The Obama inauguration’s network effect

“Filled with hope.” “Proud to be an American today.” “That was the most incredible speech. Completely uplifted.” Those were some of the tweets I read on my Twitter page as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday. Then there was this one: “Obama’s inauguration has completely blown my productivity today.”

There would have been a time when people at work would have waited until they got home to watch the highlights of the events on TV. In some offices, coworkers might have gathered around a radio, of all things. Today, in my office, we had a live feed from CNN going in the newsroom, but then, not every office has a row of monitors fixed to the ceiling. More likely I suspect many of my colleagues, either in IT departments or in other functions, were watching and listening from their desktops. Of all the changes President Obama plans to bring to the U.S., some of the biggest changes in communication have already taken place.

It’s doubtful watching the inauguration through various live Web broadcasts crippled many enterprises. They usually have enough bandwidth for that. What’s harder to calculate is the amount of actual work time lost. Even more obscure is the psychic effect of the inauguration as an online experience upon the average information worker. How many people came to work today dragging their behinds, unwilling to face the day, and came away from that speech emboldened, optimistic and energized? Can we make a connection to the results of today’s labours and what was transmitted over the Internet from Washington? Can we afford not to?

Obama’s inauguration is a good reminder that what networks we establish for work purposes transcend the operations of a business. When you give people extraordinary connectivity – and it is far more extraordinary than it was when George W. Bush first took office – they connect in extra-ordinary ways. Instead of locking themselves in the bubble of their corporate duties, for example, they take part in a historic moment in world history. They are no longer office workers but part of a global community.

We don’t really think this kind of thing through when we set up a new employee’s user ID and password, but perhaps it’s time we do. We create usage policies that restrict and limit, but it may be worthwhile to see how using technology to synch up with the world at large can benefit organizations. I’ve already mentioned productivity and morale, but think about customer relationships – what it means when your sales rep, for instance, can share his thoughts on the inauguration with a client who was also logged on.

This may have been a particularly unusual day, but I think we’ll start to see more of these out-of-office experiences through the Web and their subtle, though potent impact on what happens in the enterprise. As much as the moment belonged to Obama, it was also owned by thousands of people with nothing more than an Internet connection and some hope.

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