New technology causing loss of productivity is an ongoing bugbear for businesses, and a cause of controversy every time a new technology hits critical mass
First it was the telephone. Decades ago the debate raged as to whether employees should be allowed to make and receive private calls on the office phone. Now it would be regarded as ridiculous to question employees calling friends or family.
Then with the introduction of the mobile phone, and with messaging on mobiles, the argument was held all over again and email ignited a whole new debate. In the case of email it also brought in the question of IT security and nasty worms and viruses getting onto office systems via private email.
While email is still controversial in some more old-fashioned enterprises, up-to-date IT security measures have generally laid management’s fears to rest on this score and people have realised productivity is no more likely to suffer from personal email in the office than personal phone calls. Some surveys have found it even helps productivity.
Now the focus has turned to social networking sites such as the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter, the teen and young adults’ new favourite Tumblr and the working executive’s stay-at-home (or in-the-office) alternative to the cocktail party, LinkedIn.
Although social networking is a comparatively new feature of the workplace, a growing number of companies and executives are coming to the conclusion that the pros outweigh the cons and the end result of embracing it will be a boost to the bottom line.
A recent study by consultants Deloitte found that 45 per cent of the executives surveyed thought social media had a positive impact on the workplace because it allows management to be more transparent, helps build and maintain relationships amongst colleagues, helps build company culture ?and fosters a feeling of connection to the company and its leadership.
However, Deloitte also puts a health warning on the social media box: “Executives may be using social media as a crutch to build culture and seem accessible — but good leadership can’t be dialled-in. Norms for building an exceptional culture and organisation have not changed.”
One company which frequently has its advice sought on the security aspects of allowing social networking in the office is McAfee, and the company’s CTO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Raj Samani, has some strong views on the subject.
“Social networking blurs the lines between consumer and business,” he says, with the impact of social networking being both quite broad and also beneficial. He notes that several big banks now use social networking and social media as a tool to engage with their customers.
“Some banks provide financial incentives for customers to join their Facebook pages,” he says. “Organisations are finding a huge amount of business benefit in leveraging social networking, but with that comes risks.”
On an individual executive level, he points out, people use social networking as a form of reference for their skills and where they work. “Most employers and recruitment agencies use LinkedIn for recruitment purposes these days, so there is huge benefit from it,” Samani says. “For many people, LinkedIn is their CV.”
But there are those risks. There is the risk somebody might release or talk about things management don’t want in the public domain, and a single individual breaching confidentiality can reach a wide audience.
“Then you have the security risk,” Samani adds. “Instead of email with a malicious link, you might receive that within a social networking message.”
There is the whole subject of loss of productivity, but he feels that should have been put to bed with the initial discussions about telephone use.
To guard against the potential downside, Samani says the most important thing is to implement a digital social media policy. “Management need to be clear on what they and employees can and cannot do while using social media in the workplace,” says Samani. “What is allowed and what is not allowed should be clearly spelled out. It should also be borne in mind that the requirements of social media are slightly different from the rest of the company’s information security, and many firms are taking this into account when addressing it.”
Yes there are risks, he concludes, but there are enormous opportunities. “Apple, Facebook and Google are amongst the largest companies in the world today, but they are new companies that have leveraged technology. Take a lesson from them and do the same while managing risk to a level you are comfortable with, that is acceptable to you as a business.”
Michael Newlands has written for publications ranging from the South China Morning Post to the South African Sunday Times, the Times of London and the New York Times. Now settled in the UK, he freelances for telecoms and IT publications.