Monday, October 01, 2007

Facebook at work: Address the cause, not hide the symptom

The social networking site, Facebook, seemed to have gained notoriety of late. I thought Sandra Leong's article* in the Straits Times summed up the issues concisely (hat-tip to Benjamin, who incidentally had this to say about the issue).

Seems to me the issue could be summarised from this quote:
For now, the debate on whether staff should be given free rein in cyberspace boils down to: Lax IT policies leave the workplace open to abuse, versus: workers shouldn't be nannied, but trusted to do what's best for them and their company.

Which made me read up articles from sources like (Canada): "Facebook banned for Ontario staffers" (3 May '07) and "Worries follow rise of Facebook" (4 May '07).

Bloggers like Canadian Rex Lee (on 17 May '07) made an intelligent argument why he has no problem with Facebook being banned at work:
Providing a means for self-organization, empowerment, employee engagement, or alternate communication means shouldn't be mistaken for providing the employees the right to do anything they want. Enterprise 2.0, should be about employee engagement and collaboration. It's not about anarchy. If one can't make a strong argument on the business value provided by a set of actions, then an organization not only has the right to question the activities, but has the obligation to shareholders (or taxpayers) to do so.

Earlier than that, bloggers like Neil Kennedy made observations that Facebook was moving beyond schools and into the workplace (26 Apr '07). It appears that the strategy is deliberate (btw, I followed the conversation from Neil's blog to Justin Smith, who explained in his About Page that his blog is "an independent blog ... focusing on Facebook and the Facebook Platform")


My objective take on the banning of social networking services like Facebook:
  1. Social networking services have "value" to organisations
  2. But it's important that this "value" is recognised by the organisation, i.e. fits the definition of "value" for the organisation
  3. The concept of "value" is subjective
  4. The employer has the right to ban or restrict services like Facebook
  5. But do it only after throughout through consideration what that particular social networking service can do, and how it's being used
  6. It is also up to employees (who feel strongly about the ban) to present the case for not banning the service
  7. If your employees prefer to -- or have the time -- to "play" with Facebook (or similar services) rather than do their work, maybe it means you need to redesign work to make them more engaged.

But... that's just me trying to be objective.

If I had to make a stand on the banning of Facebook, I say banning Facebook is an effective SHORT-TERM solution but wouldn't solve LONG-TERM problems.

The larger issue isn't about Facebook or whatever social networking sites that come (and they will come). It's about employee's ethics, performance management, motivations etc.

I agree with Ben when he says it's a "Human Resource issue".

Let's go back a few years ago. There were reports about Internet Gambling at Work, and how Internet Use Tops Time-wasting Tasks.

Then also a time when Email became such an integral part of work that guidelines, like this one, were produced. Also books like this one. And even workshops and seminars:
NLB Call No.: 004.692 CAV -[COM] (Computer & IT section)
ISBN: 0-471-45738-8

The Internet wasn't banned. Neither was email (though I'm sure some people look forward to banning emails at work. Or at least from their bosses, LOL!)

If you ban Facebook because its use resulted in IT-security breaches, then maybe it's a logical and correct decision.

If you ban Facebook because some employees are misusing organisation time and resources, you're better off counseling or removing those employees. Because if it's not Facebook, they will be misusing something else.

If too many employees are doing the same thing, well it seems like it's a social problem and one that affects other organisations too. You could ban it and probably solve nothing. Or just go with the flow.

But I'd draw the line when employees use services like Facebook for personal gain, at the expense of the employer (e.g. posting their resumes, or networking for personal rather than organisation benefit).

Maybe I'm being naive. But I feel if social networking applications like Facebook helps the employees become happier employees -- without affecting their work -- why the heck not?

But if they let "play" affect their work -- and they do nothing about it -- then show them the door.

* See "We're (Net)Working: Does virtual sheep-throwing have a place at work? The rise of Facebook has made employers address the issue of cyber-loafing in the office", The Straits Times, 30 Sept 2007.

1 comment:

  1. Found something on Engadget that wastes more time at work than Facebook: USB-powered whack-a-mole


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