Hiding behind a wall of chat

Apr 22 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Remember email? That communication tool that for a few years revolutionised how we worked but eventually became a tyranny of spam, 24/7 working and mostly used to avoid actually speaking to the person a couple of desks away?

As latest research suggests managers are increasingly using Web 2.0 technology such as podcasts, Wikis and social networks to communicate internally with their workers, it has to be asked Ė are these tools, for now considered cutting edge, really going to change the world or will they just end up, much like email, as yet another way of avoiding face-to-face contact?

Consultancy Watson Wyatt has identified a growing number of companies now deploying a variety of Web 2.0 technologies for internal communications.

Its poll of 181 large employers found that nearly a quarter were now using social networks, with nearly a fifth putting up podcasts on company intranets.

A similar proportion was spending some of their day blogging about what they were doing, while 15 per cent were using Wikis to get internal messages across.

But does all this online activity actually make for better management of teams or is it, much like email rapidly became, just a more modern form of closing the door to your office or, in this case, hiding behind a wall of chatter?

Certainly, according to the Watson Wyatt poll, many managers seem happy enough to communicate in this way, though whether that's because it makes them feel all cutting edge and hip, it means they don't have to get up from their desks or because it actually works is less clear.

Some three out of five were satisfied with their use of podcasts, half were happy with their use social networking technologies and two out of five were content that their use of blogs and wikis was not a waste of time.

There is also a good argument that, if this is the way workers, particularly Gen Y workers, communicate then it makes absolute sense for managers to be embracing this new technology.

Back in November, for example, a study by consultancy firm Accenture found that the "millennial" generation of students and employees, or those aged 14 to 27, expected to be able to use their own technology and mobile devices both for and at work, and woe betide any manager who tried to ban their use.

To this end, companies that failed to embrace, and invest in, such new technologies risked being left behind, as Michael Rudnick, senior technology consultant at Watson Wyatt argued.

"Web 2.0 is still a relatively unknown quantity for many companies," he conceded.

"However, the move towards Web 2.0 is an inevitable shift. While the current downturn may be discouraging the implementation of these new technologies, as companies begin to understand the capacity of social networking to act as a powerful communication tool, we can expect these numbers to pick up," he added.

But whether it makes for better managers, or just more inconsequentially chatty ones, has still to be seen.