Have you ever said anything online—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, TikTok, LinkedIn, etc.—that you would never say in a face-to-face work meeting? Made a comment . . . asked a question . . . that in hindsight just wouldn’t play well in your career of choice?
The reality is that almost 100% of people have or will. It’s called the Online Disinhibition Effect. Basically, you get “platform” guts. It’s kind of like when you have a few cocktails, and the effects of the alcohol give you the courage to go talk to that person that you wouldn’t have without a few drinks. Hiding behind the keyboard gives you a sense of courage to say what you want.
Social media platforms, especially in a pandemic, have allowed you to stay in the loop and to connect to so many like-minded people. That’s awesome. It also allows “the mob” to immediately form, often without the full story and any fear of ever having to face those we attack face-to-face.
We have this great communication technology at work, so many of us have been using it. Slack and Microsoft Teams control most of the market. You can have conversations across your organization. We become very comfortable communicating within this tech, and the formality of work communication has kind of fallen by the wayside.
How could making communication easier be hurting our corporate culture?
This workplace communication tech, in some organizations, has become a microcosm of real social media platforms. The larger the company, the worse it can become, but even small organizations are not immune. Recently we saw this play out at both Apple (enterprise-level org) and Basecamp (SMB-level org).
Regardless of what side of those two workplace issues you are on, the technology played a giant part in moving these issues from a small number of those truly concerned to a much broader audience within those specific organizations.
Apple fired engineer Antonio Garcia-Martinez for something he wrote in a book he authored, five years prior, before working at Apple, taken out of context. Out of context, it’s awful. Within the “fiction” of the writing, I think people could debate much more appropriately if it was truly a fireable offense. The mob won.
The Basecamp scenario is vastly different, but it still comes down to leaders deciding what is the culture they want in their organization versus what is the culture employees want in that same organization. Turns out that leaders—right or wrong—get this final say, in most settings.
It’s my belief that both of these situations would have come to different endings if all involved had to sit in a conference room together and talk this stuff out. Too much is lost in translation when we just start spewing things at each other on platforms, without filters.
Having to sit in front of each other and listen to each other changes our interactions and reactions. We tend to compromise more and come up with solutions that work for everyone, not just one side.
Would you say that if the person were sitting across from you?
Technology is awesome until it’s not. Slack and Teams aren’t the problems, let’s be clear. They are just a faster way for us to uncover deeper issues within our culture. Too often we start to see these cracks on these platforms, but we ignore them and they grow.
“Oh, Tim, he seemed a bit aggressive with that one! Maybe I should say something? No, I’m sure he gets it, probably just having a bad day.” The problem is, Tim and those reading his crap just learned that behavior was okay. A small hit to culture, to civility, within the workplace.
If someone was “inappropriate” or “aggressive” in a face-to-face meeting in your organization, it would most likely be immediately addressed as a performance issue. But we allow that exact same behavior to happen on these platforms and rarely are we addressing these issues.
With modern workplace technology comes modern workplace culture and performance issues. If someone is an asshole in a meeting, that’s a performance issue. If someone is an asshole on Slack, well, that’s just Tim blowing off some frustration. No, it’s Tim being an asshole. Stop it!
If you don’t stop it, the mob gets to decide what your company culture will be. You can cross your fingers and hope you have the good mob, or you might not be so lucky and you have the toxic mob. Either way, the mob is usually just a small fraction of your employee base who you are letting set corporate culture. Last I checked, that wasn’t world-class culture building in any environment.
If you Google “Tim Sackett” you’ll find our Tim, and a truck driver chaplain. Our Tim is NOT the truck driver chaplain, although how awesome would that be if he was!? He is a prolific writer in the HR and TA space who just happens to also run an Engineering and IT contract staffing agency (HRU Technical Resources) out of Michigan. He also writes every day at his own blog, the Tim Sackett Project. Weirdly, he’s known as an expert in workplace hugging, which was kind of cool years ago, but now seems painfully creepy, but we still love him and he’s fairly harmless. Tim is also on the board of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals (ATAP), lifetime Michigan State Spartan fan, husband to a Hall of Fame wife, 3 sons, and his best friend Scout. He also wrote a book with SHRM called The Talent Fix, you can find it on Amazon.