Experts warn of the dark side of Enterprise 2.0

Go ahead and unplug once in a while to avoid burnout, overload

BOSTON -- At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, you'd expect to hear people extolling the business benefits of using social media tools, but you might not expect to hear about the dark side.

And there is a dark side that ranges from the obvious -- information overload and employee burnout -- to issues that might be less obvious, such as an increased feeling of isolation and letting the "loud talkers" assume the voice of the expert.

"Sometimes you just have to turn all that crap off," Greg Lowe, social media strategist at Alcatel-Lucent, told an early-morning keynote audience today. "You've got to unplug yourself. I'm in social media and my ADD is struggling to keep up. Sometimes when I go to a coffee shop, I leave my computer and phone at home. I bring a notepad and maybe a book."

Lowe and Kathleen Culver, a transformation architect also at Alcatel-Lucent, said there are great advantages for any company using Enterprise 2.0 technologies such as social collaboration platforms, microblogs and wikis. These technologies can increase productivity and facilitate greater collaboration with employees in far-flung offices.

However, as with most anything, there's a downside.

And with Enterprise 2.0, the downside tends to involve information and time overload.

"This spigot of access of anywhere, anytime, [to] anybody can flood our free time," Culver said. "The problem is that with these new forums and ways of interacting, there's a strong desire to be responsive. This need to respond doesn't just happen in the forum of your workday. It's happening 24/7. It means that we're potentially on all the time."

And that constant attention to our gadgets, and to the stream of social updates and work-related posts and tweets, can keep people from relaxing their brains.

"We're losing our downtime," said Culver. "So we're working the BlackBerry at the dinner table. We're sending out tweets. We're invading our play time. What they're finding about play, whether it's tennis or Sudoku, is you're taking work problems out of the context of work. You're no longer getting that time away from work. ... It's not just the fact that you're getting all of these messages, it's the unpredictability of it. The problem is going to be burnout."

While companies are cutting travel budgets for employees and instead using video chats and Web conferences, there are drawbacks to having fewer face-to-face meetings.

"A tremendous amount of communication is nonverbal, and if we're not meeting face-to-face, then we're missing out on a lot of that," added Culver. "But there's another challenge, too. There's a loss of camaraderie with our colleagues. We're getting this feeling of isolation because we're not getting together."

Another issue to watch out for is that if everyone in the company has been given the ability to weigh in on online discussions, beware the person who may have more time to talk but less expertise.

"The real experts might not be doing all the talking in these communities," Culver said. "The experts might want to be working in their labs or working with customers, and they aren't posting all the time. Just because someone is posting doesn't mean they're an expert and everyone should be taking their advice."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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