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Banning Social Media

Why Banning Social Media In The Workplace Is A Bad Idea

Banning social media? Think twice!

Banning Social MediaThe rise of social media has also come with a healthy amount of worry over social media use in the workplace. Banning social media altogether seems like a win-win. People get back to doing their jobs, distractions go down, productivity goes up, and security risks are mitigated. This is an example where the expected result doesn’t match reality though. At best, social media bans are useless. At worst, banning social media might be more dangerous than not having a policy at all.

Social Media: The Productivity Killer!

As far as productivity goes, think about it this way. If it weren’t social media, it would be something else. Before Facebook and Twitter it was texting. Before that phone and email. You need to take a look at the bigger picture. The problem isn’t social media, it’s productivity. If your employees are messing around all day, you need to take a look at your policies and management practices. Say you catch one of your employees using social media on the clock. If you ask him, “What are you supposed to be doing right now?” and the answer begins with, “Uh…” then you have a problem, and it’s not social media.

Regardless of what seems to be the direct cause of productivity loss, if there are no accountability measures in place a ban is useless. Expecting a ban to be effective is shortsighted and naive. Your employees are going to go ahead and do it anyway, because they don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s a morally subjective issue. It’s sort of like driving 5mph over the speed limit. Everyone else is doing it, therefore it’s morally acceptable. Your employees might also see a ban as plain wrong, which encourages them to ignore it. No amount of talk about how they’re supposed to be responsible adults is going to change that. Neither does it excuse management from taking responsibility for the actions of their subordinates.

Before you ban social media and start punishing the offenders, here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Does your company have a clear mission?
  2. How are you conveying that mission to your employees?
  3. Do your employees feel ownership in their work?
  4. Do they feel valued by the company?
  5. Are your projects being managed by effective leaders?
  6. Do your employees really know what they are responsible for at any given time?
  7. Are you communicating company/division goals to your employees?
  8. Are they aware of the acceptable time frames for completing tasks?
  9. Are there enforced consequences for not meeting deadlines?
  10. Are there enforced rewards for beating deadlines?
  11. Are the results of their work being communicated?
  12. Are your standards for productivity realistic in the first place?

You might be surprised as to the answers to some of these questions, the last one in particular. The laser focus on productivity usually stems from budget concerns. Have layoffs forced individual employees to perform too many tasks for one person? If your employees are overloaded, they’ll get less done in the time allotted. Because an inappropriate workload causes productivity to take a dent, at some point it’s cheaper to have two people perform a set of duties. A heavy workload, combined with a lack of ownership, is a major productivity killer. If your employees are plodding along day in day out with nothing positive attributed to their work, why should they care about slacking off? If your employees feel like numbers on a spreadsheet, they’re not going to care about your margins. Loyalty is a two way street.

The main idea here is this: As long as your employees are getting the work done on time, who cares how they’re spending their time? If they aren’t getting work done on time, what is causing them to stray from their task in the first place?

What about the security risks?

Perhaps productivity isn’t the main reason you’re considering a ban on social media at all. You may be worried more about the loss of sensitive data. Maybe you believe your employees just can’t be trusted, so an outright ban seems like the best thing. Well, if you can’t trust your employees either you’ve got an attitude problem or you’re hiring the wrong people. If you can’t be trusted to set formal policy and educate your employees, of course they can’t be trusted to just know the appropriate behavior in any given situation. If it’s not on paper, it doesn’t count. Unwritten rules don’t hold up in court and shouldn’t be expected to hold up in business either. Remember, there is no such thing as common sense. People aren’t born knowing these things, and you shouldn’t make assumptions about what your employees know in regards to social media etiquette in business.

Having a formal social media policy is very important. Your employees need to have a written document against which their actions may be judged. They need to know when they can use social media and for what. It must be clear which data is okay to share publicly, which data is acceptable to have on personal devices, and which data is strictly for internal use only. It’s also very important that employees who are highly experienced with social media use be included in determining these policies. A lack of understanding on how social media platforms are used and what their purpose is can leave you with an incomplete policy framework.

The solution to safety risks from distractions in production environments is much the same. It’s all about education. Your employees need to know which behaviors aren’t acceptable, but more importantly they need to know why and what the consequences are for ignoring safety regulations.

If they’re going to use it anyway…?

All this talk of cutbacks and bans is reactive though. What about taking a proactive approach? What is your company doing to harness the power of social media to perform business duties? If your employees will be using social media anyway, why not take advantage of it? For example, what methods do you have for communicating with your employees now? Telephone, email and face to face, yes? These methods of communication come with their own problems.

Phone Calls

Problem: I have to drop everything.
Solution: Caller leaves a voicemail.
Problem: I hate checking my voicemail!

Emails

Problem: Too long winded. Too much time spent replying to emails.
Solution: (If you’ve figured out the solution to epic emailers, let me know)

Face to Face, Formal Meetings

Problem: Have to drop everything AND relocate to speak.
Solution: Aside from not meeting at all…
Problem: Meetings take hours. Some managed poorly. Some people can’t stop talking! No work gets done.
Solution: Strict guidelines for running meetings, speaker time, and reasons for meeting.

You’re still left with the problem of relocating though. If you’re lucky, it’s in the same building. If not, it could be across town. Sometimes there just isn’t a replacement for face-to-face communication though. Ah, but you don’t necessarily have to convene in the same room! In What Google+ Means For Businesses I wrote a bit about using Google+ to communicate more quickly and more effectively with employees. For example, Google+ Hangouts give you the option for invite-only group video chats. Not only is this a great replacement for many meetings, it’s a great way to keep in touch with telecommuters, employees who work from home. Same face-to-face intimacy without having to relocate. Hangouts are also a great option for doing group training or broadcasting public events online.

Facebook, Twitter and Google+ all have options for sharing posts with only certain lists of people, keeping information private. If your employees are checking their Twitter streams anyway during a coffee break, why not send them a quick Tweet updating them on the status of their project? Since the post length on social media services is usually short, it makes sure your more verbose employees get straight to the point, unlike email.

Social media platforms are a great way ease cooperation, communication, and collaboration. In fact, if you’re still a bit leery about using a public social media option for business use, there are private enterprise social media networks as well. For example, Yammer. Yammer is currently in talks to sell to Microsoft, so you might even see social media network tools integrated into your Microsoft Office suites soon. Only users with verified corporate email addresses can join such a network. There are concerns with where data is stored, whether on the social network provider’s servers or corporate intranet servers, and different enterprise social networks offer different solutions in this regard. Still, having a centralized location for collaboration between team members, divisions, or corporate offices is invaluable.

In the end, isn’t being more connected as an organization a good thing?

Has your company using social networking tools? Do they have a formal social media policy, or have they banned social media in the workplace? What are your thoughts and experiences? I’d love to see them in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Related Post: What Google+ Means For Businesses

David Santy

Wordpress web designer, manager and consultant based in Madison, WI. Visit My Google Profile+ and add me to your Circles!

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