(~850 words) This week’s Bartleby column, Network Effects (sorry, paywall), looks at corporate networking through the lens of Marissa King’s book Social Chemistry: Decoding the Elements of Human Connection. The upshot of the Bartleby column is that the ways people connect in the workplace are hard to categorise, but courtesy increases cooperation.

This week’s Laptops at the Ready column, The lockdown has helped Greece to digitise (also paywalled), discusses improvements in the Greek education system’s distance learning program. In a nutshell, Greece started this year with a deficit of distance learning capabilities on the parts of both students and teachers. The first school shutdown in March saw a distinction between maths and science teachers being prepared to move to digital learning while ‘some history and literature specialists without digital skills refused to cooperate.’ Being one of those liberal arts types who does have digital skills, this sort of statement has me itching to see the writer’s sources.

With pushes to distribute tools and skills more evenly, November’s lockdown tested a new online teaching system. ‘When a chaotic first session triggered a social-media storm of protests from angry parents, glitches were quickly smoothed out.’

And this is where the two articles collide for me. In the workplace, incivility creates a toxic environment. This applies both when the people interacting are peers and when there’s a power differential. Anecdote: Last week I was in a Slack chat with a colleague about a work matter. In the course of our chat, I expressed an opinion about a recent political event, thinking he would share my feelings. He responded that he felt differently and asked that we not discuss politics. It was a situation that could have been much more difficult, but wasn’t because he was civil and I backed off. I would have backed off had he not been civil, but it would have strained on our ability to work together.

Much like the assertion regarding humanities teachers’ resistance to change, I want more supporting data on the chaos of the first sessions in November and the social media storm of protest. What both of these pieces suggest (especially in the context of recent events and the ease with which one can anger and be angered when we’re not looking at the people we’re talking or listening to) is that we benefit more from being nice. I wish I could be more sociopolitical when I say things like this. Wrap it in something that says how much it is in your/my/our self-interest as individuals to be nice to one another. But this is not that blog.

Greek parents who hopped onto social media to protest problems in a new system might have been effective in one or two definitions of the problem at hand. When a child’s room is dirty and a parent yells at him, he cleans his room and the parent is no longer angry at the state of his room. It’s not indicative of effective communications between parents, administrators, students, and teachers (or between parents and children, says Mr. Childless here). In the moment yelling seems to work. Whatever problems the new education system faced weren’t solved by the yelling. Developers, systems administrators, technical writers addressed the bugs at the software, network, and documentation level, and teachers were able to do their jobs. Problems that were apparent the moment it went online may not have been apparent before a million and a half students and teachers logged on at the same time. Inviting anger and agitation on social media put pressure on those IT people, but it didn’t smooth out or solve the problems.

What all that protest did do was make it more difficult for the participants in the discussion to communicate without rancor in the future. This isn’t the only parents vs. school system argument I’ve read about recently. There seems to be a vested interest (in some circles) in portraying teachers and schools administrators as somehow having far more power (and free time) than they do in reality. There’s another discussion that covers who has more power, input, and influence in the circle of people and institutions that make up a school district. What is of interest is how the players perceive their own power. Near the end of his column, Bartleby writes, ‘Ms. King invokes the aphorism that “assholes can be identified by observing how they treat people with less power.”‘ In that same discussion, perhaps we can talk about how people who perceive themselves as powerless treat people who probably don’t have any more power.

In business and society, we form networks with others and belong to some networks by virtue of certain relationships. I belong to networks of colleagues I didn’t hire and networks of friends I choose. Parents belong to networks involving schools they don’t necessarily choose, but they belong to those networks nonetheless. The degrees to which we are active in these networks may vary, but courtesy makes everyone’s participation in the networks more effective. Bartleby’s conclusion: ‘”Don’t be an asshole” is not a scientific statement, but it is still a pretty good management motto,’ applies to these other relationships as well.

Image source: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/how-will-coronavirus-school-closures-affect-americas-children-136602