Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Water Cooler Owns Your Water Cooler


Photo Courtesy of Mordant Orange

Being a consultant, I get the “privilege” of experiencing many different office cultures. Some offices are fun and laid back, others are so uptight I feel like I need to rub my ears and mutter “Woo-Sawhhh...Woo-Sawhhh” just to maintain my sanity (+5 pts if you recognized the Bad Boys II reference).

The one commonality I unfortunately bear witness to from office to office, is the painfully awkward water cooler conversation. It’s forced. It’s unnatural. it’s an obligation. It’s typically the only authorized escape from the mundane dredges of “cube” life - besides a trip to Starbucks.


On one particular project, my cube was right next to the cooler. After the thoughts of banging my head repeatedly against my desk as I was subjected to being a unknown third wheel to all cooler convos, I learned that there are 5 generally accepted cooler topics (GACT...my accounting prof would be proud): weather, past weekend events, upcoming weekend events, healthy snacks, and the game.


At which point I wonder, is this really socializing? There are GACTs and there are GSCRs (generally accepted cooler responses). They’re predominately predetermined conversations that are more of a social obligation than actually socializing. Is it socialization when you already know the answer you’ll receive?


However, my water cooler is bigger...better...has 1000 people around it.


The Millennial’s water cooler is Facebook, with a splash of Twitter, and a twist of GChat. I can use that same 5mins you spent at your cooler to have meaningful conversations over GChat in my Gmail, or post a comment/question/reply to a friend’s wall, or even give a quick update to my friends as to what I’m up to.


I would even argue that my cooler is better for business. The time I spend on social media is time spent growing my network outside of the office. The more people I have strong connections with, the more 2nd degree contacts the company I work for has.

So, if both coolers eat 5 minutes of break time, and both are forms of socialization, why do companies allow cooler talk and block employees from accessing social media sites?
Let’s face it, Gen-Y and Gen-X communicate differently. Why should one generation be allowed to converse one way, and a different generation be denied the ability to converse another way?

-Josh Groth

3 comments:

Jenna said...

I would argue that there are pros/cons to both settings. On of the cons being, while your updating your personal friends with information, you are missing out on getting to know your fellow co-workers and thus building necessary bonds to be a stronger employee/company. You never know when you are going to need Joe from accounting's support on a new proposition or something. Granted your also a consultant so your in and out of there. So it's a little different. However, a pro of facebook, twitter, gchat is how easily you can get more help to solve problems. For example, I needed help with my boss' MacBook, one post on Twitter (which is connected to my facebook and myspace) as well as a couple GChats, let my inbox full of suggestions, encouragement, and check ins. Who doesn't love that? Plus, it made me look good in front of my boss in less than 140 key strokes.

indefatigable said...

Hey, great one written on just a small subject of water cooler :). i would probably replace this water cooler, instead of short smoking sessions taken while working in the office. I, myself have gained much knowledge about different fields in these smoking sessions. Your water cooler must be really big, as 1000s of people gather near it :) Nice to meet you, will follow your articles regularly.
Cheers.

Michael O said...

You neglect a crucially important element of the water cooler culture, Josh: HYDRATION! Last I checked, Facebook couldn't serve me a cool, crisp and refreshing glass of water. ;)

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