NHLABORNET celebrates 10 years of HR networking

A decade ago, the Internet was just taking off and e-mail was just beginning to fill electronic mailboxes. Taking advantage of this new medium of communication, the Manchester-based law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green developed NHLABORNET, an e-mail-based discussion group for human resources professionals.

Like the Net, that discussion group has grown explosively over the last 10 years. What began as just a handful of postings in May 1996 has grown to more 400 members with dozens of postings a day, and an archive of over 25,000 messages covering everything from policies to promoting events to posting jobs.

“The original format was a listserv,” said Jim Reidy, a partner with Sheehan Phinney and head of its labor and employment law practice as well as the site’s moderator. “A question or topic was posted and the message would go to all members on the list.”

NHLABORNET was developed by Tom Flygare, an attorney with Sheehan Phinney at the time who was inspired by his experience with the listserv of the National Association of University and College Attorneys. “I worked with Tom on the rules, and when he left in 1998, I took over as moderator,” said Reidy, who was recently named “HR Hero” at the 2006 Granite State Human Resources Conference for his contributions to the human resources field in New Hampshire.

While today’s messages are still posted for all members to read, Reidy said new technology has made viewing them more streamlined, with digest functions, the ability to send postings to user-defined e-mail folders and a searchable archive.

While there are other human resources discussion groups online, Reidy said that the biggest difference with NHLABORNET is that it is “very well established.” Of the 400 or so members, most are from New Hampshire, he said, “but we do have members from other states. Some members say they want to remain on the list even when they move away. They want to stay connected.”

The most popular threads of discussion over the years read like a contemporary history lesson.

“We had a lot of postings on the eve of Y2K with concerns of emergency shutdowns and payroll issues,” he said. Recent postings include discussion generated on what to do in the event of an avian flu pandemic, the approaching cap of H1B visas and summer shutdowns of manufacturing plants.

The bulk of the threads, however, concern policies and procedures, job descriptions and wage information. Health benefits also are common topics for discussion as are overtime rules and regulations.

Rarely do posts get out of hand, but when they do, that’s when Reidy, as moderator, steps in — sometimes even off-line. “Once in a while, you will get someone who touts their business beyond what is appropriate, and I’ll have to warn them,” he said.

The community of NHLABORNET grows and evolves as the technology has become more sophisticated. While he does not have any statistics to show it, Reidy said he “has no doubt” that business partnerships have formed as a result of NHLABORNET. “It certainly is a business tool; there is no cost to members, and it’s easy to use. But it really is a community service.”

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