It used to be that companies tried to discourage employees from making personal phone calls on company time. These days the same kind of thinking applies to social media, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Some businesses try to enforce bans on any use of social media across the corporate network.
Social entrepreneur Andrew Keen thinks that workplace edicts against social media are short-sighted. This is partly because he feels that top-down command and control styles of enforcement are antiquated and hold organizations back. He also feels that a sense of play sparks creativity and better problem solving.
Keen doesn’t speak to cases where employees abuse the availability of social media on company networks. How do you prevent workers from “goofing off” and avoiding work by pinning pictures on Pinterest?
I think that managers need to treat social media much the same as they do any kind of workplace fraternization. You don’t ban hallway conversations because some employees might abuse the privilege of talking with coworkers. But it is entirely reasonable to expect staff to meet certain levels of performance. Facebook might get in the way of solid work effort but so can inefficient work habits.
Here are a few reasons I think organizations should consider relaxing a prohibition on social media in the office.
1. The network is the future. Business is going to get more social, more networked, more integrated into everyday life. Letting your employees follow hot trends on their break time is one way to “keep them in the know.”
2. The Google 20%. Legend has long held that Google awarded employees twenty percent of their time to work on any project of their choice. Truth is that the practice was never as codified as it was reported. Nevertheless, if a company wants to innovate it needs to give employees a little elbow room to flex their creativity. A social media “coffee break” can help with that.
3. Your customers are your friends. Lines are blurring in marketing, supply chain and elsewhere. Social media isn’t all social, sometimes it’s business as well. If you hope for your workers to be ambassadors for the organization in their free time then you need to be willing to allow them to socialize a little on company time.
4. You trust your employees. This, I think, is the biggest deal of all. Many companies are willing to give every employee a key to the front door - very often an employee’s ID badge gives time access to the building 24/7. If you’re going to trust workers with that much why not allow them some discretionary social browsing? Imposing a workplace ban on social media, personal email, or using the telephone to set doctor appointments for the kids is one way to send a signal, loud and clear, that you don’t trust your workers to use their time wisely.
At the end of the day I think that respecting employees, building engagement, rewarding strong efforts are all going to do more to generate productivity than a heavy handed ban on social media.