What a whiteboard can teach you

John
John Gushue
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A few times within an hour, a week ago last Tuesday, I read notes on Twitter about a young woman who quit her job in grand fashion. Before I took the time to click on one of the links, I noticed common keywords: “Girl.” “Quits.” “Whiteboard.” And, significantly I thought, “Farmville.”

And there they were, a series of 33 photographs showing a woman named Jenny, who supposedly had used the shots to make a very public resignation from her job … all the while outing a lout at the company who spent much of his working hours goofing off.

‘Girl quits job …’

tinyurl.com/whiteboardquitter

“It’s a hoax,” I told one of my colleagues, who was inclined to go along with it. I wasn’t. For starters, the pictures looked too good: each one was crisp, clear and — especially — well lit. Amateur photographs, even those on good cameras, don’t have that consistency.

I also noticed, on a repeat scan, that the facial expressions on “Jenny,” as we were told to call her, were precise: a little exaggerated here and there, but each one hitting an emotional marker.

Finally, as Jenny listed off the transgressions of “Spencer,” the office skeet, she took delight in spelling out just how much time he spent online at particular things: four hours a week at the e-trading company Scottrade, 5.3 hours on TechCrunch and a whopping 19.7 hours on Farmville, the evidently addictive game that most people play on Facebook.

A-ha! I thought. Suddenly, it made sense. The ploy was a ruse to stir up some social media dust for Farmville. Or Scottrade … or even TechCrunch.

Well, a day later, I was — largely but not completely — vindicated. Jenny didn’t exist. She was an actress, hired by the two guys who run The Chive, the satire-friendly site that posted the pictures in the first place.

Letting the fun play out for a full 24 hours, they all came clean a day later, and wiped the proverbial dry-erase board clear.

I turned out to have been wrong about one thing. The hoax really was just for fun, and not a way to pimp a particular company (although Scottrade, for one, got a kick out of the unexpected publicity).

So, there’s one lesson from the whole dry-erase-board exercise: don’t believe everything you read online.

Another: be skeptical.

For me, a third: sometimes things are done just for fun (or to punk the media), and not as a subversive shill for a company.

Your digital footprint

But here’s another lesson, perhaps the most important one, to be gleaned from the whole exercise.

A group of us at work chatted about the hoax the day it was exposed. “But they can’t do that, can they?” one asked, after we talked about the messy business of employers keeping track of what sites employees visit on their computers.

I glanced at another colleague, and we both nodded. “Oh yes,” I told him.

There’s the rub. While “Jenny” may have been grousing about what her whiteboard called “the little office snitch” that her stinky boss had installed, no one should be shocked that an employer (or your office’s IT folks) monitor surfing habits.

Some employers have avoided this sort of problem by cutting off or severely restricting employee access to places like Facebook. Sure, there’s an obvious productivity explanation, but I think that sort of decision is faulty — and very limiting. In this climate, access to social media (let alone the web itself) is as essential a business tool as, say, a photocopier.

I’m reminded of what happened at a local company that found itself in the news in the last year for a day or two, and even though its business was the talk of the town, employees had to rely on outside friends to keep track of what was being said online.

The solution to that seems obvious: loosen the reins on your employees, build an atmosphere of understanding and make it understood that the catch for online access is the possibility of surveillance.

More open communication and honesty in the workplace? That will greatly reduce the odds of anyone actually quitting … by a whiteboard, or otherwise.

John Gushue is an online editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Scottrade, CBC News

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