Good Fences and Good Neighbors

Good fences make good neighbors. That’s what Boomers were taught as children. But does that still hold true in a Web 2.0/Gen Y world where the public and the private seem to be constantly converging?

For example, at a recent meeting of law firm knowledge managers in New York City I asked how people were handling the public/private, professional/personal divide when it came to things like accepting and issuing invitations to LinkedIn. Some said that they accepted all invitations regardless of whether they came from an office colleague, a vendor or their Aunt Millie. Others said that they were confining LinkedIn to business colleagues who really didn’t need to know about or be in touch with Aunt Millie.

Doug Cornelius has written about the difficulties of finding the dividing line between personal and professional contacts. (Nonetheless, through his enthusiastic adoption of social media, he seems to be advocating the benefits of fewer fences in order to share information across the various social media systems.) David Mullen, on the other hand, carefully maintains his professional contacts in LinkedIn and his personal contacts via Facebook. Taking this one step further, Paul Blunden’s advice is direct and to the point: Don’t mix friends, family and business contacts.

And then there is Twitter. Do you Twitter about your personal life, your professional life, both, neither? And, even if you try to maintain fences regarding your contacts, how do you feel about work colleagues seeing your beach photos on Flickr?

But there’s more than just contacts, Twitter and Flickr — there’s the rest of your life. And, that’s where things get even more complicated. In a post entitled 7 Things to Look Past When Managing Gen Y, Ryan Healy makes the point that for Gen Y there is no divide between the public and the private, the personal and the professional. In fact, you’re given the impression that Gen Y actually doesn’t see the utility in maintaining good fences between neighbors or between their various spheres of life. Here’s what he has to say on this subject:

When you were an entry level worker, maybe you wouldn’t have dreamed of calling your girlfriend to say hello right after lunch or dialing up your mechanic to schedule a time to drop your car off for service. But work and life are no longer two distinct entities and this goes for both the office and at home.

Look past the fact that it’s not business for everyone all the time at the office. Because just as I have no problem making personal calls at the office, I also have no problem making a business call or sending an email during my “personal” hours in front of the TV. Life happens 24 hours a day and now, so does work. So look past the personal phone calls at the office and enjoy how your Gen Y worker will use the whole day to get those results you need for the business.

The implications of this “blended life” are not inconsequential. For example, most lawyers work under the rule of the billable hour. How on earth do you accurately track your billable time if you’re drifting in and out of client work 24/7? Given how hard it is to track accurately the work done via Blackberry “after regular office hours,” for example, why do we think we’ll do a good job of starting the clock when we deal with a client matter or of stopping the clock when we deal with personal business when we no longer have a firm sense of business time and personal time?

So what’s right? Fences or convergence? Or is the better question, which approach works best for you?