home my interactions are far more "loose" than they would be on a work system. The informality of Twitter with its tinyurls and profile updates via bookmarklet applets allow us to perform a free association of text/image/video sharing that maybe completely appropriate and expected with my friends, followers, and even the world in general, but this same content could violate Standard Operating Procedure or Corporate License Agreements and lead to a disciplining of employees who decide to treat work relationships and non-work relationships in the same way.

I get it, if companies can make your buy into their intranet as a social network, perhaps you will feel better about your work and work from home. And if you log in from home, you can be tracked. Your work from home becomes data, and the data leads to expectation.

Allow me to clarify some of the background bias I'm entering this discussion with. By profession I'm a high school teacher. The school IS a social network and yet teachers are asked to use technology to communicate with the same children they see every day, in meaningful ways, at home. Teachers are also being encouraged to communicate with parents in similar ways. Imagine, however, that the flippant insignificance that you can brush off with a smiley in an email to a friend is misconstrued with a student or parent. Imagine my new "social network" includes a top list of "friends" that include three of my students, but excludes all others. You are starting to see the dangers of adapting social networking to professional networking.

I am also a teacher in a province where the expectation of the profession includes being a teacher 24/7. There is no end of the day bell that stops my responsibility to not only protect children (which is admirable) but also includes not stretching any social or legal taboos. And I get that the responsibility of any adult should be to protect children, but we've had teachers disciplined for not stepping in to stop a fight between students off school grounds on a weekend, when the teacher DOES NOT EVEN KNOW the students involved.

In addition to the social network portal to the employer's intranet, an iPhone/Touch app has been developed. The intranet/work server becomes your hub and everything sent over it becomes archived and is potentially actionable. While certainly easier and more fun to use, the disguised corporate hub may be loved by some and adopted by several others but how often do the practices of one portal of platform travel with you to another. Can you jump from one browser tab (where you're using Facebook and posting with a little bit of unrestricted abandon) over to the company portal where some of the same friends you have just talked about getting together for a night of intoxication are crossing the lines between personal and professional with their posts?

Just because someone adds commenting, wikis, and ratings to excel spreadsheets, doesn't mean I should be sucked into bringing them home with me. Beware of Geeks bearing gifts.

social network at work