As I arrived at work today, I find out that four of my colleagues are sick at home and taking the day off. Two colleagues are considering holidays in the next two month, one colleague’s wife has become pregnant, and I have three birthday greeting to send in the next week. Then during the day, I receive flowers from a colleague whom I had helped earlier and an egg that will eventually hatch into a mystery gift from my sister, wishing me a good rest of the afternoon at work.
All this time, I am sitting at my desk, going through my daily email and work tasks, and have not at all left my desk.
I am logged onto Facebook, a worldwide social networking phenomenon that is almost taking over my social life, even at work.
While some see it as a waste of time and an additional tool to have to manage in their busy lives, Facebook is no doubt seen as a potential tool by some companies and organisations that endorse its usage. Flight Centre Ltd sees the tool as “a good way for our travel agents to be able to interact with each other and with their clients” said Haydn Long, spokesperson for Flight Centre. The Big Blue, IBM, also encourages its employees to explore the potential business usage of these social networking sites, with its CEO and sales departments using YouTube as a tool to distribute videos to communicate with its worldwide employee and client network, as well as having a presence on Facebook and the virtual game of Second Life, offering community discussions and virtual meeting rooms to encourage more employee involvement in a fun way. Companies like Telstra and the Macquarie Group are also using such social networking sites for similar marketing and communication activities.
While these social networking sites could cause potential threats to the company network and its business image, it is argued that in fact, when monitored and used in a responsible manner, employees are better informed of each other’s actions and have a better time at work than before. A white paper titled “Facing up to Facebook” published by TUC describes “Facebook is just another way of using the web to organise your social life… provided this is used responsibly and doesn’t interfere with work or could compromise the employer’s reputation”. It is simply yet another medium allowing people to socialise without the limitation of physical location and is no different to employees going out to pubs during lunch time or after work and having a good social life.
Of course, the network security is always a big issue with large organisations however similar to email and other group collaboration software and tools, there are ways to protect company data and still allowing the usage of such social networking sites safely. In today’s workforce, almost all employers have a web and internet use policy stating what is acceptable and what is not to do on the internet and usage of email. Creating under these policies including social networking sites is the best way to ensure the safety of company information as well as to ensure staff do not use these tools to waste their work time.
Concerns and issues aside, social networking sites may benefit employees and add value to the business. Not only will the employees have a place to associate with their colleagues informally, it also provide a tool to develop useful IT skills for those who are not from a technical background. Many organisations also sees sites such as Facebook as an “informal means of strengthening existing relationships with colleagues and clients” (Mark Watts, Times Online, Oct 2007) which is a powerful motivational strategy for employers.
There is no argument that introducing such social networking tools into the work environment has its disadvantages and benefits. When monitored and managed well, the usage of these social networking sites may in fact assist in the moral and motivation of employees and benefit the company indirectly through the power of people relationships.