Social networks are a huge part of our everyday lives, both in the office and at home. It’s easy to get lost in the avalanche of social media updates. Before you know it, your whole workday has been consumed by unproductive web surfing, tweets and posts. Nucleus Research found that 25 percent of US workers spent a minimum of two hours a day surfing the Internet. For that reason, many companies have blocked Twitter, along with Facebook, YouTube, and other social media websites at work. A Computer World study indicates that almost 54 percent of US employers have limited their workers from using social media while on the job.
Additionally, 28 percent of bosses have fired people for using work resources to shop online, check Facebook news feeds, and other non-work related social media activities during office hours. It seems bosses have taken social networking sites quite seriously.
On the other hand, eight percent of companies actually encourage their workers to use social media. They say networking is a valuable marketing and sales tool. Does your company have restrictions against web surfing in the workplace? Let me know in the comments.
How social media can be blocked at work
There are hundreds of “how to block social media at work” manuals. The market offers dozens of filters and Internet control software designed to block all of the major social networking resources. Which approach is used most often for blocking social networks?
First of all, Internet access can be blocked entirely on both computers and mobile devices. Then, there are also many programs that allow employers to block specific websites or limit their usage. These programs often include the ability to remotely monitor Internet surfing activity, block websites for a specific number of minutes, and limit time allowed on them. They can also collect statistics for a given time period, telling a manager how many minutes or even hours an employee has spent on certain websites and apps.
Additionally, some companies may have different levels of Internet restrictions for different job positions. The person managing the company’s social media accounts and HR department staff may have no restrictions to the Internet resources at all, for example.
Along with hundreds of “how to block social media at work” manuals, there are hundreds of manuals on how to access blocked sites at work. I’ve personally counted 21 methods to unblock forbidden websites in five minutes. Sounds impressive, right? You can bet that your employees are able to do the same. This leads us to the idea that restricting management methods aren’t that effective.
Reasons for blocking social networking sites
In my personal opinion, employers should not block social media. I am confident in my position, but I can understand why bosses may sometimes choose to implement it. For example, if you are tired of warning a worker who is constantly overusing social media at work, you might decide that blocking access to social media will boost your company’s productivity. Although I don’t advocate such a decision, there are situations that may prompt you to decide to limit the Internet access at your office.
To tell the truth, social media can cause a productivity decrease. According to the latest research, an increasing number of US workers are logging into social media networks during work hours. The most common reason employees use social media is not work-related. They use it to take a mental break or connect with friends and relatives.
Reasons not to block social media at work
Are there benefits to surfing social media at work? Here are a few surprising facts.
A study by the University of Melbourne revealed that workers with access to social media were actually more productive than the workers in companies that decided to limit Internet access. US employees who can reward themselves with a Facebook or Twitter surfing between tasks get more done. According to the study, these employees are nine percent more productive than their “blocked” colleagues.
Secondly, if you are blocking social media at work, you might face the fact that almost 40 percent of Generation Y won’t work for companies that restrict access to their favourite sites. This segment of Millennials value “social networking freedom” even more than a cushy salary.
Plus, blocking social networking sites doesn’t necessarily limit a staff’s usage of them, but it does show an employer’s lack of trust. Telling your staff you don’t trust them only leads to a team’s disturbance. Say goodbye to productivity, loyalty and engagement.
Taking this into account, social media fits into the category of “necessary evil”. The main question is whether you can take advantage of social networking-savvy employees? I think the answer is yes.
On one hand, employees may create or support professional connections via social media and get information that helps to solve issues at work. They learn more about colleagues, build personal relationships with coworkers and ask work-related questions outside of their companies.
On the other hand, if your company does not have any social accounts, encourage your Facebooking and Tweeting workers to create and manage them. There are chances these workers will be happy to do it for the company and you will benefit twice.
There is another productivity perk to consider, though. The fact that your workers are online means they are able to work anywhere. Think about it. You can check your work email on your cell phone as soon as you get up? That is a work-related activity at home. You take business calls after dinner? They may do the same. So, is social media really that harmful for your business?
Social networking sites are in everyone’s pocket nowadays. This fact can potentially lead to a lack of productivity in the workplace. Therefore many employers have created restriction policies to minimize networks usage at work. But are these policies effective? Apparently not. In a survey from Pew Research Center, 77 percent of US employees said that they still used social media, despite company policies against it. A do-nothing worker won’t become your best performer just because you restrict his or her social network access. He or she will just find another way to slack off.
Instead of regulating a problem you can’t control, use it to improve your business performance! Maybe it’s time to train workers to use networking sites in a productive way. Here are some suggestions:
1. Implement social media breaks
Breaks are necessary for maintaining a high level of performance. 57 percent of bosses and 64 percent of their workers surveyed by Staples this year said that short breaks were a key factor to their overall performance. By giving workers the chance to switch off work mode, companies are starting to notice a positive impact on productivity. When workers know they will have time dedicated to social surfing, they won’t check every phone buzz or alert.
2. Conduct research and seek advice
Your workers can use social networking sites to help with their professional growth and daily tasks, such as conducting research on specific questions. For instance, experts on Linkedin or Twitter tend to post useful articles on best practices. Also, your workers can use sites like Quora to see what the online community thinks about a specific issue.
3. Grow professional networks
Social networking sites can help connect professionals with workers in the same industry.
4. Recruit new talent
The different social platforms offer unique features that are perfect for spreading brand awareness and attracting top talent.
5. Engage in team-building.
On its simplest level, social networking sites connect colleagues with each other.
6. Use a team communication app
If your workers need to communicate with each other online for working purposes, don’t be surprised if they use social media sites at work. The contact lists of Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp and others are usually full of friends and relatives. So there are many possible distractions your workers can suffer from—tons of notifications when people update a status, change a profile picture, add a photo, like a page, send you advertising spam or just ask, “How do you do?”
Moreover, work communication via social media sites and instant messengers is not transparent. Neither it is constantly accessible or structured. On the contrary, team communication tools bring your employees from different messaging apps into one place, making it easier for your team to chat, search through earlier messages, and stop the endless flow of notifications from a dozen of apps. Instead, all the notifications from various software you and your team use at work could be displayed in one place—your team messenger. Another issue that a team communication tool solves is avoiding distractions coming from people who are not your team members.
To sum up, the term “social media” may make some employers shudder. However, it’s a powerful tool that can be used to help your workers develop their career and performance.
There will always be employees who waste their time. They were around long before computers, tablets and mobile phones were invented. Does anyone really think that a person who is genuinely wasting time on Facebook will suddenly become the best performer because of a blocked Internet access?
So, to block or not to block? The answer is simple. Productivity is not the time your workers spend at work engaging in non-work activities. It’s a measure of output. And using social networking sites can actually help increase company performance. Being an effective worker is not about avoiding your Facebook news feed at the office. It’s about getting work done well and on time.
Also published on Medium.