All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Banning Facebook in the Workplace

One of the biggest aspects of web 2.0 is the growing nature of social network sites such as Facebook (which is growing at a phenomenal 5% a week). Facebook provides a communication vehicle that is rich with multimedia content, and more importantly provides an informal communications environment in digital space.

Recently, Facebook has been banned by several notable organizations in Canada (e.g. Ontario Government, TD Bank) and undoubtedly others organizations will follow suit. Where do you fall in this debate? The standard hypothesis that has lead to the banning of Facebook looks something like...

If Facebook is about socializing and it is known that employees are spending much of their time on Facebook, then employees must be "unproductive".

Personally, I don't have an issue with this. Although I know there seems to be a lot of writers of this topic that view these actions as "short-sighted." or "delaying the inevitable". Although I am an optimist on the potential implications Web 2.0 & Enterprise 2.0 could have on organizational culture, I try to be a realist as well.

Providing a means for self-organization, empowerment, employee engagement, or alternate communication means shouldn't be mistaken for providing the employees the right to do anything they want. Enterprise 2.0, should be about employee engagement and collaboration. It's not about anarchy. If one can't make a strong argument on the business value provided by a set of actions, then an organization not only has the right to question the activities, but has the obligation to shareholders (or taxpayers) to do so.

For Facebook, the "business value" arguments have included "higher employee satisfaction" and "improved communications" but the argument hasn't received a lot of support. However, the elected officials are 'exempt' from the government ban because of the argument that Facebook is a growing communication channel and is essential to reaching their constituents.

I do believe that social networking sites have a place in the enterprise, but Facebook in it's current state simply is not geared towards creating business value. That's not to say, it can't evolve to an enterprise product, or that other tools could emerge based on the "informal communication" concept but they need to be geared towards delivering business value.

Every great leader has understood that it's not just about being smart (or even right). It's also about impact & influence. Influence increases, when the leader is able to relate the vision/mission with those aspects & concepts that touch a personal level. The ability to do that, is enhanced through relationships. My point here is that social networking, and the informal communication offers a new way to create the relationship that in the past required face-to-face interaction. This could be a future productivity application.

For example, how many times have you just phoned a colleague (not a friend) at work just to ask them how their weekend went without any other purpose? When was the last time you sent an e-mail to your boss with no other purpose but to ask about the game last night? Odds are you don't do this. E-mail and the phone tend to be formal communication mediums in the work environment. Heck, you even have to have a subject heading on your e-mail. Now, if you happened to bump into your boss, you might just ask if she caught the game last night. You may even know she is a huge Hockey fan and that she coaches her kids' team. This is informal communication, that leads to stronger relationships.

Don't confuse informal communication with personal communication either. You may bump into a colleague and ask them how they are, just to find out they are swamped with a major project. You likely wouldn't have sent them an e-mail asking, if by chance they were swamped with a new project. Informal connections provide you this knowledge. This may be useful immediately, or somewhere down the line. It may be useful for yourself or somebody else that you connect with.

Facebook, and similar sites do this in digital space. I've allowed for a few 'business' contacts enter my network on Facebook and am amazed how quickly I seem to be 'getting to know' them. Today, I tend to use LinkedIn for my business contacts but it doesn't nearly allow me the same level of informal communication. It would be interesting if Facebook did decided to enter the Enterprise market.

How to harness the good aspects and minimize the potentially negative aspects is the trick. But like most things, the answer is going to be some shade of grey because it sure isn't black or white.

Status: Rex is inviting you t0 comment on his blog.