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?

3 thoughts on “Good Fences and Good Neighbors

  1. Great post. I see how this 24/7 work/life flow can be a challenge for those of us who bill clients by the hour. (I work at an integrated marketing agency and do the same) This is definitely a big issue that businesses – as well as employees – need to think about and possibly address.As you noted, this is something I struggled with and put up a pretty big fence around my facebook profile. But I saw more and more bloggers inviting professional contacts to “friend” them on FB. That’s what led to my original post.In a post this past Monday, I shared that I’ve decided to lower the fence around FB. I mention an experience in that post that reminded me that there’s power in being connected across many social networks and the ability to bring people together using said contacts.I did, of course, update all my privacy settings and created separate groups that I funnel “friends” into based on how I know them. And based on which group you’re in, you may not see something – say the family photos from the beac – that my “friends” group can see.Thanks for linking over to my space and referencing the original post.

  2. Hi Mary, Great post. This is a subject I’ve gone back and forth with for quite a while and I have ended up more or less where David Mullen has. Facebook is private and limited to personal contacts, while I’ll accept an invite from anyone I know on LinkedIn. As a member of Gen-Y I think I must be an outlier here, but I do know quite a few folks in my same situation that have made the same call for the same reasons. We just don’t want to give someone the opportunity to form in their mind an inaccurate negative representation of who we are based on fragmented information, some of which we have no control over. Because my online public persona is available for the entire world to see, I imagine it is just like my desk at work – anyone who walks by can see it so it’s my responsibility to make sure any personal items that are there are appropriate. At work, a friend from college can’t walk by your desk and pinup a photo of you doing a keg-stand, but if your Facebook profile is public or you have mixed contacts, if you’re tagged in that photo by a friend it has the same net effect. Not good.So if Boomers were taught that good fences make good neighbors, I must be remembering my parent’s advice, better safe than sorry!Curtis

  3. David and Curtis:Thanks for sharing your strategies for coping with the wild and woolly world of web 2.0. David is right that as the tools improve, we have more ways of maintaining specified zones of privacy (should we wish them) without facing the binary choice of opting in or opting out. We just need to exercise these choices as appropriate given our changing lives.Curtis is also right that ultimately it is up to each individual to ensure that their web presence is accurate and intentional, rather than misleading and haphazard. In this era of personal branding, we really can’t leave to chance something as powerful and pervasive as an online persona.- Mary

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