Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Mon Oct 5th 2009 at 9:19am UTC

Evolving Etiquette of Social and Mobile Technologies

Social media, communications technologies, and more flexible workplace attitudes have been driving changes to the way we view our personal and professional lives.

A recent Knowledge at Wharton article examines the evolving etiquette as well as challenges surrounding the rise of mobile technologies, such as the Blackberry, as well as social media websites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

As Facebook, Twitter and 24-hour Blackberry access blur the lines between business and personal lives, managers and employees are struggling to develop new social norms to guide them through the ongoing evolution of communications technology. Wharton faculty and other experts say the process of creating rules to cope with the ever-expanding reach of modern communications has just begun, but will be shaped largely by individuals and organizations, not top-down decrees from a digital Emily Post. Generational differences in the approach to openness on the Internet will also be a factor in coming to common understandings of how and when it is appropriate to contact colleagues, superiors or clients.

The article then details some dilemmas – where do you stand?

1.  First, is there a time when “work” should stop and “personal life” should take over?  From the Wharton article:

For example, a Blackberry can allow parents to attend their childrens’ soccer games while remaining in contact with colleagues at the office in case an emergency comes up. But, [Nancy Rothbard] adds, “you have your Blackberry at your kid’s soccer game. That’s another … line you may be crossing.”

2.  Is it healthy to blur your personal self and professional self ?

…says Wharton marketing professor Patricia Williams, “There is the self we are for our friends, a self for our family [and] a professional self. What’s interesting is the degree to which we are comfortable playing all of those ’selves’ at one time.”

“I’ve heard people say that Facebook is for personal friends and LinkedIn is for professional contacts,” Williams notes. “But many of my Facebook friends are my colleagues – people who work just down the hall – and I don’t have a problem with that. I do, however, have some discomfort being ‘Facebook friends’ with my students, because it gives them access to my personal self that’s not normally available to them.”

3. Are younger people, today’s children up through college students, growing up with no separation between these different “selves”?  And what will this mean for the way we work?

Typically, business norms evolve through official policy disseminated by organizations and by “reality” that bubbles up from the organization’s grassroots. [Wharton Professor Monica McGrath] asks “The question is: How accessible do you want to be? [Today,] young people want to be very accessible, and in an international corporation you are expected to be available [around the clock]. Time zones mean nothing. The norms will continue to develop based upon generational leadership.”

To sum up, I expect that the line between personal and professional will become increasingly blurred. First, knowledge work is highly collaborative and it’s hard to work with people who you don’t like – therefore, people will forge friends through collaboration at work. Second, younger generations will have grown up with limited separation between their different personas.

How do mobile and social media technologies enhance or detract from your personal and professional life?

3 Responses to “Evolving Etiquette of Social and Mobile Technologies”

  1. Jarie Bolander Says:

    Depending on your line of work, there is no line. Entrepreneurs have been doing all along. It’s a lifestyle for them. Now, more people are living the connected lifestyle and are going after jobs that allow for that.

  2. Maria Rosario Says:

    This subject may be culturally charged. As a Brazilian living in the US I see the differences between the two cultures when it comes to separation between personal and professional lives. In Brazil these lines are so faint as almost inexistent, as are the boundaries between different demographics (older and yunger people), or gender. Social boundaries related to economic class are way more evident in that culture, however. Here in the US most everything has a box to fit in. So it is just natural that a box would also exist in cyberspace.

  3. Phil Bailey Says:

    IMHO a parent that attends his childs soccer game and spends the time glued to their Blackberry might as well not be there at all. What is more important, opening your emails the moment that they hit your inbox or sharing in your children’s personal achievements?

    The problem seems to be that we are taking our work life far too seriously and forgetting that in 35 – 45 years time we have to look back and say “What have I done with my life” and if the best we can come up with is “I always answered my email promptly” … we failed at life !