Social Networking in the Workplace – Not Evil Just Needs to be Managed

In recent times there has been talk in the press about the dangers and evils of social networking technology (Facebook, Myspace, etc. ) in the workplace. Many commentators voice concerns about employees wasting time at work.

In a recent AustralianIT article Nick Ingelbrecht from Gartner is quoted saying “social networking in the enterprise is a double-edged sword. It can be disruptive to business, especially when people spend work hours accessing Facebook, but there are many social networking software tools that can be used to enhance business productivity, including collaboration tools, and even using Facebook to validate a hiring decision.”

The thing is, if people want to waste time at work:

(a) they don’t need a computer,
(b) it is a management issue, and
(c) it says something important about the individual concerned and their relationship with that particular workplace.

There is nothing inherent in the nature of social networking technology that is bad, even in the workplace. These debates are a reminder of the conversations of a previous generation debating placing telephones on every desk. There was sincere debate that office juniors would spend all their time chatting to friends and that productivity would be doomed by placing a phone on the desk in front of them.

Strangely enough there is a phone on every desk in offices nowadays and we tend to use them responsibly. Where individuals are irresponsible in using the telephone the managers counsel or fire the recalcitrant. The majority of us make the odd personal phone call.

Social networking is analogous to the telephone. One day we’ll laugh at how silly the debate really was.

The key issue for business to note is that engaged and enthused staff tend not to waste time. When staff are visibly wasting time on the job it is time to stop and ask why that behaviour is happening – is it a one-off or is it systemic, is us or is it them?