By Maggie Foggin, co-founder of Frostbox.
Unless you are a bus driver or a professional tightrope walker, checking Facebook at work may actually be productive.
This post may just be used against me pretty soon, but at Frostbox we actively encourage social interactions and (within reason) accept that people are not robots and cannot be banned from their online lives for seven hours a day.
Being a company where the business model is based on having an active social media life, we encourage all our staff members to actively use platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
We do realize there are potentially irreversible consequences: company plans and office memos could go public when an overeager employee finds them funny and wants to share them with a friend who, not having any loyalty to the company, sends them further.
However, the positive side effects of social media awareness are much greater than the risk that someone will be able to see that we have a coffee machine in the office, brewing hot liquid, which violates health and safety codes. (To clarify: adequate training has been given and now every member of the team is capable of making mean cappuccinos.)
Have you ever tried to stop your kids from doing something? How did that work out? There is a high probability they came back home with that blue hair or piercing after all, but if not, they now scratched you from a list of cool parents that can relate to their lives. Well done. Orwell would be proud.
A similar thing happens when you introduce draconian rules in the office: a repressed worker is an inefficient worker. They concentrate more on their mobile pop-up messages than on your spreadsheets (unless you banned the mobiles, too?).
There are countless applications that translate Facebook updates into Excel or text, so whenever you glimpse over their shoulders, they all look really busy. Banning social media will simply encourage them to find other sources of entertainment.
Over the years we have seen the benefits of having team members who are active on social media platforms versus those who are not really interested in them.
Not surprisingly, the ones glued to their social feeds turned out to be much better not only at marketing the brand, since they understand when and what catches interest and what will look like an overload of spam or even worse: nothing at all (hello, Apple marketing team). They absorb knowledge faster, innovate quickly, share knowledge; and engage with peers, business partners and customers better.
The Academy of Management Study found that employees who were allowed to use Facebook were more productive than co-workers who were not.
Harvard Business Review agrees, that “[these] technologies have taken on a life of their own, creating unexpected benefits in surprising places […] by integrating social platforms into the core and achieving scale, companies can fulfill the potential of social technologies. The result will be improvements in the ‘informal’ aspects of the organization – the person-to-person connections through which work actually gets done. The improvements in collaboration, communication, and connection will contribute to helping the organization meet its goals.”
There will always be the argument that social networks are just unnecessary noise. However, we cannot blame them for people being mentally absent from work. Before Facebooks and Twitters, we had phones, IM, email, etc. We all have to learn how to use those tools in a productive way.
We are now entering an era when most of the workers in offices around the world have grown up as digital natives and consider it the norm to be connected to the internet to collaborate with friends / co-workers, find solutions to problems, perform research, bounce ideas off each other, etc. The internet is also a great source of knowledge. That is, if not all of our news feeds are filled with LOLcats.
Being connected and leveraging social connections and the information channels they provide when used right is a competitive advantage to a company.
Facebook is the new “smoke break,” the “virtual water cooler” that becomes the place to share ideas and ask questions beyond the limits of formal organizations or company meetings.
There is no going back –only futile resistance. In the current culture, we need to find a way to figure out how to find the happy medium between being accommodating and paying for employees to play with Instagram filters for hours on end.
The success of this operation will depend on our leadership so far. Can we honestly say we encouraged an environment of openness, information sharing and trust? For this to happen we must take the lead and be role models in the productive use of social media to drive value, observe success stories and shape the right direction of social communication.
Changing mindsets, behaviors, and cultures that celebrate sharing and openness is a real organizational challenge we will all face in the next couple of years.
The quality to adapt and change was necessary for Airbnb to disrupt the hotel industry. Uber knew it when they took on the taxi business. They have succeeded by adapting to the “new norm.”
It may take time to establish the trust needed to benefit from this level of openness, but the companies that accomplish this transformation will not only reap the benefits from social technologies; they will also find they are faster on their feet, more adaptable and much more capable of absorbing (and acting on) new ideas.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.