The fact is, resistance to social network access at work is futile.
The Economist, in a special report on social networking, notes that a survey of 1,400 chief information officers conducted last year by the recruitment firm Robert Half Technology found that only one-tenth of them gave employees full access to such networks during the day, and that many were blocking Facebook and Twitter altogether.
Here are five reasons companies should allow social networking:
- Resistance is futile.
Workers increasingly have internet access on their smartphones. By the year 2013, 43% of global mobile internet users (607.5 million people worldwide) will be accessing social networks from their mobile devices, according to a new report from eMarketer.
- Don't assume people won't find other ways to waste time.
Executives' biggest concern? That social networking would lead to "notworking" instead of working. As the Economist report notes, "This assumes that people would actually work rather than find some other way to pass the time they have to spare."
- Social networks can actually make workers more productive.
Three out of four of the 895 experts interviewed for the recent Pew Internet report "The Future of the Internet IV" said that use of the internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the internet has improved reading, writing and rendering of knowledge, according to Janna Anderson, study co-author.
- You'll miss great ideas.
Great ideas can come from any level of a company. Using social networks internally (wikis, blogs, forums, even IM) fosters collaboration and allows workers at all levels to contribute ideas.
Experts emerge from within a company when collaboration is encouraged, and along with them come some of the best ideas that would otherwise be lost. Because people can comment on information, companies often learn of internal expertise they didn't know about already.
In most big companies, instead of collaborating, marketing competes with sales, advertising competes with PR, and so on, creating silos that prevent fresh ideas from being heard.
I've consulted for companies where the marketing directs of divisions had never even met their counterparts in other divisions, let alone collaborated with them. As a result, they often were working on similar projects without sharing knowledge or resources. This wastes money and squanders ideas that could be helpful company-wide.
- Employees are much more trustworthy than companies think.
Managers worry that employees will leak confidential information or speak poorly of the company. Most people have much more common sense than to jeopardize their jobs with wanton comments in social networks, especially these days.
If you can't trust your employees, you have one of two problems: You are hiring the wrong people or you are not properly training the people you hire.
People who want to say something negative will find a way, with or without access to social networks, during business hours. However, negative feedback can also provide an early warning that changes need to be made, either in policy or employees.
All in all, companies have more to gain than to lose by allowing employee access to social networks. My bet is that it'll take another two years for most companies to figure that out.
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