Social Media In The Office: Two Truths And A Lie
While most executives understand that social media use in the workplace is a reality, their approach to managing it varies dramatically. Yes, there are still those of you who want to simply block outright or allow all social media applications like Facebook and Twitter (with some going so far as to apply these policies to all Web applications.) But most execs are keen on striking a balance of acceptable use.
However, I often find that even among executives who have a general understanding about why social media should be allowed in a corporate setting, they are still in one of two camps: those who embrace social applications willingly for its ability to enable business agility and those who embrace it grudgingly, worrying in the back of their minds about how these applications may be impacting worker productivity.
Where do you stand? For those who are still unsure about employees using social media at work, consider this oft-used social “icebreaker” exercise – Two Truths and a Lie – as one way to test your own beliefs about social media at work. Among these three statements about social applications, which one is the lie and how does recognizing it help to avoid designing a “one-size-fits-none” social media policy?
- Statement #1: As the use of social applications increased, so did the use of other communications tools like instant messaging and webmail.
- Statement #2: Most employees keep Facebook or Twitter open in the background while they’re at work, like email.
- Statement #3: Employees that use social applications are less productive than employees that do not.
For statement #1, many social application proponents predicted that the rapid rise of social networking would lead to the decline, if not death, of other communications applications like IM and webmail. However, the hard data points toward a different conclusion. Alongside the growth of social networks, use of communications tools like IM and webmail applications continued to grow at a significant rate. As of last year, social applications showed a five-fold increase in use while the use of other communications applications, specifically IM and webmail, doubled in the same time period across over 1,000 organizations. What we are seeing is an overall growth in all types of online communication tools, which are often used for both personal and professional communications. Statement #1 is true. Instead of one technology or application cannibalizing another, research shows that communication tools – new and “old” – continue to grow and the workplace is simply more social.
Statement #2 at first glance also appears to be untrue. Facebook (and to a lesser degree, Twitter) is ubiquitous in the enterprise and logic would dictate that employees are as Facebook-crazy as in their personal lives, posting constantly from their work computers – or at least their phones. Logic may also dictate that these shiny new social toys would gradually fall out of favor and be used less over time. But statement number two is actually the second “truth” in this exercise. Research found that in the past, a majority of employees who access Facebook during their workday act as “social voyeurs,” meaning the application is running in the background as they continue their normal tasks. However, the addition of new features such as the “Like” button, a more interactive Timeline and greater integration with other websites (and apps) is likely driving the increase in more interactive use of Facebook. Like the growth of social applications alongside IM, more widespread access to better tools leads to more time spent being interactive online. This is a trend that is likely to continue, and one that smart businesses can leverage to their advantage. This closely matches the way that most people use their email at work – an always-on communication tool, albeit one with a much more business-critical focus.
This brings us to statement #3: Employees that use social applications are less productive than employees that do not. Here we find our “lie.” Many – and in particular those that lean toward a block-only policy for their organization – would guess this is one of the truths in the exercise. It hasn’t escaped notice that employees are always connected, thanks to the proliferation of personal devices and research also shows that they also take shorter work breaks than ever before (down an average of 35 minutes per day). These same devices and remote access to enterprise applications also means employees regularly work during “off hours,” increasing overall productivity. After all, how often do you check your smartphone for work-related email, tweets, etc. during ‘off hours’? In addition to productivity as it ties to time worked, there are also the productivity bonuses associated with the ability to safely use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to meet corporate business objectives in areas like marketing, customer service and sales. Enterprise executives are not just enduring this evolution in communication, but many are embracing and proactively seeking ways to use these social applications to form connections with their customers and their employees. Finally, more and more forward-thinking organizations are leveraging the trend towards more digital interaction and are turning towards advanced collaboration tools to improve company’s efficiency, overall.
The bottom line
Obviously this is a simple exercise to underscore that a smart workplace policy on social applications is one that supports employees’ natural inclination to use these apps intelligently while still ensuring the company is safeguarded from security risks. It also puts into context the reality of how these technologies are really used at work and points towards opportunities for businesses to leverage their employees’ desire to collaborate with each other online. Finally, it’s important to realize that effective social media use policies are often linked to enterprise-specific collaboration tools as well, which are often delivered online via Web applications.
As a parting thought, I’d recommend that when it comes to determining access to social applications in the workplace, keep the lines of communication open – and yet secure – within the company as well as externally with your partners and vendors. Understanding what Web applications employees are using in your company allows safely enable not only company-sanctioned applications, but also the ones used by your company’s most effective and efficient workers. By ultimately creating a balance that allows the effective use of technology while hedging against some failings in human behavior, you can make sure that your employees are always able to benefit from the best social and collaboration tools that the web has to offer.