‘Anti-social’ offices risk incurring millennial wrath

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10 March 2017 | 0

Billy MacInnesShould companies ban workers from using social media at work? It’s a question that has been asked and debated many times, particularly over the past couple of years. Now, we find that a number of Irish workplaces have already made their decision, with a recent poll of 500 Irish office workers reporting that 56% of Irish employers ban all or some social media.

The poll, conducted by Censuswide for Ricoh Ireland, found that Facebook was banned in 47% of workplaces and Twitter in 36%. Snapchat and Instagram were blocked by a third of employers and WhatsApp by 30%.

Chas Moloney, director at Ricoh Ireland and UK, wasn’t impressed by the Irish employers’ approach, claiming that banning social media sites “demonstrates a draconian approach to social collaboration and prevents employees from developing their own digital workstyles”.

He urged businesses to “reverse blanket bans on social tools and, where appropriate, integrate them into office working environments”.

There’s nothing especially new about what companies are doing in terms of seeking to ban or limit access to social media at work. They’ve taken similarly restrictive measures when it comes to making phone calls at work, accessing the Internet on office computers, or using the printer or photocopier.

However, it would be fair to suggest that none of those are as distracting to people as social media sites. It’s very easy for people who access a social media platform to waste a half hour or more at a time scrolling through posts and writing replies.

One of the reasons they can become so distracted is because the device they use to engage with most of these platforms is so well tailored for the task at hand. I say ‘hand’ quite literally because, most of the time, we’re talking about smartphones which bundle all the capabilities people need to look at social media sites and to post text, photos and video to them in a very handy form factor.

Policy matters
For its part, Ricoh practises what it preaches. The vendor has an open policy towards social media and actively encourages employees to use it. So much so, the company even runs training courses to help them use it effectively. And it’s not just confined to business use.

Employees typically engage with social media for a mixture of business and personal uses. Ricoh believes social media can be particularly useful in developing and strengthening relationships within the workplace. The rationale is that the better the relationships are, the better the employees are going to work together.

The research also found a generational gap in attitudes to social media. While 82% of those in the 16-24 year-old group believed social media and collaboration technology improved their workplace relationships, only 23% of office workers aged 55 and over felt the same.

You could argue that while Ricoh’s approach is attractive to younger workers it might alienate older employees. But you could just as well argue that making sure employees are trained on using social media properly would help older staff to appreciate how it can be used to improve their workplace relationships.

The more understanding that employees have of social media platforms and their relative strengths and weaknesses, the more effectively they will use them at work and at play.

Of course, there are provisos about the dangers of employees using these platforms more for personal than professional reasons, but banning them altogether seems an extreme measure. Equally, limiting their access to these platforms removes one of the greatest strengths of social media: the immediacy of engagement and response. In today’s world, that can be a curse at times, but few organisations are going to benefit from seeking to place restrictions on social media when it can be so effective in providing more platforms for engagement and building relationships with their customers.

In any case, to be slightly flippant, it’s often not their use of social media at work that tends to get people in hot water but their use of it outside working hours. Perhaps it would be better if people were banned from using social media platforms before and after work.

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