Welcome to The Electronic Water Cooler

You’ll probably be hearing a lot more of the term ‘electronic water cooler’, if you haven’t noticed it already. It’s a reference to the ideas and discussions that come up while hovering around the office water cooler, that are now happening online. Any social media tool (blogs, wikis, Facebook) could represent an electronic water cooler, but most often these days I’m hearing people talk about it in terms of Twitter – a million ideas buzzing around, conversations happening all over the globe, and you can choose to tune in to the ones you want to hear and discussions you want to be a part of.

If you’re already using social media tools (and have successfully managed to filter out the ‘noise’) then I’d imagine you know exactly what I’m talking about. They allow you to meet people and discuss topics that you could never find within the confines of your company, friend group or even locale.

So in the midst of the buzz of ideas, the thought has arisen that the electronic water cooler should be harnessed as a tool to ‘manage’ Gen Y and tap in to the new thought-pool, because it’s a perfect way to encourage development without actively telling anyone what to do (because that just equals rebellion). In a recent article called “Five Ways Gen Y will Change the Way You Work”, Nick Heath of silicon.com explores a new approach to training, recruitment and retaining staff which is well worth the read.

Some of Heath’s ideas sound pretty theoretical, and so I wonder how they would actually work in reality. But he sites some valid examples (Best Buy, Proctor and Gamble) where the ideas are proven to work. I like the image the electronic water cooler conjures up, and I agree that with such a wealth of information out there, the learning process needs to integrate the more interactive and collaborative features of social media if we want to remain relevant to the Gen Y audience.