Space invaders

We have been hijacking everyone’s Windows lock screen at work on and off for a while now. It gives us a nice instant attention grabbing opportunity to remind people of something that is going on, for example a product launch, or as in today’s instance, a donor drive for the Anthony Nolan Trust. It’s non-intrusive in that it only appears when you unlock your screen after periods of inactivity or being away from your desk, and provided you don’t overdo it, it is a nice highly visual trigger to supplement other more conventional communications channels.

And then we went one step too far. The Marketing Team decided to create a series of branded images celebrating our commercial arrangements with Manchester United and Barcelona, for whom we are the official betting partner. Within hours people were complaining about having their ‘personal space’ invaded by an image of the Red Devils. They have a point. We have a very diverse workforce; however the one thing you can say about most of our staff is that they love their sport.

OK, so we can all be proud of our official betting partner status with arguably the two biggest club sides in the world. But if you support Liverpool, Chelsea, or Manchester City do you really want to see Manchester United players staring out of your screen at you every day?

With emotions running high I took the opportunity to throw up an instant poll on our intranet and a few days later the results made very interesting reading.

“The screensaver on my work computer belongs to the company – they can put anything they like on there.”

Admittedly the Wayne Rooney reference was a bit of a gag given all of the nonsense in the tabloid press recently, but I must confess that I expected a slightly higher percentage of staff to agree with the seemingly blindingly obvious statement that the company can do what they want with everyone’s desktop given that it belongs to them.

After a couple of hundred votes, representing well over 10% of the company, nearly a third of respondents made a clear statement that the screen on their work computer belongs to them and thereby implying that we have no right to intrude upon it.

So either I try to look for ways to change this mindset, which I must confess is rather tempting, or I simply accept this as a genuine sentiment and try to make sure that future images are slightly more palatable to what clearly has the potential to be a a highly partisan crowd.

What would you do?

28 thoughts on “Space invaders

  1. I don’t know what I would do, but I do think that promoting a sense that something at work belongs to the employee is probably important for some workers in order to help them feel like individuals and to get them to continue to invest fervently in their work. A lot of culture that people are brought up with is about people as individuals and taking pride in who one is as an individual. However, a lot of corporate culture seems to be about stripping that individuality away. And that can be crippling in some aspects. The idea that you are your job and you can be replaced undercuts a persons ability to their best and in some people will encourage them to do just enough. While their computer screen may not be the best place for them to have personal space at work, I do think personal space (and ultimately unique space to have a personality) are important for the individuals and ultimately for the company.


    • I agree Crystal – I have witnesses many attempts to strip away individuality over the years and it can indeed have a crippling effect in the workplace. Giving people the space and freedom to express themselves at work; whether it be their individuality or their conformity, their discord or accord, allows people to bring more of themselves to work every morning and when they do that everybody wins. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments!

    • x1123581321x says:

      I completely disagree with your statement “I do think personal space (and ultimately unique space to have a personality) are important for the individuals and ultimately for the company.” The only thing you should be doing at work is adding to the bottom line of the company you are working for. Nothing else. Create your personal space / unique space at your own place – on your own time, using the money you have earned from the time you put during the time your on the “clock” and concentrating on your work.

      • Why stop there? Maybe you can improve their concentration levels by the occasion whipping, sleep deprivation and starvation? Perhaps even reduce their pay so they don’t get too complacent 😉

  2. I hope you retain boldness in some future choices, but keep the more potentially conflict-causing images/messages to a minority. Rock the boat every once in a while, but for the most part, the more casual promotions will do, I imagine.

    Very interesting concepts at work here though! Thank you for sharing.

  3. OK, I admit, the company owns the screen and can do what it likes, however, I would still object to things that push in the direction of forcing personal likes/dislikes, political views, religious bias, etc. I may be using your equipment and I can keep my personal beliefs quiet while working with said equipment, but at the same time, respect that my mind is my own and don’t push buttons. Perhaps it is my American perspective, but I’ll be damned if my company decided to use their screen saver to push their political agenda, for example Sarah Palin in 2012, and not expect me to fight back at that bullshit! So, bottom line, use your equipment as you wish, it is yours, but don’t expect to be able to put just about everything up there without someone pushing back at some point! From my limit knowledge I have heard that some of the Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, etc., debates are heated like left/right wing pundits screaming on TV here in the US.

    • Until you’ve been to a live Manchester United v. Liverpool clash you have no idea how charged the atmosphere can get. It is rivalry at its rawest. So I totally get the reasons why a Liverpool fan would object to to having her screen invaded by the enemy. I still think sporting rivalry in a betting company is more acceptable than political indoctrination. The truth is we all enjoy a bit of banter. Thanks for your comments!

  4. blackwatertown says:

    Anthony Nolan Trust – good idea to use company screen savers in this innovative way.
    Next step – make it a competition among staff to win the right to select future screen savers – with the Wayne Rooney screen as the example. Sure you’ll have to police the choices a little – but hey – it could be fun.

  5. I would empower my employees to come up with the images used for the Window Lock screen. *shrug* Empower, encourage, and get a fun “rivalry” going… who knows… maybe people will actually look forward to coming back to their computer after lunch break to see the latest.

  6. Well… it’s good to remember that the computer is company property and anything that you do using it can be monitored. (I’m sure they are reading this now!) A nice reminder that anything you send or receive might get your tail fired. As has happened from time to time. Hijacking my screen might serve as a reminder that I should get off wordpress and back to work. 🙂

    • @ironon Or in my case, close the laptop and get some sleep as it’s after midnight over here! Seriously though, I think that the occasional visit to WordPress during the working day is a noble use of one’s time. Same goes for Facebook, Twitter, Yammer et al. When you work long days and then spend half your evening on the laptop or Blackberry, why not? There’s been some interesting studies recently that suggest that employees who habitually engage with social media are measurably more productive at work than their colleagues who don’t. Thanks for visiting Riding the Ripple!

  7. I also agree to let the employees choose what they want to see on the Window Lock screen. It would make things more interesting in the work place. Whoever would be the quickest would get to see what they want.

    On the other hand employees may get carried away and it possibly take some of the productivity away. Overall I think the choice should be up to the employees.

    • Hey Scott, how about encouraging employees to upload images of their choice to use as desktop wallpaper on the condition that occasionally we hijack the lock screen for a spot of corporate messaging? That seems fair…

  8. Janis says:

    A weird question — what was the problem that the management was looking to solve when they came up with this idea, and what tangible results have they seen since it was implemented that indicate that this problem was identified correctly and solved?

    If the answers to these questions are “because it sounded cool” and “dunno,” then you may want to rethink things.

    • Nothing wierd about that question Janis. Firstly, management didn’t come up with the idea, the desktop support team began experimenting with new functionality offered by Windows 7 and both the comms team and marketing guys saw it is an opportunity to grab people’s attention for a few seconds to raise awareness around particular issues of importance or interest. We are always on the lookout for new opportunties to cut through email overload. Until any company reaches the point where every single employee understands exactly what they need to do to support the company’s strategic objectives and is emotionally committed to doing it, we would be complacent in the extreme if we did not experiment with new potential communications channels. Secondly, as for measuring results, the only measurement currently available is customer feedback, and this has been positive up until now. One could argue that even bad feedback is a good thing as it has certainly created conversations around the business. And given the almost zero cost of deploying visual lock screen images, even if only one person gets a message that may otherwise may have been missed that has to be a positive thing. Thanks for the push-back!

  9. What could I do… I could complain but isn’t that just whining? on the other hand if I was in your spot you have control and how is it really invading personal space if you are not taking anything from them and it is only a few seconds of time.

    …But millions of dollars are spent every year warding off spam. It’s just annoying.
    I guess it would depend on which side of that issue I was on, but you are probably annoying you coworkers doing this.

    • If I ever considered anything I do in my job as spamming I’d resign tomorrow. Internal Communications must avoid spamming at all costs. I think there has to be an implied permission for a company to communicate with staff. Can you imagine adding opt out buttons to senior executive emails? Hhmmm – maybe that’s not such a bad idea…

  10. I had bad feeling even reading the first paragraph: We are bombarded with unwanted messages as it is, many of them have a negative net effect, and e.g. a screen saver is a form of exposure that is both harder to avoid and repeated more often than e.g. exposure to commercial messages in an ATM. (Indeed, your choice of the word “hijacking” would be highly telling to a Freudian…)

    My advice:

    1. Avoid exposing people to messages without having a very specific purpose, having closely considered the potential negative effects (including annoyance and, for the wrong message, offense), and having given them a reasonable way to opt out of any low-importance messages. While at it, make sure that the right medium is chosen.

    2. Always remember that having the right to do something does not automatically imply that one should do so. An employer (e.g.) has many rights, including the right to not provide a coffee machine, but not all of them should be exercised.

    • Thanks Michael – I’m sort of reminded of the immortal words attributed to Henry Ford; “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted they’d have said faster horses”. Sometimes you have to try doing things a bit differently, and it may be hard to ensure the right medium is chosen if it has never been tried before. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      • To some degree, you are right; however, if we look at the combination of your reply to me and to 22point immediately above, a recurring problem is relevant: The opinions of the sender and the receiver on which messages are spam and which, e.g., innovative communications or product information that receiver will want to know, can be very, very different.

        Now, I am not saying that you are a spammer or that you misjudge your users (I simply do not know you and the details well enough to judge that); however, this general line of reasoning is a major reason behind much of today’s spam.

        (Besides, the road to hell is proverbially paved with good intentions…)

  11. Anna and Her Biro says:

    This made me giggle. But got me thinking. We have precious few opportunities to express our individuality at work, even in the age of the iphone – the darned thing has about 5 ringtones to choose from meaning that everyone dives for their phone at the same moment.

    I come from an advertising industry background where we are encouraged to make our space ours. Desks are crowded with photos, fluffy pens and all manner of odd things. Whereas on a visit to my Husband’s office – there was nothing on anyone’s desk that made it look ‘owned’.

    I wouldn’t care so much about the screensaver. If it was going off then the chances of me actually being at my desk to see it would be slim anyway! However, I do like personalising my desktop background.

    Thanks for this!

  12. I’ll never forget watching a security guard confiscate a pot plant off a colleague in a previous job when she tried to smuggle it in to a new building we had just moved to. Management had decreed that there would be no personalisation at workstations (which included pot plants). Not a great example of best practice in employee engagement! Thanks for the comment Anna (and your biro).

  13. I think you highlight a really interesting and very difficult issue here Jon and it’s very much something that employees and employers are going to have deal with sooner rather than later. With the massive growth of both cloud computing and the social web the boundaries between what is personal and what is work are starting to blur. While some might simplify the argument by saying a screensaver is “company property” as it exists on a company owned network and is consumed on company owned machines what happens when internal and external company communications extend for example to employees LinkedIn pages and Facebook accounts? The issues your screensaver controversy raises are only going to be even more emotive in the future. Interesting times!


    • Interesting times indeed Matt, thanks for joining the debate! I’m sure you are right about the conflicts that convergence between internal and external communications will bring. Being the half glass full kinda guy I prefer to look at the opportunities rather than the pitfalls and conclude that there has never been such an exciting time to be part of the communications industry. Just the fact that I can contribute to this discussion whilst on the train home excites the he’ll out of me. We are witnessing the total democratisation of communications and the implications for all of us will be profound, especially within the workplace.

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