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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Digital communication tools and management control

One of the key findings from the briefing paper "The digital company 2013 - Freedom to collaborate" in my previous post was this one:
"Digital tools will give employees greater control over the information they can access, which means less control for managers."

There is however another side of the social software coin; now informal networks become explicit, otherwise invisible relations become visible, and information which was previously exchanged verbally in closed meeting rooms or via phone is now exchanged as text and other media with digital communication tools. So the transparency increased with digital communication tools, it does not decrease.

Management might not be able to - and should not - control the flow of information between coworkers as they have traditionally done, or at least tried to do. On the other hand, they will get much greater possibilities to tap into the information flows and monitor the information that is flowing. With most information flowing over e-mail, this is virtually impossible. But with syndication technologies such as RSS and mashup technology they will be able to create management dashboards and become aware of what is happening.

By the way, it is a typical expression of human behaviour that the writers of the paper end the "Technologies to collaborate" chapter with a long section about how to manage the risks of the new technologies, as if they ignore that the same kinds of risks already exist today. How does a manager control that every coworker today is actually working and not doing something else? How does a manager control that a coworker does not send sensitive information via e-mail or drops his memory stick filled with sensitive information at.
"By removing traditional barriers to communication, whether horizontal or vertical, companies open themselves up to obvious problems from the widespread use of social networks in the enterprise. In particular, widely used tools such as Facebook and Bebo can soak up hours of employee time, and there is a risk that employees can carelessly disseminate company-confidential information on them. Customer- facing blogs and wikis present a similar risk that users will post confidential information or break libel or other laws."

If some people are spending a lot of time on Facebook it is not likely resolved by blocking access to Facebook. It is probably a symptom of a more worrying problem such as unmotivated coworkers. Without Facebook, they will probably be pretending to work with something or hide out in a meeting room all day long.

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