There has been a lot in the news lately about companies banning social media in the office. The USA Today reported on October 22, 2009 in their Snapshot®* that 54% of companies completely block Facebook, whereas another 35% apply some form of limits. That leaves only 11% that don’t put any limitations on Facebook use in the work force. Why does this feel like déjà vu? Maybe it feels familiar because a few years ago many companies banned Web mail (Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc.) in the work place. A few years before that, companies banned the Internet at the work place. And it’s not just companies that placed these types of bans; teachers often ban mobile phones in the classroom as well. Is this the right thing to do? Let’s take a closer look.
Banning social media in the work place is:
- Analogous to banning the Internet
- Analogous to banning the phone because you might make a personal phone call
- Analogous to banning paper and pens because you might pass a note that is not related to class or work
- Could potentially signal to current workers and future recruits that your company just doesn’t “get it”
“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t,” Dr Brent Coker, from the Department of Management and Marketing at The University of Melbourne. More from this Australian Social Media study can be found here.
Before we dive back into the workplace, the teacher example is a good dilemma to review. There are phones today that have such a high pitch ringer that the teachers can’t hear them while the students younger ears can hear them. But, is this really a technology issue, question, or problem? Or is it a historic problem that teachers have been wrestling with since the dawn of time? Whether a student is whispering, day dreaming, sleeping, passing a note on parchment, doodling, or sending a text it’s all the same thing. The teacher is not reaching them. I heard the Chairman of Walmart, Lee Scott, speak recently and he said for his first four years on the job he was looking for new critics, when all along he should have been looking to produce a better product or store experience.
Capturing students’ attention has been historically difficult. The teacher’s task is not an envious one, however the really good teachers each century have been able to overcome the hurdles presented them. If you ban today’s technology, does it solve the problem? Probably not. Also, texting is probably less intrusive than whispering, or passing notes, as it doesn’t affect the others in the room as much.
Isn’t texting or mobile surfing the same as:
- Passing a note?
Also, a good student might suffer as they may be potentially looking up something on their mobile browser that the teacher is covering to a) fact check b) see if there is something visual that clicks with their brain better than how the teacher is attempting to explain it. Or, if they have already grasped the concept why shouldn’t they be able to learn something else new and exciting at their fingertips?
In fact, some teachers may benefit by leveraging this technology in the classroom; they have grown up with technology. Rather than being lectured at they are used to dynamic interaction with various technologies and sources to provide possible answers.
Now back to company restrictions on social media. Banning something like social media could send the wrong message to current employees and potential recruits as a company that “doesn’t get it.” Also, how can companies learn what to do in social media if they aren’t allowing their employees to even use the tools?
That being said all new tools have a learning curve. When people started using phones in the work place they had to be educated not to make thirty minutes worth of personal calls, call internationally or speak too loud. More recently when e-mail was introduced classes were held in the workplace on tonality of e-mails, not replying to all, not wasting much of the workday on e-mail, etc. With social media similar instruction and guidance should be given to the work force. For example Facebook IM chatting with your friends may not be the best use of your time, and it will make it difficult for you to achieve your goals, nor is it wise to status update “glad I’m out of the jail I call work for today.”
An employee is either producing desired results or they aren’t. If you have one employee that reads Wikipedia during their break time but produces 40 sales per week and you have another employee that reads books outside during their break but only produces 15 sales per week, which employee are you going to keep? If you are in the business of making money, you will keep the one producing 40 sales per week. “Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days work, and as a result, increased productivity,” says Dr. Coker.
In fact some employees might benefit from having social media in the work place. If you’re in outbound sales for home insurance it would be helpful to receive a tweet from a friend in California indicating that the wild fires have taken a sharp turn toward Orange County or that the telephone lines are out in Minneapolis. Or to see a user generated picture or video of the fires taking place that includes a geo locator on them.
Or think about sales in general. What’s are two of the top rules of sales? Listen and know they customer are certainly up there. Google isn’t so great at supplying real-time results, but social media certainly is (there is a reason why deals have been cut between Bing, Twitter, Google and Facebook this week). So, if I’m a sales person about to make a phone call some pretty helpful tools are technorati, search.twitter.com, and Wikipedia to figure out what the heck is being said about this prospect or prospect’s company. Why would you ban tools that are valuable to your work force? An answer to this may be because you don’t trust them not to abuse the sites for other reasons. Is that a social media issue? Or is it a work force issue? I would argue it’s a workforce issue. Also, whether you are at work or in the classroom if you treat people like kids by not trusting them, well then you can expect them to behave like kids. And, is that what you want? Do you think Apple or Google bans people from these sites? Their stocks are up 140% and 79% respectively in 2009. They must be laughing out in Silicon Valley because the rich get richer when other companies still don’t “get it.”
Now occasionally some bans do make sense. For example if a University bans downloading music on their network because of bandwidth issues that is reasonable.
However, before instituting social media bans at your school, company please keep this in mind. In the near future we look back and say “remember when we used to ban social media, what were we thinking?” Don’t be a dinosaur, because after all, they became extinct.
*data courtesy Robert Half Technology survey of 1,499 chief information officers. Weighted to represent actual population. Snapshot® compiled by Jae Yang and Julie Snider, USA Today.