Archive for June, 2011

Social Networking @ work

Facebook, YouTube, and personal emails like Gmail and yahoo mail are blocked in my workplace. Yahoo messenger and Gmail chats are not accessible. Twitter site is restricted and many other social media are blocked.  BlogSpot and WordPress blogs are filtered in with a warning. I understand it is a statewide decision, not the decision of NDOT management. I never tried to find out the reasons behind these regulations. I think the reason is the security of the IT network system. The belief, that these social media will distract the employees and will reduce the performance, may be another reason. The interesting contradiction is that NDOT tweets, has a Facebook page, and a YouTube account.

Before I joined the NDOT, I worked for NCE, a private consulting company. When I work at NCE, I didn’t have Tweeter account. But I accessed Facebook account and saw many YouTube video clips. There were no restrictions at all on the use of social media. I never heard any complaints in any of the meetings that employees are soaked in social media and projects are not moving. We all worked hard. Actually I used the yahoo messenger constructively to get help for work related matters.

There is an interesting article in the Costco Connection June 2011 issue about social networking in the workplaces. It is written by Sheila Sobell, a freelance journalist from Reno Nevada. She points out many advantages of utilizing social media, citing expert quotes and research findings. Use of social media is essential to team building, well-being and a sense of collective purpose, especially in smaller companies where staff may be isolated at different sites. Allowing social networking in the office and even incorporating it in a company’s operations can increase worker productivity. Diversions such as watching a funny YouTube video provide necessary mini breaks that improve concentration and productivity. Nobody cares about smoke breaks during the work hours then why cares break with Facebook. A liberal social networking policy is a helpful tool in retaining talented employees. Not only does allowing employees Internet access boost trust, but it also assists in talent retention. On a practical level, mining social networks online can lead to the discovery of knowledge helpful to company growth.

The social media got its own drawbacks too. All these social media channels are pretty new and evolving at a much faster face than the products and services of many companies. It make it difficult to have an official social media policy so that abusive can be prevented. We all heard the problems faced by Chrysler Motors. An irresponsible person expressed his rants using the company’s tweeter account. It turned out that it is not intentional and the tweeter was thinking that he logged into his own account.

Whatever it is, the social media is an evolving media and is not going to go away. We should accept its existence and learn to use it constructively. After all, how many of us don’t have a smart phone where we can get access to all the crap.

Public Service as an Employer of Choice

I joined Nevada Department of Transportation, a public sector organization, in December 2008. Many factors influenced me to join the public sector. I was hoping to get involved a variety of assignments. I thought state job is more stable compare to private sector in the long run. In my case, both are true and I am enjoying my profession. Also, I wanted to work for the transportation system than working only on projects. The public sector job provided me the opportunity to learn the policies that influence the transportation. I should mention that it is amazing to know how the currency flows in and out to build and maintain the transportation infrastructure. Previously I worked for Nichols Consulting Engineers (NCE), a private organization with 70 employees.  I would say I felt “free” to take care of the business at NCE. Now, I work with 1750 employees, thus lost that freedom a bit. I think it is the trade off when we work for a bigger organization regardless of public or private sector.

I found an interesting policy brief by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the problems faced by the Public sector. This brief focuses on the challenges in many countries at federal level. I believe that the issues and the needed changes are well applicable in the state and local governments. The primary challenges are:

  • A large part of the employees are retiring and the generation entering into the workforce is smaller than the generation retiring.
  • Loss of competitiveness of wages. While wage is not the only reason in attracting the highly qualified workforce, it is important to attract the younger generation.
  • Younger generation consider public sector as bureaucratic and old-fashioned.
  • Citizens are losing the trust on the government. This affects the public servants.
  • In many countries, the promotion opportunities are not clearly linked to the performance. It is usually based on the seniority.

So, How to get rid of these shortcomings? Many countries adopted their own strategies. Canada adapted salary increases together with performance based elements. Austria focused on personal development and lifelong learning. Norway directed training program for younger employees. Italy has launched a broad public administration reform effort and an action plan for e-government. Korea has opened 20% of the top civil service posts to open competition. Both private and public sector employees can apply for these posts.

In addition to above, a lot of non-monetary incentives are introduced over the years. Some Examples of non-monetary incentives are:

  •  A culture of co-operative leadership, open communication, co-operation and recognition
  • Flat hierarchies, sufficient scope to display initiative and to make decisions on one’s own work
  • Good working conditions, working methods and organization
  • Opportunity to control work time: flexible working hours, dates of annual leave, etc.
  • Good opportunities for training and personal development
  • Distance working
  • A family friendly personnel policy to help reconcile family and working life
  • Opportunities for educational leave or leave for other personal reasons

It is worth reading the 8 page policy brief. Full report can be found here.

Freedom from Press – 2

The article below is written by Dr. Reed Gibby. He was my supervisor at NDOT for more than a year. He is now retired and writes interesting articles.

Freedom From the Press #2

Freedom from the Press -1

The article below is written by Dr. Reed Gibby. He was my supervisor at NDOT for more than a year. He is now retired and writes interesting articles.

Freedom From the Press #1

Coffee and Me

I grew up drinking tea. Sri Lanka is well-known for its premium tea also known as Ceylon tea. Ceylon is the old name of Sri Lanka. I didn’t get much chance to drink coffee during my child hood. When I was a high school student, I used to get up early in the morning and studied for the final exams. During that time I drank coffee in the early mornings. My mother makes coffee on the previous night and keeps it in a flask. Again, it was not really a coffee. I would say it was a coffee flavored milk.

After I came to US, I started drinking coffee. During the student life, I didn’t get much chance to go to Starbucks or other coffee houses (Can we write about coffee without mentioning Starbucks?). Once I started working full-time I got a lot of opportunities to get out drink coffee in many joints. I think this is how I developed a passion to coffee. Nowadays I drink 5 cups of coffee every day. (I am trying to cut it back to 4 cups). In the past 7-8 years, I bought several different kinds of coffee makers and several brands of coffee beans.  At home, I grind coffee beans before making each cup of coffee. Recently I started making coffee using an old style percolator. For some reason, this coffee is tastier than the previous ones made using the regular coffee makers.

A few weeks back I watched the history of Starbucks on the CNBC biographies. I was amazed by the efforts made by Starbucks to make their coffee distinctive from others. It starts from the plantations, continue thru roasting, and then each batch of beans is tasted by professionals to make sure that the customer gets the premium coffee. Starbucks is even picky on the water they use to make coffee. Wow!!! I am pretty sure all the coffee brands have their own scrutiny to make their product best. I visited the first Starbucks coffee shop in Pikes Place Market in Seattle.

The picture on the right is Grand café, one of the first coffee houses opened in England in 1600s. It still serves coffee. There is an interesting history behind coffee. Before the seventeen’s century, alcohol was people’s day time drink. Coffee replaced the alcohol. No wonder why there are a lot of new inventions in the past 400 years.