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Social networking in the office

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.

12 thoughts on “Social networking in the office”

  1. Pingback: Topics about Facebook » Archive » Social networking in the office

  2. throroughly engaging article and couldnt agree more with the points raised. Technology has to be embraced not locked in the (old school) filing cabinet.

  3. I have frequently made the point that, if we’re gong to ask young (and old-ish people like myself) to work odd hours and unpaid overtime, at least let’s have quid pro quo and let them keep up a bit of a social life in the workplace.

    Besides, we’re always telling people to build their network of professional contacts – would you then stop them going where the people are?

    And I’ve been lecturing in business technologies at QUT. Students are amazing – they *look* like they’re not paying attention (facebooking, IMing, emailing) and yet we ask them to do a reflective blog entry – clearly they’re absorbing something while I’m blathering for three hours.

    Thanks: Micheal Axelsen

  4. oh Kate – I’m not 20ish nor 30ish etc… but a babyboomer and I like Twitter, Facebook, Sharepoint wikis, RSS, LinkedIn etc etc .. I’ve been doing web pages since 1996 when I taught myself html and wysiwyg based on what I learnt in ComSci 101 before I headed off into politics etc and now I do wikis on Sharepoint and like to blog .. when I ask who does rss at work I get blank stares … let alone even asking if anyone is doing blogs and wikis … then when I showed how I embedded some html feed to get content from an external site onto a sharepoint site … oh that was unheard of .. and the IT geek muttered about putting external internet content onto the Sharepoint site and not all users having internet access and inferring I shouldn’t have done it … I’m into enabling possibilities … when I do lectures to final year engineering students on human factors I give a quote .. “if you put fences around people .. you get sheep”

    the Web 2.0 tools keep me in the loop in this difficult financial times and so I train my babyboomer team based on material I got from LinkedIn & put into Sharepoint to keep our 3rd party certifications

    we have to keep pushing the boundaries in a friendly fashion and show the rest how easy and worthwhile it is to use these tools …

  5. Maricel Abraham

    I thoroughly concur, Kate. Networking gives most people, not just workers, the buzz that motivates us to do more, seek more, learn more, share more, etc. Ensuring access to social networking sites allow open communication, which is what we encourage everyone to do. Managers must learn to trust their employees and use a more positive way of reinforcing productivity at work.

  6. Craig Thomler

    Very clearly stated Kate and reflexs comments I have made to managers and colleagues – technology-based control is an extremely blunt weapon for managing human behaviour.

    Much better to use education (training), performance management and build respect between people than to rely on technology to control workplaces – or homes for that matter.

  7. I’ve been saying the exact same thing for some time now. Like you, I’m old enough to remember the same arguments over telephones, email and mobile phones.

    My firm belief is that time wasters will waste time regardless of what resources you give them. If they don’t have a phone, email or internet access, they’ll wander around the office scratching their arse talking to people, or reading the paper, or outside smoking.

    Perhaps if more employers focused on appreciating the work that their staff do put in, and not treating their employees like naughty school children that must be monitored, they would find that production goes up even further.

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  11. Yes! I really agree with you. I used to use all those tools in my office under stealth, with my direct manager telling me to close them all when others were around, but so many of my ideas came from my use of them! I think they can be very beneficial and agree that they can highlight existing problems rather than cause them. Nicely said.

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