Balancing Privacy and Technology

“Technology has further challenged our sense of personal sovereignty.” That quote, taken from a study conducted by Steelcase and published by the Harvard Business Review, really struck a chord with me. Technology can be a wonderful connector. It can cross continents and oceans in a single bound. It facilitates communication and collaboration in the workplace that people used to dream of. Being raised in the age of the internet, my fellow Millenials and I tend to look only at the benefits. But there are a number of workers who see constant and instant contact as a violation of their privacy.

What is Privacy today? At one time, privacy was merely a physically defined term. But with the strides of technology, we must adapt the word. Steelcase defines privacy with two distinct dimensions. The first, Information Control, which they describe as employees’ “constant battle to protect and manage access to their personal information”, is a crucial part of joining an enterprise social network. Some employees don’t want to share their phone number or personal email for the sake of mobile connectivity. And within the office environment, they don’t want to have to worry about a colleague looking at something private on their screen.

The second is Stimulation Control, which refers to “the noises and other distractions that break concentration or inhibit the ability to focus.” Technology affords people the ability to listen to music at work, watch videos, etc. But what one employee sees as “soothing white noise”, another might see as a grating distraction.

Define privacy in your company. The bottom line is, these days your company needs privacy protocol. These guidelines “can be companywide or specific to certain departments, times, or places.” But don’t assume that every employee in your company has the same definition of privacy, and decide what privacy means within the values of your company. It’s also not just something you can set and forget. Like other company guidelines, communications concerning privacy are necessary to sustain the initiatives.

Set up signals. Hotels have Do Not Disturb signs. Should offices employ a similar tactic? Not quite, yet. There are many ways people can say “I’d like to be alone”. Some people like to hide behind their computer monitor or put on their headphones. But employees shouldn’t be afraid that these signals will simply be ignored because they aren’t physical barriers. Steelcase suggests allowing employees to set up their own “boundaries” and encouraging other employees to respect them.

Make your tech “opt-in”. This one wasn’t included in the Steelcase study, but Tribe’s research and client work has showed us that this is crucial to technology’s success in you company. Whether it’s mobile connectivity, an Enterprise Social Network or a simple mailing list, it’s important to set up multiple ways to recieve and access information. Then, you can allow your employees to use the channels that work for them. This way, employees do not feel their privacy is being violated and they can get all the information they need.



Prepping Managers for Change Communications

In many cases of company change, managers are responsible for delivering messages to their teams. While not necessarily a bad method, it’s easy for this technique to become less than stellar for accurate and timely communications. Without the proper guidelines and tools in place, managers will filter any information they receive through their own lenses. Problems occur when their interpretation of the message changes, slightly or vastly, from the message the company intended.

The answer to this common conundrum may be easier than you think. Providing managers with simple communications tools, like talking points and FAQ sheets about the announcement, can go a long way towards making managers feel more comfortable while keeping messages consistent. And making communication easier for managers will increase the likelihood that the message will be shared.

A communications toolkit can be an efficient solution. Providing a range of different communication vehicles will be useful to the multitude of managerial styles at your company. Tribe usually recommends that these toolkits contain PowerPoint presentations, communications tip sheets, talking points, FAQ, training materials and even email templates managers can copy and paste into their own emails. The kit, delivered on a jump drive, can include branded materials that are a mix of ready-to-use communications and templates so they can adapt the tool to their individual style.

Allow managers to receive the news of a big change before the rest of the company. For major change initiatives, giving managers a “heads up” will allow them to process the announcement before cascading information to their teams.  Before managers can lead, it’s important that they’re informed. They should have a solid grasp of the upcoming change and how it impacts the company and their teams. Providing this information in advance will also give these leaders a chance to get onboard with the change. In addition to acting as informers, once a manager is embracing the change, they can be reinforcers of the communications as well.

Silos White Paper Insight: Face-to-face remains critical to collaboration

All the technology in the world can’t replace the power of meeting face-to-face. In Tribe’s current research on collaboration across silos with employees of large companies, respondents said it’s easier to collaborate once you’ve established some sort of human connection, and seeing someone face-to-face is the most effective way to do that.

After an initial meeting, communication flows more easily through video conferences, phone calls and emails. As one subject said, “Sometimes I’ve only met people in a kick-off meeting and the rest of the communication happens over the phone or via email but those kick-off meetings really help to establish a relationship.”

Although one respondent said, “Stop with the excuses. This is 2014; it’s easy to collaborate even without actually getting together,” only 8 percent of our survey respondents felt that face-to-face interaction was “not necessary at all” for collaboration.

In earlier Tribe research on employee preferences in internal communications, face-to-face was deemed more important by Boomers and Gen X. Millennial (or Gen Y) employees, perhaps because they’re perfectly at ease with digital communication, were less likely to prefer face-to-face. Since Millennials seem to conduct so much of their social lives by texting, this made sense to us.

However, those generational differences were not represented in this current research. When it comes to collaboration, the percentage of Millennials, Gen X and Boomers who consider face-to-face nonessential were almost statistically identical.

Unfortunately, it’s not always practical to get employees from different silos in the same room together. Silos separated by continents and several time zones may even have a tricky time scheduling a joint conference call.

That’s when internal communications can help. Although face-to-face is difficult to match for its power in building relationships, there are other ways to build human connections, from collaborative intranet features to internal magazines featuring a range of work and employees to represent the full range of silos.

Interested in exploring the many ways communications can help build relationships? Tribe can help.

This is the first of several blogs highlighting the key insights of Tribe’s upcoming white paper, “Employee Feedback on Company Silos.” The white paper will be posted on Tribe’s website and available for download in late October.

Intranet Adoption Tactics from Xchanging’s Melanie Wheeler

How do you get 96% of your company’s employees signed up and onboard with a brand new intranet? Just ask Melanie Wheeler, Global Head of Internal Communications for the innovative tech company Xchanging, whose unprecedented success with the company’s adoption of Leapfrog, their Jive-based enterprise social network is garnering some much deserved attention. She sat down with Marc Wright from simply-communicate and revealed some really crucial steps in the process that could work for a lot of companies. Here are some of the highlights:

Plan your content first. “[Launching an intranet without content is] like inviting people to a party without any food or drink. People will turn up to have a look, but need a reason to stay and to come back. We needed to give them something to consume – such as policies and procedures and useful information that makes it easier for them to do their jobs. Once you have your content then you can invite people.”

Get the executive team involved. “I told the Executive Board there was no point in signing the cheque if you don’t get involved. It’s all very well saying something is important but it’s for nothing if what you are saying and what you are (not) doing are two different things.”

Find the comfort zone. “We told [content creators] that we were not expecting them to become social butterflies overnight. But we did expect them to participate. Don’t blog every day, blog when you have something to say.”

Facilitate non-work pages. “One of our Exec Directors started a triathlon group online. The benefit you get from employees bonding – regardless of the topic – is immeasurable.”

Moderation in moderation. “Leapfrog is very fast-moving and we cannot stop people saying things on the network. So instead of attempting to control the message these new channels allow us to do more of what we should be doing; guiding the senior leaders around how they should respond to what is going on. It means that we can be more creative and consultative – we are no longer just the post box.”

Have faith in your employees. “I have discovered so much over this period but perhaps the most important is that I have learnt to trust the audience more than I thought. We don’t give people enough credit.”


Cheers to all of that. Read the full article here.

Just how aspirational should a company mission/vision statement be?

At Tribe, we often say that the primary goal of internal communications is to help align the actions of employees with the company’s mission and vision.  If the mission defines the ultimate goal of an organization, the vision provides a roadmap for getting there – how they will cross the gap of where they are versus where they want to be.

But how aspirational should that mission/vision be?

The destination should be worthwhile. When they come to work in the mornings, employees should be able to imagine that they’re part of a journey that deserves their attention. Let’s think about vacation spots as a mission: A weekend at the nearby lake might be relaxing, but perhaps it doesn’t excite the imagination with long-term potential. If you like to travel, several weeks in Hawaii or on an African Safari might be a worthwhile long-term vacation goal. A trip to the moon or Mars – while far-reaching and potentially very exciting – isn’t currently all that realistic.

The mission statement should describe a goal that’s worth striving for. It should describe something that’s worth the long-term effort, but still believable. It won’t work if employees find it beyond the realm of possibility. As an aside, I just read the mission statement for Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. It’s pretty much about traveling to Mars. I assume that the sort of folks he employs actually see that as a real possibility.

The point is that when Tribe is working with companies to align employee actions with organizational goals, we first have to ensure that the primary message – the mission/vision – can be appropriately woven into employee communications. The goal of these internal communications is to try to get employees excited about and proud of coming to the office every day. These communications should instruct employees about how their specific roles contribute to the mission and (particularly) the vision.

Honing in on the correct aspirational range requires quite a fair amount of homework. It’s not an easy task.

  • It requires deep internal awareness of what the organization produces. Obviously, the mission and vision must closely relate to what you produce or who you serve.
  • It requires knowledge of how the organization goes about achieving its goals. What is the company all about? Global reach? Market share? Quality? Creativity? Comfort? Dominance? Community? Philanthropy?
  • It requires an understanding of the trends that affect your market. Is your industry undergoing dramatic change? Is it on the decline? Is it about to explode?
  • It requires knowledge of how the company stacks up against competition. Are you a market leader? Is it realistic that you could become one?
  • It requires a realistic timeframe. There’s a reason why strategic plans tend to look three to five years out. If the timeframe is much longer, employees may wonder if they’re going to be around to see the result. If the timeframe is shorter, the company will constantly be reloading with new plans.
  • Finally, it requires knowledge of how individual roles within the company contribute to the realization of the vision. Employee engagement begins with a role that matches the employee’s personality and skillset and that challenges that person to grow and improve over time.

Companies work best when employees are engaged in their work. Employees are engaged in their work when they believe in what the company is trying to achieve and that their daily actions contributes to the company’s goals.

How aspirational is your company’s mission/vision? Do you know?

Observing country-specific holidays in global companies

Employees of global companies, and those with global clients, find themselves learning of all sorts of holidays they didn’t know existed. On Labor Day, of course, Americans will be out of the office, enjoying backyard barbecues or maybe just a day to sleep in and putter around the house. Our colleagues around the world will be toiling away like it’s any other Monday.

At Tribe, we often work with programmers in Ukraine, so our timeline for a rush project this May had to take into account their Labor Day. Both May 1 and May 2 were national holidays for them. Fortunately for our workflow demands, Cultural Workers and Folk Artists Day on May 25 is observed without businesses across the board taking the day off.

We’ve just started work with a company headquartered in Japan, where employees customarily take extra vacation days around Bon, the festival honoring one’s ancestors. While their Japanese colleagues were traveling to their hometowns, taking their kids to visit grandparents and other relatives, our client in charge of the Americas and EMEA regions was able to catch up on a joint project.

The global pattern of country-specific holidays creates an interesting rhythm to the workplace. Regions take turns in the inhale and exhale of time on and time off. While one group is enjoying a vacation from work, others are continuing to move the business forward. In our post-recession environment, where employees are accustomed to doing more with less and can easily begin to see themselves as indispensable, these mismatched holidays are a reminder that they’re not.

In other words, the world doesn’t fall apart when you take a day off.


Why Your Company Should Care about Employee Photos

New York Magazine recently published a story about the importance of profile pictures on social media sites. The story, entitled “You Should Freak Out More, Not Less, Over Your Profile Picture”, highlights a study by the journal of Psychological Science that asserts the notion that certain facial expressions can cause misleading first impressions by potential friends, partners or employers.

The study found that even subtle differences in facial expression result in drastic assumptions about personality. For instance, a slight smile can trigger senses of trustworthiness and extraversion in the viewer. And different types of smiles denote certain personality traits. The photo below shows how subjects assigned these traits just by observing small differences in the same people’s pictures.


Furthermore, the study found that, when prompted to guess a person’s occupation based on a headshot, facial expression and posture made a huge difference in their response. These results were particularly staggering. As the author of the article so astutely noted, pictures #2 and #4 are almost identical. Almost. As you can see, that slight difference in look and even the angle of the man’s smile made subjects overwhelmingly think picture #2 looked like a villain. In picture #4? The majority chose “mayor” as the occupation. 


That’s right — a subtle difference in facial expression was the difference between “Mayor” and “Villain”. What does that mean for your executive team? Your managers? If your company has an Enterprise Social Network, company badges or even a directory with pictures, employees are looking at their colleagues’ or supervisor’s pictures and could be making these same sorts of assumptions.

And that could be hampering or even thwarting potentially fruitful relationships within your company, especially with remote employees who may never meet colleagues face-to-face. Company pictures are often brushed off as necessary evils. People don’t think about the impression their smile could make, but when your profile picture is your first or only impression on people, it can make a huge difference.

Tribe has always been a firm believer in making company pictures something employees are proud to put on their ID’s and ESN profiles. We’ve worked with a number of clients on intranet launches, and a professional photographer is almost always on-hand at launch events to snap profile pictures that employees would be happy to post on the company page.

A small investment in making these pictures perfect could go a long way in facilitating good relationships down the road. And, as this study shows, that is an investment worth making.


Tribe’s Monthly Comic Strip: What’s So Funny About Email Overload?


Mise en Place in the Workplace

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m on board with almost anything Anthony Bourdain says. Whether it’s his cooking advice, his adventurous soliloquies, or his spot-on commentary about Rachel Ray, it seems the man can say little wrong. So when my friend (who’s attending culinary school) told me to look into his organizational tips, I was incredibly intrigued.

You see, I have a bit of an organizational issue. Why would you want to take advice about being organized from a self-proclaimed shlub? To quote Liz Lemon, “Julia Roberts in a movie about eating? Give me a Kirstie Alley, somebody who knows what she’s doing.” I speak from experience, so hear me out.

Chef’s organize their work stations in a way that is unique to their trade. It’s called “Mise en Place”(pronounced mee-zahn-plahs), and it’s a technique that has been keeping chefs, kitchens and culinary institutions composed for centuries. The literal French translation is “put in place”, taking your tools and ingredients and laying them out in a way that makes everything accessible and intuitive. It’s preparation on a whole new level. But it’s also a state of mind. It rids you of distraction by setting a clear path to your goals, and helps you feel ready to tackle any task ahead of you.

Here’s how that applies to you. As told by Anthony Bourdain:

“What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk? For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage. They are the equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.”

Tomorrow, before you start your normal routine, prepare yourself for the day. Define your projects, goals and priorities right off the bat, and figure out what tools you’ll need to tackle those tasks. In the eloquent words of Ron Friedman, a contributor to Harvard Business Review:

“A good approach is to begin your day with a brief planning session. An intellectual mise-en-place. Chefs envision the perfect execution before starting their dish. Here’s the corollary for the enterprising business professional. Ask yourself this question the moment you sit at your desk: The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?”

Liberia: Where Company Values Slam Up Against Tough Decisions

When Tribe works with clients to define their company values, we sometimes challenge them to eliminate all but those they’d adhere to no matter what —  even under the most stressful of circumstances. Would that value stick even when it could cost the company a great deal of money? Will it be compromised when there just isn’t enough time to uphold it? That, however, represents an ideal world.

In real life, organizations sometimes face difficult choices between two or more values that conflict. The Ebola crisis in Liberia, for instance, is forcing some aid organizations to make brutally tough decisions about human life. Which humans do they value more — the ones they’re in Liberia to help? Or the volunteers who are there doing the helping?

“When people started dying of Ebola in Liberia, Clarine Vaughn faced a wrenching choice: Should she send home, for their own health and safety, four American doctors working for Heartt, the aid group she led there?” begins an article in the New York Times.  ”Or should she keep them in the country without proper supplies or training to fight the virulent, contagious disease, which was already spreading panic?

“After much agonizing, Ms. Vaughn, who lives in Liberia, pulled the doctors out and canceled plans to bring in more. The African physicians and nurses left behind told her they understood, but felt abandoned. They said, “We need you guys here,” she recalled.

Raphael Frankfurter, executive director of the Wellbody Alliance, also sent his American volunteers home. He left his Liberian volunteers in place. “It’s certainly not in line with our values, because it’s just such a glaring inequality,” he said, in the same NYT article as quoted above. “But it’s a very scary place to get sick right now.”

In most cases, a company’s values provide clarity between two choices. For example, if a car manufacturer cites safety as a value, then most people would probably say that recalling a model with faulty brakes is the right choice. Human beings trump the potential impact on profits, in that scenario.

Sometimes, however, organizations face decisions between two nearly unbearable options, both of which will likely lead to dire consequences. In that case, those making the decision must wrestle with the nuances of what those values represent. The difficulties of that struggle can be informed by the organization’s values, but not necessarily made any easier.