Employers Block Social Networking Sites?

Blogs as Tools of Worker Productivity

Older people like myself can be skeptical of social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook. My 16-year-old son seems to spend inordinate time on Facebook, doing who-knows-what. Accordingly, business managers are prone to block (or limit) social sites so they are inaccessible through business computers.

But blocking may not always be the wisest approach. Social media can be a productive form of communication, especially for younger workers. Gary Curtis of Accenture argues that younger people view e-mail as old-fashioned and stuffy. Curtis, “How the Millennial Generation Connects,” Financial Times, Nov. 5, 2008.

“‘For today’s teenagers, e-mail is the equivalent of a written letter – they use it only for formal communication,’ says Jerrold Grochow, vice-president of information services and technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ‘To them, e-mail is for old people.’”

Mr. Curtis argues that new technology can facilitate collaboration, often better than e-mail. He cites a case study on the use of a corporate blog: “Members of a team at a multinational had been sending as many as 150 e-mails a day discussing their project while never being certain of involving the right people. When they moved the discussion to a blog, their e-mail inboxes emptied and the key team members joined in as needed.”

One step beyond a corporate blog is a private social network — a sort of Facebook just for the company, its employees and its customers/suppliers.  A closed social network for a company (or a project) can enable group interaction that is far richer than e-mail and instant message.  Participants can see the breadth of what is going on, without having to open and read every message.  And they can smoothly connect with subgroups and individuals without involving everyone else.

Moreover, just as a closed social network can facilitate productivity, open, public networks can also help employees do their work — so long as they are able to manage their time well.

Bottom Line:  Though employers are wise to monitor computer activity, blockage of social sites may rob a company of the speed and flexibility it needs from its workers. Wise managers may want to talk with employees and find ways to accommodate productive interaction while discouraging wasteful social chit-chat.

One strategy for employers is selective blocking, where only certain suspect sites are blocked, with a screen that reminds employees they are responsible for getting their work done.

–Ben Wright

Ben teaches IT security law at SANS Institute.

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3 Responses to “Employers Block Social Networking Sites?”

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  2. FaceBook & Myspace Identity Theft « Internet Safety | How to Filter, Block, Monitor the World Wide Web Says:

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