Employers: stop blocking social media in the workplace

Sometimes, when speaking to companies about Social Media, I am mortified to hear “We can’t get on any social networks at work, everything’s blocked”.

Far from being an isolated dilemma, figures put the blocking of Social Media sites anywhere from a third of companies doing this to as high as 72% worldwide.

There can only be two possible reasons for a company to take this step. The first, is concerns about productivity (more about that later) but the second would be fear; fear that someone will put the company reputation at risk, fear that social technologies post a security risk, fear that staff simply won’t work hard enough if they can spend all day on Facebook.

The Persian poet Hafez wrote “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”

Employers must get over their concerns about allowing Social Media usage at work to create better conditions for the business itself in today’s world and to respect the employees who make the company what it is.

Why blocking Social Media at work is stupid

I frequently mention at speaking or training engagements that I think blocking Social Media at work is a huge mistake and once a small business owner compained to me “Aw, but you don’t know what it’s like running a business and having people to manage” – I’ve done both, so yeah I sympathise.

However, I also read and nowadays there is a wealth of knowledge proving attempts to over manage employee time usage actually leads to less productivity with plenty of real world examples and practical advice on how to create a productive working environment.

It has absolutely nothing to do with employees using social media at work.

Using Social Media at work does not cause productivity issues. Productivity issues cause productivity issues. Let’s not forget either – as long as people have IM, email, even their mobile phones, there’s nothing stopping them from doing ‘time wasting stuff’ on company time.

A right to access media

Which brings me to my next belief: We have, in the UK, a basic human right to access media. When workers enter their workplaces they’re not asked to switch off their phones and throw their copies of Metro in the bin on the way through the door.

More and more people are finding and sharing news via social networking sites. The nature of social networking is bigger than just looking at pictures of friends from Saturday night, it’s how we find out what’s going on in the world. Social media host a wide range of media, from personal to professional and everything in between. No employer can or should moderate that.

Businesses need to open their doors to Social Media

My final thought is that irrespective of the role of Social Media to staff it’s relevance is increasing for business. It seems incredibly short-sighted to handicap your workforce by limiting their access to Social Media and minimise their skills set in using social for future business.

The marketing executive and customer service personnel able to sit casually on Twitter today will have key insights in to how to plan next year’s Twitter strategy when [not if] you integrate social in to the business.

How to allow Social Media in the workplace

I can only offer two bit of advice if you choose to join the rest of us in socially open workplaces:

  1. Set expectations for usage: Have a clear Social Media policy and ensure staff know what will and won’t be tolerated within the business. They don’t want to breach policy and get in to trouble any more than employers want them to find trouble in the first place
  2. Experiment & Review: Allow people to try a few things (again, within guidelines) and then regularly ask for feedback and shared learnings on best practice. This may be the points at which you find someone in your Sales team is closing business from LinkedIn, or that Customer Service reps are resolving issues faster and more efficiently online
Be brave, move through fear, start living AND working in better conditions.

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[Image: mjmalone]
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