Reading headline after headline announcing new job cuts has sparked some thought regarding what’s different between this nascent recession and the last economic slowdown of the early 1990s. Several things, to be sure, but the most important one may be the ability of the unemployed knowledge worker to connect with others to mine employment and new business opportunities.
I predict that we will remember the the 2008-2009 recession as the time when the public availability of free social software proved to be the unemployed knowledge worker’s best friend and savior. And, perhaps, the global economy’s as well.
When I was laid off in 2003, after the Internet bubble burst, I had several tools with which to stay connected with my professional and social networks. Telephone and e-mail were the primary communication vehicles, of course. Instant messaging wasn’t as pervasive then as it is today, but I used it to stay in touch with a few people in my network. The best method to network was — and still is — by meeting with someone face-to-face. In fact, it was an in-person conversation that triggered the chain of events that lead to my employment at IBM in 2004.
Knowledge workers in this economic downturn have all of those tools available, plus several more. Online profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace), blogs, microstreaming (Twitter, FriendFeed), content sharing (GoogleDocs, Box.net), bookmarking (Del.icio.us, Digg), and other species of social software have greatly increased our ability to stay connected and work with others in our professional and social networks.
As I’ve noted previously on this blog, we rely less and less on employers to provide the communication and collaboration tools needed to connect and work with others. That’s great news for those who have, or are about to, become unemployed! Knowledge workers in 2008 have so many more ways to mine their contacts to find regular or contract employment compared to those who lost jobs five years ago. The ability of unemployed knowledge workers to explore business ideas and start new ventures has also been increased by the public availability of free social software.
I am optimistic that the current recession, as painful as it will be, will breed the kinds of opportunities that will leave all of us better off in the long run. There is one caveat to my optimistic outlook though. If you haven’t been maintaining and building your professional and social networks all along, your ability to leverage them to find employment or start a business will be very limited. It’s not too late to start building networks now via social software, but don’t expect to harvest immediately from a plot that you’ve just sown.