Why Facebook At Work is not the answer to workplace technology



Last week Facebook At Work was announced, a new way for organisations to make use of Facebook as a way of networking staff.

The product will allow employees to join a network which could be connected to their personal Facebook account to help keep things tidy. Members of a network can message one another, share (but not collaborate on) documents, and so forth.

Sounds familiar? Yeah, because it’s what Yammer has been doing for years, and Slack more recently. And, whilst useful, neither of those products – or the gazillions of others in this space – have seen the workplace transformed.

Why is that? Largely because the change isn’t significant enough, nor does it provide the improvement in working that people are needing.

After all, despite all the talk over the years of collaboration, enterprise 2.0 and social business, the vast majority of people working in offices, at desks (the so-called ‘knowledge workers’) spend most of their time reading and writing emails and documents, attending meetings and making phone calls. That still hasn’t changed.

What most of the technology to emerge so far has really just been a case of improving the way these activities take place. Is sharing a status update on Yammer really that different from sending an all user email around the office?

After all, the current model of doing things – having networked computers on people’s desks that they use to communicate and write documents – goes all the way back to 1973 and the Xerox Alto. 41 years!

The future must surely lie not in new tools to help us do what we’ve always done more efficiently, but in new ways of delivering value in our work.

There are few examples of this, but one I think was Google Wave. A much misunderstood project which was very poorly marketed as a kind of consumer replacement for email, Wave would have been much better positioned as a platform for developing new workflows in the office.

So initiatives like Facebook at Work strike me as being rather cynical, to be honest. Surely nobody at Facebook really thinks this is the solution for a happier, more effective workplace?

What’s needed is some real vision around what productivity software looks like in the networked era. Not just pushing email into social networks, or putting office applications into the browser, but radically defining how knowledge work works.

Scrutiny Handbook

I have finally finished work on the Scrutiny Handbook. I got my final draft copy back today from the Head of Department, and once I have amended things in line with his comments, we will be ready to go to print.

It is 53 A5 pages long, and explains the Scrutiny process both specific to its operation in West Norfolk, as well as in general terms that I guess could be of help to anyone. I hope.

I enjoyed writing the Handbook, and it has made me want to try and expand it into a larger pamphlet about scrutiny in general, involving case studies and stuff, to expand on the all too brief section on ‘Good Scrutiny’:

Good Scrutiny

Throughout the Handbook, various mention has been made of good practice in Scrutiny and Overview. This section will outline out some of the important general points to ensure that Scrutiny and Overview is effective.The lessons to be learned can be reduced down to three points:

  • Preparation
  • Participation
  • Partnership

By ensuring that these points are given attention, any piece of scrutiny, review or monitoring exercise will be effective and will provide a more robust challenge, as well as more useful background work, to the Executive.


This is the key to successful scrutiny, whether it be holding a Cabinet Member to account or reviewing a policy on the Executive’s behalf. Preparation should include:

  • Ensuring that every piece of work done has a clear and measurable objective, and that Terms of Reference are unambiguous
  • Ensuring that everyone involved is up-to-speed with the subject matter being discussed
  • Ensuring that all necessary papers are sent out well in advance
  • Ensuring that the right people are invited to a meeting
  • Ensuring that all invitees have plenty of notice and know what their role will be

If these points are followed, then an informed debate should result in clear and useful outcomes.


Scrutiny and Overview is all about participation. It aims to draw in non-Executive members to the policy process and offer them the platform to question decisions and policies and to offer plausible alternatives.

This is certainly achieved for those Members on Scrutiny and Overview bodies. However, Members not already serving on these can also be involved, by asking to speak at a meeting or by being involved in a Task Group or Informal Working Group, and their skills can be utilised.

The Public also needs to be able to participate in local democracy, and Scrutiny and Overview offers the ideal interface for that to take place.

The other main group which must be involved for Scrutiny to succeed is Expert Witnesses, who have a good deal of knowledge on specific subject which can be very useful to improve the quality of discussion.


Fundamentally, Scrutiny and Overview has to work in Partnership with other parts of the Council. Most importantly, this should be the case with the Executive and officers.

Scrutiny and Overview has to work in partnership with the Executive, and this should work on trust:

  • The Executive should be able to trust Scrutiny and Overview to provide sensible and constructive criticism and advice
  • Scrutiny and Overview should be able to trust the Executive to take notice of their recommendations and to act upon them as appropriate

Officers also need to work in partnership with Scrutiny and Overview to ensure that work is not repeated but that all the necessary information and reports are provided.

Perhaps the 2004/5 Annual Report will allow me to do this. Otherwise, I might see if I can pull some stuff together in my own time.

Top ‘eCouncils’

From The Guardian‘s Online supplement:

Top eCouncils

Oldham Borough Council’s website is the best-performing local government site, according to automated testing by SiteMorse. The result is an average of tests based on the Web Accessibility Initiative, including responsiveness, error-free operation, HTML standards compliance and accessibility. Oldham attributes its success to Steria’s fine tuning of its website, following an analysis by the company’s Content Solutions Practice. Previously, Steria raised Spelthorne Council 297 places up the list in a similar exercise. The fastest downloading site is Scilly, while Chiltern has the fastest response time.

See here for more.

Will update with links to those Council websites later. No doubt our current one wouldn’t even deserve the wooden spoon…

MS Word – the perils thereof

F**king Word!!

There are some things Word is good at. There are some that it is completely crap at. One of those is the classic mistake of using it as a DTP package.

The thing just doesn’t work! I’ve been handed a report to complete which is full of text boxes, shaded backgrounds for text, slightly complicated headers and other bits and bobs. It took me half an hour to stop the header printing on the first page, but on every page after that. ‘Easy!’ most people would cry. ‘Just set the first page to be different in the page setup dialogue!” Yeah, it would be easy, but doing that meant that pages 5 and 17 wouldn’t have them either. Confused? I was. In the end I had to go through the entire document with the formatting tags turned on deleting all the ‘Section breaks’ Word had so kindly inserted. After all, if you have numbered heading you are bound to want random formatting and headers being included all over the place, wouldn’t you? Jesus Christ.

That’s nothing compared the the problem I am still yet to solve though. Chapter headings are shaded across the whole page in black. On one, though, the line on the previous page, where the page break is, is black too. Remove that shading, and it goes from the heading. Insert a new line, delete page break and a new page break and it works, but the heading is a line space too far down the page. Delete line space. The page break line becomes black again. Hit head on desk and through mouse at screen in disgust. Ask boss if future reports can be written in Notepad.

Seriously, if offices invested in the right software, this wouldn’t be happening. Equally, if Word didn’t try and spoon feed the user it probably wouldn’t happen either.

It still leaves me with a report to sort out for publication this week, and I haven’t a clue how to fix the damn thing. At least this year’s will be designed entirely by me, and I’ll only have myself to blame…

Update: Richard, the report’s original author, has just informed me that the same problem was the bane of his life too. His fudge, in the end, was the do it with the extra line break and then reduce the eight of that line to the smallest possible, thus making it appear that it (almost) isn’t there.