Friday, October 31, 2008

Re-Thinking the Ban on Social Networking at Work...

About a year ago I blogged about the rising ban of social networking within the workforce. In April a PM Online report showed that two-thirds of people in the UK believe social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace should be banned in the workplace and varying estimates of actual work place bans range anywhere between 70-80% today.
So naturally I was interested in an article from Techworld this morning in which Tom Jowitt writes about a new research study that strongly suggests that companies re-consider the ban on social networking in the workplace.

According to the new report by UK think tank Demos, which was commissioned by the mobile operator Orange, websites such as Facebook, MySpace and even Skype within the enterprise may have benefits that outweigh the security risks and time consumption that have been feared.

The study found that collaborative tools have become essential in the workplace as they allow employees to stay in touch and in some cases in developing working relationships.

"People find these technologies useful to stay in touch," said Bradwell. "The lines between social and working relationships are blurring, and so the companies that are banning them, are missing a trick. Trying to ban these tools is like trying to ban gossip."

The author of the study, Peter Bradwell makes a great point about how social networks are an extremely valuable tool to stay in touch with past workers and alumni, relationships that are often undermined as these people "don't disappear" and can often be "tapped for organizational perspective and knowledge".

The report cites that around 65% of UK households had access to the internet in 2008, an increase of 1.2 million households (8 per cent) since 2007. Digital inclusion strategies have become focused more broadly on how technology can help tackle complex social problems, rather than simply on spreading access to the internet.

The report delves deeply into the value of relationships that can be developed through these tools and gives compelling support that shows how the time spent "socializing" may be well worth the connections and intellectual property gained.

Here is a great summary by Jowitt on the
recommendations that Bradwell makes to integrate social networking within enterprise and reap its advantages:
  1. Do not separate 'social' networking from 'professional' networking. Attempts to control employees' use of social networking software in the office may end up damaging the organisation in the long run by depleting its 'network capital'.
  2. There should be value placed on networks with people outside the firm. Too often, it is only senior staff who are encouraged to build relationships with people outside the organisation. The power of horizontal networks across organisational boundaries is clear, and growing.
  3. Keep in touch with employees that have left the organisation. The temptation during a difficult economic climate is to hunker down; but this risks cutting off flows of network capital. Companies should consider how to keep former employees in the network.
  4. Do not police networks but consider how they operate and what could be improved. This should be a first step towards collective conversations about the 'rules of the game' when it comes to operating within networks.
Just as the advertising side of social networking is stunted by companies' fear of "letting go", it may take a while for organizations to open their minds to employees networking in all directions. Struggling for control in an open source world is becoming somewhat of a freakish denial of progression.

1 comment:

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