One cannot wish away the importance of social media at workplaces, just like we cannot wish away the importance of the internet.
We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it" according to Eric Qualman, best-selling author of Socialnomics and motivational speaker.
This may be self-evident, but the way in which companies think about social media, the risk versus the reward- employee engagement, impact on productivity, collaboration -is constantly evolving.
According to a survey conducted by TeamLease, organisations that allow unrestricted use of social media at their workplace risk losing 15 per cent to as much as 45 per cent of the total productivity owing to social media indulgence alone. Around 32 per cent of the total time spent on social media during working hours is used for personal work, indicating a huge loss of official resources and productivity.
This underpins the fact that even though employees may primarily access social networking sites for business-related activities, it does not necessarily signal a business focus and can have a detrimental effect on productivity. Apart from the loss of productivity, survey respondents also said that the extensive use of social media by employees has resulted in an increase in loss of confidential information, defamation, misinformation, and employee solicitation.
Drunken driving cannot be a case against cars. Social media is emerging as an important tool to help employees collaborate more easily and it’s valued by employees particularly when they operate out of widely dispersed environments. For many others, like the millennials, social media has almost become a way of life and expression. Hence, many organisations are adapting to this behaviour by channelling important messaging, conversations and communications leveraging social media, even if it is restricted within the enterprise. In an era where emails seem outdated to the new breed of employees at the work place, social media has the potential to become the key messaging tool, and, at the core, liberating for new-gen employees.
With improved access to internet bandwith and speed in data transmission, we are witnessing interesting innovations at the workplace using social media. If organisations are able to connect employees with a strong sense of purpose, the worries around misuse and loss of productivity can be minimised. As a matter of fact, motivated employees can become trailblazers in channelling social media capabilities gainfully and intelligently to collaborate and innovate.
One cannot wish away the importance of social media at workplaces today, just like we cannot wish away the importance of the internet. There is no better testimony than social media giants such as Facebook and Whatsapp seriously considering launching the enterprise versions of both these tools (already on beta).
The argument hinges on how much is too much. Anything unrestricted comes with its own risk. A carefully designed social media policy can help empl-oyers optimise organisational needs with those of their employees. Some suggested measures would include:
Social media policy: Invite employees to co-create a social media policy which meets the organisation’s goals yet doesn’t deny employees a platform of expression. Through extensive brainstorming and weighing all pros and cons, a company-wide policy of the do’s and don’ts can be articulated. The same can be relooked at reasonable intervals. Co-creation can improve the chances of its acceptance and also make employees responsible for its usage.
Use social media for internal and external communi-cations: If you cannot stop them, it is probably better to join them, where they are. Organisations around the world are struggling to ensure that corporate vision and sense of purpose percolate down to every individual contributor within the company. Today, social media is probably the best platform to choose to achieve this objective. It is easy to relate to and use. It helps them participate and share actively, which enhances their sense of belonging and loyalty.
Employees as brand ambassadors on social media: Empower employees to be social media ambassadors of the brand. This will make them responsible for its use and the kind of communication that goes out. Inspired by Enid Blyton’s popular Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor, it wouldn't be such a bad idea to make the most errant cases the ambassadors. It has its risks, but the upside can be mammoth.
If there is one take away from this, it is the fact that social media is simply just a new medium for an old dialogue. There is no denying the fact that the biggest social media risk is actually in not involving your employees. Statistics reveal that socially engaged employees feel more optimistic about their association with the company and are overall viewed as the most credible voices on a company’s work culture and ethics, innovation and business practices.
Employers should focus on fostering employee social conversations, cultivate employee advocacy within the organisation and empower employees to shoulder the responsibility of being the voice of the organisation.
In Margaret Heffernan’s words, for good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate. Safe to say this is one debate which will remain inconclusive.
(The authors are with TeamLease Services Ltd)