Should Companies Block Access to Digital Tools?

Gran Canaria - Guayadeque in the WinterA few days back my good friend, the always inspiring and thought provoking, Dan Pontefract, put together a rather interesting blog post which is just a beautiful story of a conversation he recently had that I could see myself behave and react pretty much in the same way that he did. In “Should Companies Allow Facebook at Work?” he comes to talk about that number of companies out there who, still, in 2013!, are blocking the use of social networking tools for their employees, so that they wouldn’t waste time at work, or goof around unnecessarily. Yes, still today in 2013, and despite the huge impact of social technologies in our society, there are businesses out there that seem to be rather happy with shooting themselves in their feet. Isn’t it time that we finally, at long last, wake up and embrace the inevitable? Social Networking is here to stay and for a long while even. 

In fact, in a recent blog post I mentioned how perhaps if there would be a major challenge for the corporate world of today with regards to social media tools is not how some of those firms keep blocking their use, but it’s more the assumption from knowledge workers that if they get blocked, like they are doing, apparently, right as we speak, they are receiving a significantly loud and clear message from their employers that all of these social tools are to be used for private and personal reasons. And they do that eventually, resulting in people switching off the work context of living social and just apply it to how they do interact with their family members, friends, relatives and acquaintances. Essentially, personal, private use. 

A missed opportunity on its own, if you ask me, because when those very same firms decide to start their own social business journey(s) they are going to find out how they are facing a much tougher challenge with regards to adoption of these social tools, because their employees won’t just see the connection anymore. “Remember? You told us we can’t use these social networking tools at work, so we are not going to start now” is what most folks would probably say. And that reluctance can surely undermine whatever efforts you put in place to help drive that adoption. It just won’t happen. 

In the past we have seen some very insightful articles on the topic of whether employees do really waste time at work with social technologies or not, or other relevant pieces where, if anything, they are offering plenty of sound advice as to why businesses should not block the use of social media tools; on the contrary, they should promote them quite heavily, if anything. Perhaps my favourite article so far, at least, from the ones I have read over the course of time would be the one from TechRepublic by Jack Wallen under the title “10 reasons NOT to block social networking at work“, which, basically, covers some of the most compelling reasons as to why businesses, again, should not only encourage the use and adoption of social technologies, but embrace the many perks behind it.

I am not going to reference each and everyone of them, for sure, but I thought I would just go ahead and share a listing of them, as a teaser, to see the kinds of perks that embracing social networking tools and letting your employees be not only responsible, but accountable for using these digital tools to get work done in a professional and responsible manner could do for the business. Your business. To name: 

  1. “Morale
  2. Reputation
  3. Communication
  4. Advertising
  5. Collaboration
  6. Social Research
  7. Skill Building
  8. Transparency
  9. PR
  10. Networking”

Needless to say that in the world of Open Business my favourite perks of embracing social networking tools in a work environment would be those of Transparency, Collaboration, Networking and Reputation from the list shared above. More than anything because those would be some of the key ingredients towards provoking that particular business transformation that has been in the making for perhaps a bit too long already. Who knows.

Businesses today are starting to look more how they can become more authentic, more transparent, more unique on how they do business, on how they can help differentiate their brand. After all, we all know and fully understand how people do business with people, so the more transparent, open, collaborative, networked those conversations and interactions can well be amongst knowledge workers in a world where you have to work really hard to earn the merit and reputation with your customers and business partners, blocking social networking sites is not going to be very helpful for your overall mission, i.e. becoming a socially integrated enterprise.

As Dan himself concludes: “Social is the new normal. You are the antithesis of collaboration […]“. Actually, I would go even further. Social is the new post-normal, as my good friend Stowe Boyd wonderfully described just recently in a couple of very good articles describing what it is like. But it gets better, because if you have a bit over 30 minutes I would strongly encourage you all to have a look at the recent presentation he did on the topic at the Meaning 2012 Conference in Brighton, UK, that I blogged about recently and which was, without any doubt, one of the best presentations from the entire day and perhaps one of the best from the whole year. Watch through it and you will see what I mean. Here’s the direct link to the video clip and the embedded code if you would want to play it right away: 

So, there you have it. Next time someone approaches you and comments on whether they should block the use of all of these digital tools in the Open Business era, or if you engage in a conversation with people whose companies have already blocked the access to these social technologies, remind them how we are living in the Social Era whether they like it or not, in case they may not have noticed it just yet, and how we will be keep moving forward. With or without them.

It’d be their choice. 

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6 Comments »

  • Guillaume says:

    Great article and links, thanks Luiz.

    I also find this very hypocritical for companies to ban social media sites like FB, Twitter, etc. More and more organization are working in a matrixed and global environment and have been emphasizing work/life integration (not balance) through smartphones or by asking their people to take calls and answer emails at any given time of the day. The message these companies send is ” we expect you to integrate your work in your personal life but we will not allow you to integrate your personal life to the workspace.” I find this not only hypocritical but also insulting to employees who, I think, see right through this.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Guillaume, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the great feedback comments! Appreciated. That’s just such an excellent point and one that we surely need to have addressed, because it doesn’t seem fair, indeed, that we see companies blocking the use of these social tools, and then we expect them to take calls rather late at night, or early morning, if they have got night shifts. Yes, there needs to be a work, life integration, but, I am with you that it should be one without that hypocritical attitude from companies thinking they are “entitled” to get everything from their employees without giving anything out in return, as if employees should be considered just “lucky” to have the job. Well, I don’t think things work that way any longer.

      In fact, plenty of companies out there are starting to use metaphors where they are starting to compare themselves with communities or even families. Well, I guess in that context we can forget about “entitlement” and such, because family members are not entitled to so and so without asking, doing or contributing anything in return. Everyone adds further up in equal terms, even the entity, in this case, the business.

      Really like your quote “we expect you to integrate your work in your personal life but we will not allow you to integrate your personal life to the workspace”, because, in a way, that’s the main, big problem we are just about to experience with BYOD that no-one seems to want to address: Yes, we allow you to buy your own smartphone or tablet with your own money and we encourage you to work with it and have work related stuff in it and everything, so you can become more flexible, but it’s got to have our security guidelines and policies in place. Really? Is that all that can be done on this very same area as well? I hope there is a whole lot more than what we can do in this area, because I can see how plenty of those knowledge workers will turn off away from BYOD and that work, life integration and somehow the main party losing out on this one is the business, specially, in today’s rather complex, networked, hyperconnected world!

      Thanks again for adding further up those wonderful comments!

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  • Ara Ohanian says:

    Luis, Dan Pontefract sums the whole question up very well when he says social is the new normal. Actually social has always been the norm –we always have been social creatures. Today’s technology simply allows us to do what comes naturally. Organizations which block this in the 21st century will be preventing people from working at their best.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Ara, many thanks for dropping by and for noticing the conversation with Dan through the blog posts. I am totally with you that we are, after all, social animals all along, what’s happened though is that over the course of the last 150 years, perhaps, we have been trying to industrialise, automatise the corporate workforce hiding that human component of doing things as social beings. And I am surely with you that blocking these social tools at work will mean only one thing: we are creating and fostering a digitally illiterate workforce that, if anything, is going to keep struggling tremendously with getting work done!

      I can certainly recommend highly Howard Rheinhold’s Net Smart wonderful book on the topic of how these new digital literacies will be impacting us as knowledge workers as well as human beings interacting in a physical world now going more digital than ever!

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  • Jon Myers says:

    As a consultant and founder of many startups I’ve came to the conclusion that I would indeed block some networks. Specifically just Facebook.

    People grossly overestimate their ability to multi-task. Generally, they’re not good at it.

    The constant alerts from Facebook, and the never ending stream of image memes with ironic quotes placed on them, the negativity that exists on there (outrage is the most viral emotion) and general mindless fodder are not supportive of the focus it takes to be excellent in a business environment.

    Again, people aren’t good at multi-tasking and the constant stream of interruptions don’t help.

    Sure people are social. Agreed. However, the psychological context of user interaction on Facebook is analogous to a party.

    Bringing the party to work probably not the best context for your business.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Jon , thanks a lot for adding further up into the conversation and for the wonderful constructive dissent. Greatly appreciated and rather refreshing! I can see your point as to why people out there may think of Facebook as a “party” place and therefore in a work context it may well be a no-go. However, I can also imagine that those folks with a “party” mind, as the weekend approaches, or as another Monday starts, shouldn’t probably be allowed to go past the “office” space, whatever that may well be, because they may make it contagious for others and before you know it, everyone is partying along! Gosh, that would never happened, would it? :-P

      No, seriously, I can see your point, and I am happy you exposed it over here as well, but I keep thinking that if their work would be meaningful, purposeful, recognised, participatory, open, non-political / bullying, well rewarded and paid for they wouldn’t need to multi-task in the first place and think about partying, but eventually more around contributing into their work to make an even bigger impact. I think that’s what’s more at stake over here, and not necessarily whether companies should block Facebook or not, or any other social networking tool. If folks bring up with them with party spirit at work, I would first try to figure out why is that happening and see how it could be addressed. Blocking the use of the social tools sounds like the easy way out, instead of tackling the bigger issue: employee disengagement. I suspect that’s much of a bigger problem that needs fixing than blocking this or that other digital tool, don’t you think?

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