The shape of the modern workplace has shifted drastically in the past fifteen years. this was true in the computing, or information technology, sector but that influence has spread to many other workplaces.
Perhaps the most telling change has been the rise of instant communication from mobile phones that has led to instant mass communication using smart devices and social media networks.
This, for employers, leaves us in a bit of a grey area. How do we deal with this new phenomena. How can we at one moment allow people to have mobile devices yet restrict what they do with them? How do we prevent them discussing us, or bringing some negative light on our companies? Should we restrict them, or should we encourage them? This is before we even get to the discussion on what level of access we allow to these sites while they are in the workplace itself.
Because this is a relatively new area the legal position is not only unclear it isn't even properly formulated. There has been little in the way of strong guidance and various employment bodies are struggling to play catch up with a fast changing environment of both hardware and software.
Jane Binion, of Jane's Social Media, has started an online survey to judge your level of interest, understanding and knowledge of this subject. She also has a series of tools to help you work out a social media policy for your company and offers services to help you formulate a plan that is suited to your company.
I decided to fill out the survey as Jane is a fellow Lancaster ESTA (Ethical Small Traders' Association) member and co-hosts the local Tweet-ups. It was also so I could formulate in my own head the position that Shadowcat held on the subject.
We have no formalised written policy on the use of social media, however, most of the staff at Shadowcat are fully aware that we are relaxed about the use of modern media and social interaction tools, public and private workspaces, and the impact of it on work and social life. We are a technology company after all is said and done and we are not only aware of the presence one has on the internet, but are aware of how much information can be tracked anyway. If you want to try and restrict information you are sometimes fighting the battle with the wrong tools and attitude. There is also a whole discussion that can be made on privacy, competence, and interactivity that is out of the scope of this particular post.
There is also the issue that this new culture already blurs the distinction between what is your work persona and your non-work persona. This is probably the reason we have heard recently the distressing rumours that items such as Facebook passwords being requested so that candidates can be vetted for employment (in my opinion a foul practice).
Shadowcat has the same position on this as it does on data retention on computers owned by the company. What can be considered as work should be clearly labelled as such and given the appropriate distinction and respect, what is not work/client related has absolutely nothing to do with Shadowcat as employers. Our rights are that we shouldn't be slandered, libelled or otherwise given a derogatory reference, also that our clients are given confidentiality and due regard. That is it.
Those rights have not changed with the advent of social networks and portable devices, I don't believe they should change in the future. I also do not believe that we have the right to enforce any opinion on our staff, or their behaviour. The only right we do have is the one to discuss any behaviour we believe to be inappropriate with the staff, if it occurs, enforcement beforehand is quite facile and unnecessary.
I think that if you treat your staff with respect, treat them as individuals and fight to uphold their human rights to freedom of expression without fear of persecution, they will treat you and your company in the same manner.
You should not expect, as an employer, for this to happen automatically from their side, that is a false position and I believe leads to alienation of your employees in their workplace. You have a duty to treat them in the manner in which you would like to be treated.
I think that this post will start as the basis for the eventual written document that we will produce on this matter. I would like to create one that satisfies our position as a progressive company while at the same time enshrining the basic rights I believe we all deserve.
However, I am aware that this works for us at Shadowcat. The particular nature of your company and clients may be such that you need to have a different position. If you are unsure of where to start, or would like the help of a professional, then I feel that you should give Jane a call. You should ideally begin by filling out the very short survey.
In the meantime I hear Erasure kick-starting an 80s club anthem into life:
"...so, I hear you calling, oh baby please, give a little respect, to me..."
1. One could possibly argue that the shape of the workplace is under
constant change, it always has been as we progress forward, but my
implication here is that this change is sometimes measured in accelerated
2. I am never particularly happy with the term social media networks, when we are discussing sites such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. they are mostly single entities and therefore no need of the pluralization. Even if you link and cross compile information and disseminate information from them in a single location they are not a plural entity. In fact to my way of thinking, the more interactivity between them the greater the need to think of item as a single network.
3. Of course one could argue that the way in which we interact with social sites creates our own unique network, and therefore we have a series of networks, one for each of us, distinct to us. But that's not how people use the word, they use it to imply that Twitter is a different network to Facebook, for example. This is misleading to my thinking, they are just implementation nodes of a larger social landscape.
4. If only it were so simple to think we only had the two... and some social media gurus have the delusion we have only the one...
5. A Biblical position but that doesn't change the value of it in any manner.
If anyone has feedback (and until we have a commenting system) please don't hesitate to email me at: m.keating [at] shadowcat.co.uk, if your comments are useful, fun, or just plain interest to me, or if I think will be useful to others, then I will add them to the end of this post, let me know how you would like to be named (anon, nick etc.).
Mark Keating is: Managing Director of Shadowcat Systems Limited
Director and Secretary of Enlightened Perl Organisation
Chair of the Marketing Committee for The Perl Foundation
Co-Founder/Co-Leader of North-West England Perl Mongers
Work Blog: Mark Keating on Shadowcat
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Mark Keating is the organiser of the London Perl Workshop (since 2008), has joined the organising team for the QA Hackathon in 2011, the TPF GSoC Mentors/organisers 2011, the Dynamic Languages Conference 2011. Mark is a member of the Board for the YAPC Europe Federation (YEF) and a member of the Perl Community Advocacy Group.