They're out there. Despite the steady stream of exhortations to keep
upping the ante on the always-connected life—if you're not Tweeting
24/7, you'll be left in the dust; get that LinkedIn profile polished or
you'll never work again—there are holdouts.
People who take
things slower. Late adopters. Digital dinosaurs. No Facebook. Maybe no
cell phone. For some, e-mail isn't really an everyday—or at least not
every-minute—fact of life.
Yet, somehow, they still have jobs.
So what happens when you have to work with someone who is several steps behind you on the digital path?
Laura Donahue, that someone is her boss. As human resources manager for
a non-profit based in the suburbs, Ms. Donahue, 43, is a recent convert
to social media as a business tool. Her organization, not so much.
no official policy against using social media, but her supervisor has
made his position clear. “My boss is like, ‘I'm not going on Facebook.
You get viruses when you go on Facebook. And I don't know what that
LinkedIn thing is, but I don't have time to play around on the
Internet,' “ she says.
But Ms. Donahue, impressed by what she saw
at a conference earlier this year, has integrated Web 2.0 into her work
life. “If I'm given a project at work where I need to do research, I go
to Google. And to Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, to see
what's out there,” she says. Already, she's been impressed by the
information and advice she's found with a well-placed Tweet or a post to
a LinkedIn group.
But she does it from home, or from her smartphone. “I'm just not sure
how well-received it would be to do it on company equipment,” she says.
When presenting the results of her research, she keeps the
attribution purposefully vague. “I say, ‘I collaborated with some
colleagues,' “ she says. “I'm very much in the closet at work.”
the time comes, she knows what she'll tell her colleagues: “I'd say,
‘It's just another resource I have available. It's not my only source.
Yes, it's really easy online for everybody to be 6-foot-2 or the HR
professional of the universe, so you have to take things with a grain of
salt or do other research behind it.' “
Holdouts like Ms.
Donahue's boss may simply be trying to manage an important
resource—their attention, says Daniel Mittleman, associate professor of
computer science at DePaul University,
whose research focuses on the role of technology in collaboration. Mr.
Mittleman himself recently ditched his cell phone in order to better
manage when and how people could reach him.
avoidance of the connected world means sacrificing its benefits, too.
“I'm sure they're doing what they've always done—and they're as
effective as they've always been,” Mr. Mittleman says. “They haven't
lost anything by not using the new tools. The problem is, their
competition is probably using the new tools and becoming more effective
than they are.”
NO PDFs, PLEASE
Sometimes the dinosaur is a colleague who's nonetheless worth
the trouble. Alexei Marcoux, 45, an associate professor of business
ethics at Loyola University Chicago's Graduate School of Business, knew
what he was getting into when colleague Al Gini invited him to
collaborate on a book. “His Luddite tendencies are well-known,” Mr.
Indeed. Mr. Gini, 66, professor of business ethics
and chair of Mr. Marcoux's department, doesn't own a cell phone. He
doesn't check e-mail on weekends. He does much of his writing in
“My reputation with my children is that I am just
caught in the 19th century,” Mr. Gini says. “And I always say, ‘No,
that's too recent.' I'm not a brain surgeon. I'm an ethics teacher.
Nothing much has happened in my field since Socrates.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Gini points out, he manages to maintain his roles as
a teacher, administrator, consultant, radio personality (he is a
regular contributor to morning show “848” on WBEZ-FM/91.5), editor of
an academic journal and author.
Asked how he responded to a recent series in the New York Times
about brain research on the downsides of being constantly “plugged in,”
Mr. Gini says, “I was right! But I knew I was right. It's kind of like a
story saying, ‘Oh, Hitler was a really bad guy.' Of course, having said
that, I worry every day that I'm just a grumpy old man.”
Marcoux, meanwhile, stays connected via smartphone to e-mail, social
networks, text messages and phone calls. “I try to ‘unplug' for a couple
hours here or there, but it almost feels uncomfortable,” he says.
what to expect with Mr. Gini, Mr. Marcoux prepared himself to make
adjustments to his partner's ways—for instance, by bringing hard copies
of documents to their meetings. “I would never assume that he had read a
PDF,” Mr. Marcoux says.
And he expected Mr. Gini to take extra
steps—or have others take them on his behalf—to accommodate his need to
organize information digitally. “He'll make an important note on a sheet
of paper and hand it to me,” Mr. Marcoux says, “and I'll say, ‘No. Give
it to your secretary. Have her type it up and convert it to a PDF and
send it to me by e-mail. That way I'll know how to find it.' “
The arrangement worked well enough that the pair have since collaborated on two more books.
“We were truly a technological odd couple,” Mr. Marcoux says.
A FAX MACHINE?
Sometimes a meeting across the digital divide can actually
enhance a relationship. That was the case when Kristina McGrath, 40, and
Marci Holzer, 53, members of the Joffrey Ballet's Women's Board, teamed
up to co-chair this fall's Couture and Cocktails gala. The two didn't
know each other before they took the assignment in March. Now, with the
Sept. 24 event fast approaching, they finish each other's sentences.
didn't start out that way. “Immediately, I realized we were going to
have to communicate on a daily basis,” Ms. McGrath says. “I said, ‘Can I
get your e-mail address?' And Marci asked me, ‘Do you have a fax
“I don't do Facebook,” Ms. Holzer says. “I do face time.”
they compromised. Ms. Holzer, who generally keeps e-mail at arm's
length, set her computer to sound an alarm whenever correspondence about
the Joffrey event came in. And Ms. McGrath made time for more
“I have to say, it's been very refreshing,” Ms. McGrath says. “You get so caught up in e-mail, you lose . . . “
“Passion,” says Ms. Holzer, stepping in. “You can't do passion in an e-mail.”
McGrath says she has found herself incorporating some of Ms. Holzer's
style into her working life at McGrath Lexus/Acura, where she is
director of customer relations. While she often communicates with her
staff through e-mail, she recently called six of them in for a real-time
meeting, to walk through the dealership.
“I wanted to draw
their attention to what the customer sees visually,” Ms. McGrath says.
Together, they decided to spruce up the lounge with new pillows and
Meanwhile, she and Ms. Holzer have each played to their own strengths
in their work on the Joffrey event. Ms. McGrath offered some special
tickets to the gala through Facebook. Ms. Holzer sent out handwritten
notes, each one personalized to the recipient.
“We found that there's a happy medium,” Ms. McGrath says.
“We're finding that you need both,” Ms. Holzer adds.
all collaborations turn out so well, of course. Absent agreement to use
different approaches, a holdout simply becomes a weak link, DePaul's
Mr. Mittleman says. “If you have a team member who refuses to work to
the norm of the team, then the team is going to be less effective.”
Krzysztofiak, 28, a real estate agent at Re/Max Signature in Chicago,
almost ran out of patience with a mortgage broker who worked with his
clients on a deal this year. Mr. Krzysztofiak was accustomed to closing
deals in days, but this one dragged on for months, because, he says, the
broker took forever to respond to e-mails.
In real estate
today, Mr. Krzysztofiak says, that cuts against the norm. “Another
broker, if I call on Sunday morning to ask for a pre-approval, he's
going to have it for me that morning. With her, I have to wait until she
gets back to the office—on Monday.”
He found that hammering the
broker repeatedly with text messages was the only way to get a simple
question answered. “I think she doesn't realize how much benefit a
smartphone would be,” Mr. Krzysztofiak says.
closing—which took place at the end of August, more than four months
after the contract had been signed—he overheard the broker take a call,
and Tweeted his impression: Overheard “I'm not in my office yet so I can't check my e-mail” #businessfail.
Of course, the mortgage broker probably didn't see it.
© 2010 by Crain Communications Inc.
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