FlexibilityRecently, on e-mint, Caspar Aremi shared an interesting BBC News story about whether or not people should be off on Fridays.

What was interesting about it is that the first person quoted in the story is Steven Shattuck, who is a community manager for Slingshot SEO, a company in the U.S. where employees work from 8 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Thursday.

9 AM to 5 PM is considered by many to be a typical work day (I don’t know about a typical work day in the field of community management, but generally speaking). In other words, 8 hours. But they extend the work day by 2 hours and eliminate one day of the week. However, 2 extra hours for 4 days of the week equals 8 hours. They are working the same number of hours, technically speaking, as someone who works a 9 to 5 for 5 days a week (they save some time in that they don’t have to get ready for work on Friday or commute).

This kicked off a discussion as to whether it was feasible for a community manager to work only 4 days a week. What happens on the other 3 days? Aren’t community managers supposed to be on call? Can someone really manage their community effectively in only 4 days a week (or maybe even less)?

I don’t really see this as that big of a deal. Then again, I was homeschooled and I also didn’t see it as a big deal to get all of my work done in 4 days and have 3 days off, either. Heh.

I think sometimes we believe that our communities need us all the time when, really, one of the greatest marks of a successful community is that they don’t and that the random annoying stuff that happens that we need to remove can even live for a little while without it being removed because they know to ignore it and they know we give them the privilege of post-moderation, rather than the annoyance of pre-moderation.

Setting proper expectations is a good thing. Unless you have the budget to pay for 24 hour, around the clock, intensive moderation, guideline violations will be around sometimes and it isn’t bad that people know that this happens. It’s like the principal who called on parents to ban their kids from social networks. Hide it from them all you want, but one day, they’ll get there. Your choice is in how you educate them on safe practices and expectations.

If you have a quality team of moderators (volunteer or otherwise) that know how to escalate things to you directly, then things should still (for the most part) be taken care of. A department head will always have little fires to put out. You can’t let it consume you and look back in 30 years and wonder how your kids got to be this big.

The bottom line there is only rarely one way to do something in online community management and this sort of thing is determined by many factors, including subject matter, audience, activity level, the support system in place and more. A community targeted at kids is different than general all ages communities on food or martial arts or Photoshop. A community on <insert really sensitive topic here> will be more sensitive. A community in <insert circumstance that pops to mind> will need more close attention. Most of us aren’t managing communities that are so critical – but some of us are.

Keep in mind I’m talking about community management, though. I’m not talking about managing Twitter for a brand mention crisis and all that stuff, which only a small percentage of organizations (usually the big, big ones) need to worry about 24/7.

Community management is hard work. But, at the same time, how many days a week that you spend on your community does not necessarily speak to your commitment or how successful you will be. Let’s maintain flexibility.