By Andy Coote

It is an issue that is guaranteed to generate differing, often strong opinions. Do you allow access to Social Media sites such as Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter on the company computers and in company time?

For some senior managers, accessing social networks can be seen as a time wasting, distracting technology to be banned from the office without doubt. For others — including the many younger workers entering the workforce – it can be seen as a right and a necessity. They see it as a tool for getting work done rather than one that prevents it.

What is your attitude to access and is there a way to ensure permission doesn’t lead to misuse?

The world of work is changing and Social Media can be used to business advantage. Workers are also changing and the technology is changing with them. New hires (and those of recent years) are likely to have been accustomed to being able to access web resources for a number of tasks during their University education and will feel that they are working at a disadvantage when they find sites like Facebook or Wikipedia blocked from their view. There are even a growing number of older, greyer heads (and yes, I’m one) who are seeing the advantages of Social Media for their business(es).

There are technology tools that will ensure that the security of the business network is maintained and ways of monitoring that there is sensible use of the technologies within the network. A policy that puts the onus on to the employees to ensure that they are reasonable in their time use and responsible in the sites that they access, is now commonplace in many businesses and examples should be easily found. Intel’s policy for example is commented upon in this blog ‘Why Intels Social Media Policy Is A Really Big Deal Really’.

At another level, this is not a technology issue. In my view it is also a Management Style issue — Theory X versus Theory Y. For those who find banning works for them, underlying the issue is the belief that workers given an inch will take a mile and that, at essence, workers only do what you can make them do. Social Media (as with home working) can be seen as a way of allowing recalcitrant workers to do things that management can’t see and control and therefore to be avoided.

Fortunately, the approach of management is changing and managing people by the outputs they produce rather than the amount of hard work they put in is more compatible with a world where responsible adults are assumed (and incentivised) to have the interests of their business at heart. The benefit of allowing people to work in the style they choose is that they may, indeed, be better motivated and more productive than their more controlled counterparts and the business will reap the rewards.

So, if your policy is to ban the use of such approaches because you believe they have no place in the workplace or because you simply don’t understand where they fit, try the approach of allowing their use and take the time to find out how and why they will benefit your business.

Andy Coote is a professional writer and publisher and co-author of A Friend in Every City (2006), a book about Social Networking and Business. As a commentator on leadership and networking, Andy provides writing support and services for a number of Business Leaders. You can reach him at andy@bizwords.co.uk .

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