Social Media: Work-Place Distraction or Productivity Tool?

May 9, 20140 Comments
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Whether staff should be able to use social media in the workplace is a topic for discussion from board room to staff room in many contemporary work places. As a result, many companies, from small businesses to large corporations, find themselves needing to implement a social media policy in the workplace just so that the parameters and role of social media during working hours can be clearly defined and, just as importantly, understood by all concerned. So what are the arguments?

Social Media: Work-Place Distraction or Productivity Tool?

A Work-Place Tool:

In terms of contemporary workplaces and today’s high-tech working environments, it seems that there are plenty of reasons why allowing staff to access social media might be a positive thing:

  • Not banning (or disabling as some companies have been known to do) Facebook and the like during working hours shows trust in employees and can therefore boost morale.
  • Keeping social media available and not banned demonstrates respect that employees have their own time during breaks and lunch. This also gives employees a chance to show responsibility for their own actions and in managing their own work schedules, including those mini-breaks social-networking!
  • Employees’ social media accounts are generally personal and disassociated with the company or business: therefore interactions there don’t reflect on the business. The exception to this may be LinkedIn … which is one form of social media which many companies particularly object to during working hours.
  • A company allowing the use of social media reflects a business which recognises that different generations have different needs and skills. Allowing social media interactions during breaks is the action of a forward-thinking, pro-active company where technology, as well as employee management is concerned.
  • Using social media can also be an asset to internal interactions, adding to the hub and speed of conference and query between colleagues, for instance through Twitter’s private messaging system.
  • Use of social media could be used as a privilege and benefit for employees.
  • For industries such as marketing, design and the Arts, use of the internet and visual social media sites such as You Tube, Stumble Upon and Pinterest can provide great inspiration and can be a useful tool for productivity.
  • Similarly, for businesses which pride themselves on being up to date within their industry or within popular trends generally, allowing staff to frequently access news-feeds and trending topics can not only boost productivity, but inspire company-relative responses and on-trend initiatives.
  • Social media can also be a vital tool for promotional purposes and communication.

It’s also interesting to note that an Australian study from the University of Melbourne (2009) showed that using social media during work breaks resulted in a 9% increase in total productivity.

“We’re now seeing technology playing a vital part pre and post event with skilled social media marketers creating an event buzz and facilitating greater interaction and networking between attendees/participants.”

Rob Spaul of Team Tactics, a corporate events company based in London

Finally, allowing the use of social media offers the opportunity for businesses to create in-house experts who can help you to market your company and products online without the aid of expensive external consultants; team building days including sharing know-how across a range of social media sites can be empowering, enjoyable and motivating for your employees and productive and inexpensive for companies.

A Work-Place Distraction:

Popular arguments against the use of social media in the work place include:

  • Social media’s addictive element. This “time suck” effect, as it’s known in the US, can lead to staff spending longer breaks than they are allowed or becoming distracted from their work through obsessive checking for messages, both of which result in a loss of productivity.
  • The absence of social media in the work place helps to establish a balance between work and social activities: for some companies, social media has the word social included in the title for a reason and therefore it has no place in the work place!
  • Social media is, for some, a popular place to vent frustrations and therefore allowing easy access to it when all’s not well in the work place may not seem ideal!
  • Network security issues can be a very real issue for many companies. Passing on links in the “have you seen this …?” vein is a popular part of social messaging and whilst many companies don’t object per-se to their employees accessing social media in their break-times, they find they need to draw the line on the possibility of this happening via company hardware, which may then be compromised by link- sharing facilitated malware and viruses.

The Fine Line

Of course, where there are black-and-white arguments, there will also be shades of grey. Some social media, such as LinkedIn, has a greater business, entrepreneurial and job searching profile and whilst it could benefit your company to allow employees to access it during working hours, you might never be quite sure if they are networking on your behalf … or their own!

Even if social media is being used appropriately and within company guidelines, many companies may still be concerned that by allowing or actively encouraging social media use across the working day, they are failing in helping employees to build up those important face to face communication skills and interactions. This lies in direct conflict with the fact that social media is a vital tool in helping to build “virtual” relationships which can be key when networking, with international colleagues, for example. All of which can be a real conflict for some companies in deciding on their social media policy.

Additionally, it’s almost impossible to implement a blanket ban on social media during the working day as many workers will still be able to use their own personal devices in their breaks.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the current trend across all kinds of business is “transparency”. By having a fully embedded social media policy which recognises the role of social media in the work place both for business and social purposes presents your business as transparently pro-active in supporting your employees and encouraging both employee and customer loyalty at the same time.

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