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Monday, November 29, 2021

AT WORK, A VIRTUAL PLOT

When your life—personal and professional—is uploaded on the Net, can you keep office nastiness out of your scrapbook?

Written by Irenaakbar |
September 7, 2008 4:39:01 pm

When your life—personal and professional—is uploaded on the Net, can you keep office nastiness out of your scrapbook?
When nina mehta, a 26-year-old corporate sales manager, logged onto her Facebook account during a break in office, the news feed—the continually updated ticker of the minutiae of virtual life—was like a smack on her face. “Asheem Bose wrote on Tina Khanna’s wall: Doesn’t Nina Mehta look like she’s swallowed a raw snake?” The second line on the feed said, “Tina Khanna wrote on Asheem Bose’s wall: Yeah, she does”. The third said, “Asheem Bose wrote on Tina Khanna’s wall: The poor snake had to go through her.”

This could not have been a joke, not even a bad one. For, Bose was no college chum and Tina was not a pal. Bose was Nina’s boss and Tina was her colleague, a member of the sales team at an insurance firm. They were professionals who had had no or limited casual conversations at work, though Nina had sensed that things were souring with the boss. Before she knew it, the hostility had been uploaded on to the Net.

Where’s the Netiquette?
The hardsell about social networking sites has been infinite connection and boundless goodwill, a smaller world, a friendlier world. But look inside the microcosm of your office and the answers get a little complicated. What if a boss you are not pally with sends a friend request to you? Can you afford to spurn him? A study carried out in the UK by LinkedIn, a professional networking site, found that a third of workers admit they feel obliged to add a professional contact to their virtual social circle. In the last couple of years, urban Indians who have discovered a life of new connections and virtual friends on social networking sites, are facing similar issues. Which is why Nina could not remove Bose and Tina from her friends’ list despite their behaviour. Which is also why she accepted their friend requests in the first place.

There is even an Internet term to describe the collapsing boundaries between a friend and a colleague. Frolleague—someone you add as your online friend without a thought just because he uses the terminal adjacent to you. “Ignoring friend requests of co-workers, specially bosses, could offend them and may affect your equations with them. On my part though, I only send requests to colleagues who are also friends,” says Sahil Kazmi, 29, a manager at an international NGO, who’s been on Orkut since 2004 and has over 300 friends in his network. At a time when opportunities are plenty and job-hopping a done thing, adding colleagues helps Kazmi keep in touch with them after they’ve left the organisation.

The LinkedIn study also said seven in 10 Britons believe it is important to protect personal information from professional contacts. Kazmi manages to do that by uploading limited personal data on his profile. But what about those who are smitten by the idea of the Internet as a personal showcase? How do they protect their privacy? Some like Shashwat Nagpal, 28, creative director with American MNC Astadia, have multiple profiles. His Orkut profile is “professional” and has no personal information since the site doesn’t have many privacy options. His profile on Facebook is “for fun” and focuses on his hobby—photography—as the site allows for more privacy. And if colleagues want to add him there, he has a ready excuse. “I tell them I am inactive on the network and pretend not to know of their requests. If that fails, I blame it on the snags”

You, uncensored
A small bit of personal information or a large picture album on your online profile has the potential to cause you trouble or embarrassment in office. Your colleague has access to information which you otherwise may not share with him, such as your relationship status, the communities you join, the fun applications you use, your photo albums, the videos you forward and the comments you write or receive on your Facebook wall or Orkut scrapbook. Thus making your online profile a fertile ground for office gossip.

Sofia Joseph, a 24-year-old content writer, was shocked when her boss asked her how long a leave she would take for her wedding. Sofia wasn’t even engaged. She later learned that a colleague was telling everyone in the office that since she had changed her relationship status on Orkut from “single” to “committed”, she was probably getting married soon.

Priyanka Sachar’s Facebook photographs in which she wore a bright red top, a black skirt and let loose her long tresses—a contrast to her Plain Jane image in office—invited comments such as “hot”, “seductress”, “nice legs”, “sultry” and “my screen is burning” from her male colleagues on the site. “Yes, I wanted to show my photos to my friends, but this was not what I expected,” says the 31-year-old project manager in a Gurgaon-based IT company. People from other departments came up to her and said the photographs were the “talk of the office” and gave her unsolicited advice to delete them.

Writing on the Wall
The main online source of office gossip is your Facebook wall or Orkut scrapbook. Ali Khan, a mechanical engineer in Bangalore, for instance, was romantically linked to a co-worker who wrote a birthday wish on his Orkut scrapbook at midnight. “The timing of her scrap—nobody else left a congratulatory message at midnight—coupled with the fact that it was long and loaded with emotions made the two of us a ‘couple’ in office,” he says. Pavan Kumar Adapa, a market analyst with HSBC in Bangalore, had to frequently log on to Facebook to delete comments on his wall that asked about his impending job change. “I was looking for a change for over two months before joining HSBC a fortnight ago. My non-office friends would ask me about my search. And I was afraid my colleagues would come to know of my plans to switch over,” he says.

More than anything else, walls and scrapbooks have become places to bitch about your colleagues, quite often with real consequences. “There have been plenty of stories lately involving behaviour that is completely inappropriate for a work environment. People need to realise that even virtual actions can have very real consequences,” Cristina Hoole of LinkedIn was quoted by The Sun as saying.

Gossip café
Log into community groups of various companies on Orkut and you’ll see discussion boards full of boss-bashing, all done anonymously. Topics like “Who is the biggest a**h*le in CP/HLAG?” (in the CP-HapagLloyd Global Services community on Orkut) or “Who is Who’s Crush” (in the Siemens Power Engineering community) abound. These threads, unlike others, have heavy traffic. One such thread, “Hot Office Updates” in the Teletech India community, at 256 messages, is one of the most active. Communities also hold online polls that ask contentious questions with even more contentious options. For instance, the poll “Why employees are quitting” in the Pantaloon Retail community has the options, “low salary”, “less growth opportunity” and “selfishness of seniors”.

Ashish Chopra, 26, software engineer with Ciena India, explains the need for online bitching—coded, anonymous or forthright. “Most offices lack a direct feedback mechanism wherein people can vent their anger against their bosses or other co-workers. So, they do it on Facebook or Orkut. Of course, there’s always the phone or the coffee shop but most large organisations have offices across several locations. In that case, online bitching is the most economical and convenient option.”

Despite dangers of intrusion and politicking, most employees would still add colleagues as friends. “Since we spend half of our waking hours at office, it’s important to be friends with colleagues as it makes work enjoyable and lifts team spirit. Online networking is a way to informally connect with them,” says Pavan.
(Some names and occupations have been changed on request)

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