Practically everyone uses social media, and most workers use them at work. In fact, as a Microsoft study revealed this week, 84 percent of information workers use non-work social networks, and 60 percent of them use them from work at least once a day.
At the same time, the survey found that more than 30 percent of workers said their employers have policies or technologies in place to stop them from doing so. When at work, it seems, workers are expected to work.
Makes sense, right? What else should we be doing at work besides work? And surely social media distracts from work.
But look a little deeper and there are some real problems with this attitude. First of all, we’re starting to understand the very premise – that social media usage inhibits productivity – is a myth. A forthcoming, two-year longitudinal study titled Exploring social network interactions in enterprise systems: the role of virtual co-presence by Nandhakumar, Baptista, and Subramaniam, of Warwick Business School, found that using social media at work could actually enhance workers’ productivity.
It’s not just that the premise is wrong – we’re also learning that blocking and banning policies are ineffective, giving traditionalist supervisors a false sense of control that, in reality, has been slipping away for years. “You can’t stop people having this connectivity,” said Nandhakumar, “so we need to find out how we can manage it and how we can make it into something more positive.”
I am a voracious Twitter user. My profession is research. The old guard would have you believe the former impedes the latter. Not the case – the former enriches the latter. Many is the time I’ve turned to my followers for sources and ideas that have benefited my research. For example, when a colleague and I were formulating a survey about mobile phone norms, I used Twitter as an informal poll by asking what behaviors people hated – some became items in our survey.
Social networks can also build camaraderie, providing light touches that diminish the stress of difficult days, or building rapport between colleagues. In my research on friends on the music site, Last.fm, for instance, I found people who worked together using the site in order to learn more about each other’s musical taste and sometimes to provide fodder for good natured office teasing.
This all says nothing of the “work from anywhere” promise. Think of the many laptop ads you’ve seen showing happy workers with their laptops on the beach. Should bosses ban themselves from expecting any work from employees outside working hours?
In 2011, Right Management, a division of Manpower, found that 63 percent of workers surveyed said their bosses emailed them on weekends and expected a response either often or from time to time. Only 37 percent said that never happened. Another recent study by mobile-research firm Good Technology found that more than 80 percent of workers continued to work at home after leaving the office, adding more than a month of overtime work annually.
Given the ubiquity of mobile media, the fact that many find it useful to work outside of work hours, and the general breakdown of the 9-to-5 work day, perhaps letting workers use social media at work – whether consumer or enterprise-grade – is not so much a question of productivity, but of fairness. If work now has a place in our social time, why shouldn’t social time have a place at work? Fair’s fair.