9 February 2007

LIFT07: the private is invading the workplace, not the other way around

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Bruno Giussani (interview) reports on a LIFT conference panel on "dealing with technological overload", that included Stefana Broadbent, head of the User Adoption Lab at Swisscom , Fred Mast, professor of cognitive psychology at the university of Lausanne, and Nada Kakabadse, professor at Northampton Business School; moderated by Matthias Luefkens (interview), media manager at the World Economic Forum.

Broadbent contributes some interesting reflections:

“I’m seeing much more the arrival of the private into the workplace than the workplace into the private sphere. What we are seeing through empirical research is that people are increasingly using IM, e-mail and SMS to keep in touch with their group/family/friends/community, and it’s becoming an expectation to be able to keep our social network alive, and be plugged into it, over work time.”

Giussani comments that, paradoxically, Broadbent is observing and measuring this the country – Switzerland – where the roots of protestant work ethic are.

“She asks who in the room checks private e-mail at work, and all hands go up (although it’s not clear where the border of private and public is). People are happy to be able to continue to bring their social life/network along wherever they go. There is something in the type of channels people are using.

The most fascinating discovery I [i.e. Bruno Giussani] have made this year: a reduction of voice and increase in written channels (SMS, IM, e-mail, tagging, blogging). Everybody expected that with Skype people would be speaking for hours a day, but that’s not happening. It’s more engaging, you have to commit more, you can’t multitask – while requires less commitment, and you can multitask.

I ask Stefana whether rather than to tech the addiction is maybe to social relations: to friends and family and colleagues and where they are and what they do and what they think. In the research we do, she answers, we ask people to keep a diary of whom they communicate with and how. People that are not heavily online, their average number of contact is about 20. People that are online, it goes to 70 upwards. The difference is obviously that the cost of maintaining contacts decreases. 20 is what you can handle with a one-to-one channel; as soon as you add asynchronous channels, we can handle more.

How do we unplug, asks the moderator? Stefana: that’s not a theme. If I unplug, I lose my social intelligence. We looked at small companies, and the availability and reachability of their employees. There was a radical difference between startups and more established companies. The people in the latter can switch the phone off, or answer tomorrow; the former felt they had to be reachable at all time.”

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