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1st December 2010
Hi and welcome to The Business Plan, brought to you by LeasePlan. I’m Jackie Allender. This week, the vexed question for employers: should you let your employees have access to Twitter and Facebook at work?
The answer might depend on who you work for and what sort of work you do.
A survey of American businesses, published last year, found a narrow majority of firms prohibited social media access at work. And it was clear that companies were still struggling with the issue of how social media might fit in at work — in much the same way they initially struggled with integrating the web into the workplace.
Interestingly, the survey found almost one in five companies either allowed social media for business purposes, or allowed limited personal use as well. Dave Wilmer, executive director of the technology recruitment company that conducted the survey, suggests that for some professions, social media can be leveraged as effective business tools.
In Australia, Telstra is one of a few large companies that allow employees to tweet or access Facebook in work time. Other companies are still working on their social media policies.
Overseas, a growing number of organisations —particularly in technology-related fields — are becoming what’s been termed über-connected workplaces. That means they’re using social media tools, such as wikis, blogs, and corporate social networks to connect their employees around the globe and to foster international collaboration. Technology such as Skype and Google Wave is amplifying the trend.
In a recent blog for Harvard Business Review, Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd said companies were finding this connectedness was about embracing a new culture of openness where employees were encouraged to share, innovate and collaborate in a virtual way.
There are two big benefits driving this approach.
The first is that ‘millennials’ — people born between 1977 and 1997 — are networked 24/7, and they expect their employer to enable that connectivity. These younger people are the ones companies need to recruit to replace retiring baby boomers. Meister and Willyerd quote an Accenture survey that found Millenials like instant messaging, texting, Facebook and RSS feeds for communication. The message? If you want to be an employer of choice, think about encouraging the use of social media in your workplace.
That sentiment is backed up by Australian recruitment firm GXY Search. Director Melissa Bridge says social media are now used by many people to do their job. In her own firm, which specialises in recruiting for youth brands such as sport, fashion and digital media, her staff use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with clients and candidates.
Bridge maintains that Millenials are not into technology as an end in itself. What they are interested in is organisations that invest in establishing real connectivity and networks, so that staff can learn, innovate and build their own connections.
In fact, that is second benefit for companies providing access to social media: a more engaged workforce — and that translates into improved productivity, innovation and greater employee satisfaction.
According to Bridge, sooner or later most organisations will need to use social media so they might as well let their staff become expert at using them. Her view is that if you want dynamic, self-starting, accountable people to work for you, you need to trust them to regulate their own internet usage.
There’s evidence for that approach from Australian academic Dr Brent Coker, from Melbourne University’s Department of Management and Marketing. He’s found that people who are able to surf the web at work for fun — within a reasonable time limit — are actually around 9 per cent more productive than those who aren’t allowed to.
Brent Coker audio: “Why people who surf the internet at work are more productive is because of the way that the day is broken up for people at the workplace. Essentially, we’re given tasks which are broken up into smaller chunks of time. If we’re not given a chance to have a break in between these mini-tasks, our concentration slides down.”
Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of The Business Plan. Don’t forget, if you have something you want to say about this issue, go to the LeasePlan website at leaseplan dot com dot au and follow the links to ‘The Business Plan’, where you’ll find a transcript of this podcast, as well as a section where you can make a comment. Next week, our focus is e-commerce. I’m Jackie Allender, thank you for listening.
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