Surfing the communities

Online
forums still suffer from a nerdy image but they’re no longer just for company
techies. We review some of the best HR hang-outs in cyberspace,
Sue Weekes reports

Online
communities are a bit like coffee shops: there are plenty of them, but the
chances are you’ll keep going back to the same one. Which is exactly how it
should be, because they thrive on community spirit. To the participant they
offer a huge global networking opportunity – you can make new contacts, learn
from others, share knowledge, exchange views and brainstorm with the rest of
the group.

The
HR world is well served by such communities with most of the major HR
organisations having discussion areas or forums on their websites. We tried
some of them out, to discover how easy they are to join and of how much
practical use they are to HR professionals in their day-to-day work. We give
them a rating out of a possible five stars.

Fast
Company  * * *

www.fastcompany.com

We’d
heard that the thriving online community at this US-based fast-track business
magazine was the place to be seen in cyberspace. It is indeed buzzing, boasting
around 39,000 business leaders and ‘impact players’ making up its Community of
Friends across the globe. It is free to join and registration only took about
five minutes. Within minutes we’d visited communities in London, New York City,
Tokyo, Guatemala City and Aberdeen. All seemed well populated with postings
although nothing too much had happened in Aberdeen or Guatemala since 2000.
Apart from odd references to training and work-life balance, HR didn’t feature
on the agenda in too many of the local communities but the general Fast Company
discussion rooms are the place for bigger corporate issues, where we found some
interesting discussions on leadership and knowledge management.

HR.com
* * * *

www.hr.com

Get
a flavour of US issues by hooking up to this mammoth HR resource across the
pond – it’s a global HR community but with a US bent. Membership is free but
claims to be worth $100, paid for by the site’s advertisers. This does mean you
get an e-mail a week from one of HR.com’s ‘valued vendors’ and you also receive
an HR e-bulletin newsletter. Registration took less than five minutes or you
can sign in as a guest using only an e-mail address. We fumbled around looking
for a ‘forums’ or ‘discussion’ menu to click, then realised that the site is
organised into HR subject areas, including comp and bens, HRM, legal, labour
relations, staffing and training. Click on your subject and you enter the
discussion area. All subject areas are well populated with postings and you can
choose how far back you go in the threaded discussion. Each also has a Case of
the Week – a subject put in the spotlight to stimulate more discussion. The
only danger is that with so many discussions going on, it’s easy to lose half a
day dipping in and out of them.

HR
World * * *

www.hrworld.com

Not
the prettiest site on the Web, but certainly the place for lots of core HR
discussion and we felt completely at home here even though the site is US-based
(it is run by HR consultancy DGM Associates). Registration again took less than
five minutes, although you have to go to your e-mail to collect your username
and password before entering the discussion rooms. Once loose in the forums
though, there’s every topic dear to an HR professional’s heart being discussed
and, as far as we could see, it’s all pretty current. The forums are broken
into sections: HRM, compensation, benefits and insurance, acquisition and
planning, information systems and technology and training and career
development. Postings ranged from someone wanting advice on a job description
for an organisational development manager to an HR professional seeking to form
an alliance with HR professionals in the UK, India and Finland. It certainly
exudes a good community feeling and there are clear guidelines on how the
discussion areas should be used.

HR
Zone * * *

www.hrzone.co.uk

This
UK-based site presented us with one of the longer questionnaires to fill in
before we could access the members section, but still didn’t pry too much into
our business -and it still only took a few minutes. It’s a neatly designed site
and is run by the Sift Group, an expert in online communities. The forums
haven’t been running since January 2002 but the ‘Any Answers’ area works in a
similar way – a member poses a question and the community (of around 16,000 HR
professionals) tries to answer it. And it would seem they are a reactive bunch:
participants who had asked whether anyone had a good staff satisfaction survey
and a source for industry standard surveys had already received helpful replies
on the same day. All core HR issues are covered in one way or another and
training professionals can use its sister site www.trainingzone.co.uk

UK
HRD * * * *

www.ukhrd.co.uk

This
site works differently to the others in that the discussion is e-mail-based
rather than on the Web. It requests the least information about members of all
the forums we joined – you simply supply an e-mail address and password – but
you do have to wait for the site to e-mail you back and then send a return
e-mail to confirm your address. But this doesn’t take long (it was about 20
minutes before we were sent the first e-mail). After signing up at 10pm, we
received our first mailing list offering the following morning. These are sent
daily and include a list the topics discussed. You can either click the ones of
interest to you and go straight to them or scroll through the e-mail. A good
crop of topics were being covered, from emotional intelligence to team-building
events, with a lot of discussion based around training and e-learning. There
are also plenty of useful product recommendations in response to requests for
everything from venues to training videos and courses. Overall, lots of advice
and tips and one contributor describes his use of wallpaper to create a giant
human board game to help “underpin information and develop co-operation within
teams” – now there’s an idea.

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