As worlds collide: formal and informal spaces in the Social Age

To understand the realities of the Social Age, we have to recognise that the boundaries between the formal and informal spaces in our lives have substantially collapsed. We inhabit a grey space where our communities, connections and conversations cross both. Facilitated by social technologies, we are ever more connected and able to collaborate.

Formal Spaces

The formal spaces of work are collapsing: eroded by social technologies and the desire to form communities

This situation is not without it’s perils: historically we carried out different conversations in these different spaces, formal ones at work and informal ones in the pub, but today the conversations can cross over, sometimes unintentionally. The situation was bad enough when we could easily control where content landed, but with the increasing integration of discrete solutions, sharing content is easier than ever before, so what you schedule with Buffer to post onto Twitter can be passed onto LinkedIn and Facebook in record time. In other words, even when we try to keep our worlds separate, they can all too easily blur.

On the one hand, the situation is liberating: the role of communities in our professional lives is growing ever stronger, indeed our ability to form and nurture these communities and personal learning networks is a key trait of social leadership and learning, but the lack of ease in clarifying when these conversations are formal and when informal is a challenge for both individuals and organisations.

In the Social Age, command and control models, based on formal hierarchies of power, are likely to be subverted by more social ones, where reputation counts for more than job title.

What can we do? Well, we can certainly ensure that we don’t accidentally slip into the grey space, we can keep certain channels entirely social, but it’s increasingly hard. For example, many people would view Facebook as purely social, but many organisations maintain a Facebook page: engaging with this by ‘liking‘ it forms a formal bond in an informal space. If you post on that page, does it count as formal communication in a work context, or a personal view?

These are little understood issues, but older approaches to social media that simply state that you can’t discuss work there are redundant: what’s the difference between LinkedIn and Facebook? It’s just a matter of choice.

Agile organisations, ones that are prepared for the challenges of the Social Age, will take a dynamic and evolutionary approach to this. They’ll recognise that innovation and creativity will be better fostered in semi formal spaces than purely formal ones and will reap the rewards of their attitude.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Adaptability, Agile, Challenge, Conversation, Culture, Formal Spaces, Forum, Freedom, Informal Spaces, Innovation, Leadership, Learning, Learning Culture, Personal Learning Network, Social Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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