Culture Clash in Office 2.0

Inter-office sniping may be a bigger problem than getting workers to use groovy online tools.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The so-called Web 2.0 apps -- blogs, wikis, photo-sharing, collaboration, community and other kinds of content generation-- still struggle to penetrate the business community. While it's still tough to get people to change the way they work, there's a culture clash brewing.

Today, Office 2.0, the two-year-old conference dedicated to the use of social media and collaborative tools for business, uncovered some social problems in social media.

First, as a generation raised on online interaction enters the workplace, their styles may put off older workers -- and their managers. Second, customers can see the online communities every company seems to be forming as ploys to avoid customer service.

Stephen Collins, CEO of acidlabs, a consultancy focused on Web applications and Web strategy, told the audience that the kind of employee he calls "knowledge worker 2.0" can't be held to traditional corporate standards of behavior.

He described this type as having broad skills and using many tools. He or she is a connector and contributor who shares and distributes information freely. He stressed that these workers aren't necessarily young; but people who've enthusiastically used Facebook or MySpace while in school are likely to expect to be able to keep in touch on the job as well.

Collins' presentation itself highlighted potential conflict. He posited two work styles: busy and bursty.

Bursty workers are not clock-punchers. They are highly creative, connected and innovative. They may be on Facebook or down at the café, but they're still highly productive. Busy workers, on the other hand, may take a 40-hour week to do the same amount of work a bursty worker does in 30.

Nevertheless, the concept of busy work has been established as not a good thing, and few employees would feel good about this characterization. Those "busy-workers" may resent bursty employees and view the copious amounts of time they spend connecting online as wasting time.

Collins told the audience, "You need to make it explicitly known to your organization that these people are just as important as the traditional style of worker." At the same time, managers should set guidelines for those bursty workers: "It's fine if you're talking to people on Facebook about work," he advised, "but not about vampire biting." (Vampire Biting is an extension of the Sims game.)

One place where Web 2.0 tools have seen enthusiastic adoption is in user communities hosted by software companies. Instead of being told to RTFM (Read The F****** Manual), software users now are directed to search user forums for answers to their problems.

According to blogger Nate Ridder, WebEx came under fire in March at a customer breakfast for offering to "open up a dialog" with users instead of fixing problems in the application.

At an Office 2.0 presentation on communities, Diane Davidson, director of customer marketing for the provider of online conferencing services, said, "We learned that customers were struggling with some basic issues that we weren't answering on a daily basis. We had the problem of limited headcount to deal with thousands of users."

She said that self-help community forums didn't take the place of technical support, but could let customers get help faster. "I don't look at it as shifting the burden to customers, but as broadening support," she said. "When you create a community of people, if they can respond really quickly, that does save a call to the help desk."

Intel is another company that responded to user difficulties by opening a community.

Josh Hilliker, community manager for Intel's VPro product line, said the VPro community was launched two weeks ago to address problems users were having configuring it. VPro, introduced in April 2006, is Intel's business desktop computer brand, which includes management and virtualization technology on the processor.

"It takes a little finessing in order to get the value out of VPro," Hilliker told the audience. "You have to have right ISV software and you have to configure it the right way."

Intel engineers found themselves doing lots of handholding, late-night telephone calls and traveling to customer locations to help them. "We realized, this isn't going to scale out. We'd need an army of people who did activations," he said.

Instead, Intel launched an online community to bring in experts from ISVs, OEMs and end users to help customers. Hilliker said Intel used feedback from the forums to improve its help materials and that Intel had already modified its quick-start instructions based on critiques from the community.

Mark Finnern, collaboration manager for the SAP developer network, advised companies going this route to treat their top contributors very, very well. "The one-on-one relationship is most important still," he said. "Focus on having face-to-face relationships. Bring your top contributors together and celebrate them."

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