We had interesting discussions about many things last night at the ACS meeting in Wollongong. But one discussion in particular – about the use of social networking platforms in the office – really helped to clarify my position.
I am getting heartily sick of the debate about whether ‘young’ folks should be allowed to access and use social networks (like Facebook or Twitter) at work during business hours. The argument usually goes thus:
At work they are supposed to be doing work, not talking to their friends. They will just abuse the privilege and chat to their mates all day long. What will happen to productivity? We’ll all be ruined! And besides I don’t use social networks therefore nobody else in the world needs to either.
Fact: Because I am older I have heard all this before. When I was an office junior my boss and another manager stood next to my desk debating if they should put a telephone my desk. As they stood there they used the precise argument outlined above. I got the phone, did not abuse it, no business was ruined & now there is no debate if a staff member gets a phone on their desk.
Roll on a few years, the same debate was had about email & by that time I was a manager. Again, the debate went precisely as outlined above. In the end everyone got email & business could hardly manage without it today.
I’m seeing a pattern here. The debate over use of social network usage is simply the latest incarnation of this old debate. There were probably similar debates about the introduction of papyrus in ancient Egypt. The issue of misuse of technology is a management issue. If people are not doing their job removing a technology will not alter that fact. If they don’t want to do their work they will find other ways of not doing when we remove Facebook access.
Over the years, as a manager, I’ve had a few staff members abuse technology to which they’ve had access. I dealt with it on a case by case basis & generally there was some rational cause of the behaviour. Never did I respond by blocking access to the technology for all staff.
In one case a contractor was phoning home every night (to India) from his desk phone. Turned out he was desperately homesick while working unpaid overtime late at night. When I raised the issue he was horrified to see the costs associated with his calls – he immediately agreed to reimburse the firm & to use a phone card in future. Problem solved.
Another case where a person was using Facebook way too much. After discussion it became clear that she hated her job & we had never realised because all earlier avoidance activity was offline. Facebook actually gave us visibility of the problem. The supervisor of this person had never realised how unhappy she was in her job because she was highly productive, doing the work in a very short time & then using the internet to amuse herself. Again, a failure of management. We had been totally under-utilizing the abilities of the ‘evil’ Facebook abuser. Solution: promote the person to a job better suited to their abilities & see their Facebook usage drop back to completely acceptable levels.
And then there was the guy who was abusing his internet access (which was being monitored across the company with full prior staff knowledge). Upon investigation it turned out that he was also abusing his corporate credit card, not performing well in his role and he was eventually terminated.
These kind of experiences are why I am totally opposed to blocking access to new communications technology for staff. Businesses need to manage staff on the quality and timeliness of their output, not upon time served in the office. And, just like email has become an essential business tool, we need to discover how to use social networks for business advantage. Again, this is why I am in favour of defining rules of engagement in social media and social computing for staff to help them to use this new technology in ways that support the business.