Have you ever forwarded an interesting or funny e-mail to a group of likeminded co-workers, or clicked "reply to all" as part of a virtual discussion in the office? In this age of instant electronic proliferation of everything from jokes to photos to data, the formation of such e-mail circles is commonplace. However, new research indicates that it also amounts to the creation of invisible factions known only to their members. And aside from vexing IT departments with potentially non-work-related traffic, studies conclude that these cyber subgroups pose a threat to an organization's culture.
David Freke, a researcher at the University of Leicester in England, says that this type of closed correspondence, while private as a matter of course, is also actively exclusive and potentially detrimental. He notes that the trend of "virtual water cooler" behavior differs from actually gathering to chat in a very important way: In person, a clique's "insiders" and "outsiders" know--or at least have a chance to know--how they fit into a subtle and complicated grid of relationships. When the relationships and what they stand for are hidden from view, there is a tendency for groupings to become more concerned with excluding those who appear dissimilar or threatening, Freke says. This in turn can undermine a company's outward self-professed values.
So, the next time you’re thinking of forwarding that YouTube video of a piano-playing cat, consider for a moment who is not on your distribution list and what it might mean.