If you ask many Managing Directors or CEOs in non-tech related industries what they think of social media, you are quite likely to receive some raised eyebrows, a few growls of unhappiness, and some serious head shaking. Unfortunately, social media, as a “new” (I place that in inverted commas as I am not convinced that it can be classed as new any more, but that is a topic for another post) technology is still regarded by people who don’t understand as a time waster, an excuse to shirk responsibility and not work hard, and a pointless exercise best left for after hours. As a result only 11% of companies in the US give their staff free access to Facebook. I don’t know the numbers here in the UK, but back in 2007 some two thirds of City firms were banning Facebook access to their staff, so I imagine numbers may be reasonably similar.
Why it is bad to ban
This is frustrating for the main reason that the powers-that-be doing the banning aren’t taking the time to understand the technology or even looking at history. Wasn’t there a time when companies banned the internet? I remember clearly working in an office in 1998 for a company that decided the internet was too disruptive and too much of a distraction, and so there was one PC on the entire floor with internet access and you had to book time and justify why you wanted to use it to your manager. Email went through a similar thing, as did the telephone many years back. These things are all a form of information gathering and communication, without which, no business can run. If the CEOs who ban would just spend some time to discover that social media is also another tool for information gathering and communication, then they might not be so afraid of it.
The truth about productivity
The interesting thing is that one of the justifications given for banning sites like Facebook is that if staff were allowed to access it, it would seriously impair their productivity. A recent survey from the University of Melbourne demonstrates that in fact the opposite is often true. No matter how much a manager wants it, no human being is capable of working non-stop without breaks for a full day. I suspect that is why tea breaks, smoke breaks and lunch breaks were invented. I also suspect that is why people drink a lot of coffee (they get a break when they go and make one) or water (watercooler discussion?). I know when I used to work as a designer and coder, I would often take a walk to bathroom furthest away from my desk just to give my brain a rest.
In today’s society, the internet is one of the most popular ways people have of switching off. Social media is a global watercooler. It provides a way of having a break, enjoying a conversation, or simply switching off from the task at hand. This afore mentioned study demonstrated how such a form of relaxation can actually increase productivity. I am sure the same CEO’s wouldn’t dream of saying “from now on, no-one is to take coffee breaks or a lunch break”.
Of course, this is not even mentioning the benefit of social media in terms of networking, collaboration, fact finding, idea sharing, marketing and promotion.
Whatever happened to trust?
In my humble opinion, this kind of thing smacks of paternalism and simple lack of trust. Granted, there probably are people who would use social media for wasting time – the study identified those people who were ‘internet addicts’, but why make everyone suffer because of the few? It says ‘you are children who cannot be trusted to do your job, so we will have to take things away from you so you will’…
Wait a minute? I thought that employees were adults? Why aren’t they being treated like adults? With a sense of responsibility, buy in to the company’s goals and culture, and the message that they are trusted, I would hedge a bet that most employees would happily meet their responsibilities. Perhaps I am idealistic and have more faith in the adult working population than others, but I think that banning social media is destructive in terms of morale and is just as likely to reduce productivity as increase it.
Social media as a form of communication is here to stay. It is a tool which will be used more and more in the coming years. It will become ubiquitous with the telephone or email. And companies will have to accept it. In so many ways, I don’t think it is the employees who are the children – it is the senior management themselves. Perhaps when they grow up they will realise that their employees have already beaten them to it.
Thanks to steve-and-diane for the image