If you believe the numbers, as many as 25—50 percent of all companies still restrict their employees from using social media during the workday. No messing around on Facebook. No connecting with digital friends. And God forbid, no sharing or talking about your employer or company.
These philistines of the business world remain convinced that time spent on social networks can only serve to jeopardize office productivity.
On the contrary, those of us who appreciate the value of listening, connecting, and engaging know just how absurd that argument is, regardless of the research. But guess what? It turns out that even when we’re just wasting our time watching senseless videos or keeping track of a friend’s late night exploits, it still might be a good thing, especially if we work in an industry where problem solving is part of our job.
Need evidence? You can find a pretty compelling one in a recent Wired column Driven by Distraction – How Twitter and Facebook make us more productive workers. Arguing convincingly that social media participation is well suited to stoking the creative mind, Brendan I Koerner reminds us of the following:
“Studies that accuse social networks of reducing productivity assume that time spent microblogging is time strictly wasted. But that betrays an ignorance of the creative process. Humans weren’t designed to maintain a constant focus on assigned tasks. We need periodic breaks to relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform — pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking. Musing about something else for a while can clear away the mental detritus, letting us see an issue through fresh eyes, a process that creativity researchers call incubation.”
OK, so Wired is clearly vested in advocating almost anything digital. But this argument has been around since before the social web. Check out Creativity and the Mind, Discovering the Genius Within by Ronald A. Finke and friends. He’s written and entire thesis that will convince you that:
“People are more successful if we force them to move away from a problem or distract them temporarily.”
Of course all the companies still slapping a lock on digital access can roll out another argument: the confidential nature of their company’s information or the even more effective government regulation and compliance excuse. Alas, that line of reasoning seems a little stale now, too. I mean if the Department of Defense can embrace social media, can’t an insurance company?
In its new policy (Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026), announced last week, the Department of Defense states that the default for the DoD non-classified network (the NIPRNET) is for open access so that all of DoD can use new media.
“Service members and DoD employees are welcome and encouraged to use new media to communicate with family and friends — at home stations or deployed — but it’s important to do it safely. Keep in mind that everyone has a responsibility to protect themselves and their information online, and existing regulations on ethics, operational security, and privacy still apply. Be sure never to post any information that could be considered classified, sensitive, or that might put military members or families in danger.”
As U.S. military. Capt. Nathan Broshear, Director of Public Affairs for 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) who is currently leading Air Force communications in Haiti, says:
“We’re not launching missiles, we’re launching ideas.”
“There is a huge number of companies that are putting their organizations at a disadvantage. If I managed a hedge fund, I’d sell short a basket of stocks of companies that block social media like YouTube and Facebook and buy stock in the companies (like IBM) that encourage employee use of these new tools and have an established social media policy like the DoD.”
Works for me, David. What do the rest of you have to say? Is there a legitimate excuse to restrict employees from using social media?