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Managing Facebook in the Workplace

Managing Facebook in the Workplace
Pat Dickson - Mon Jun 11, 2012 @ 01:26PM
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My anecdotal evidence supports the conclusion social media and texting has dramatically reduced employee productivity. Just tiptoe around your office and peek into cubicles, and what do you think you'll discover? Will you find your employees working hard on spreadsheets, preparing project plans, drafting invoices, or making collection calls? Not always.

I challenge you to go into stealth mode and go tiptoeing around. Sneak up on your employees to see what they are really doing in their cubicles. My wager is you will be shocked by how many of them will be doing something other than their assigned work. Many will be clicking away on their iPhones or will be logged into Facebook!

But beware. They are fast! You must be very, very quiet. As soon as they hear you coming, or detect your presence, all evidence will vanish. It takes just a quick click of a mouse. Facebook will disappear and a spreadsheet will appear. In fact, these days employees might just have their spreadsheets up on their screens at all times. They'll be accessing Facebook on their iPhones, so when they detect you coming, they'll just use a sleight of hand to try and fool you. How quickly those little prized handhelds flash into their purses or desk drawers!

What do you do? It used to be you could just block the social media websites and IM channels from your IT Department. If employees were going to goof off on Facebook or online chat, they had to do so via your computers and network. Now, given the wide dissemination of handhelds, with web access via numerous sources you cannot control, there is no way to just turn off access to these productivity sinks.

What do you do? Yes, you can put threats in the employee handbook, or confiscate iPhones at the front door, but there may be a better way to handle this Facebook/social media problem. First, you can just accept that employees will only be happy if they are entitled to Facebook time, as if it were an inalienable right. Second, while ignoring the Facebook problem, you can still achieve your goals. If you can get the results you need by setting productivity quotas, who cares if your employees are using social media or texting on the job, right? 

FACEBOOK TIME IS AN INALIENABLE RIGHT

Oftentimes, managers will take the approach: "How dare an employee use Facebook on company time!" But, I think such hard-line positions can be reconsidered. Remember back when there was talk at the coffee pot or the water cooler? This talk occurred frequently and during work time. It was a vital part of the day. The human being is a social animal and needs a little bit of interaction throughout his day. Facebook is just the modern version of chit chat at the water cooler. It is ok to do a few minutes here and there. It just isn't ok to hang out in the kitchen for hours.

I remember sitting in a meeting with a company CFO and several members of his Finance team. Each was asked to detail the time he spent on various activities throughout his day. One young man nonchalantly disclosed he spent about one hour each day on Facebook. When the CFO basically exclaimed "How dare you!" the young man replied with a question. 

"Aren't you happy with my performance, and don't I finish all my assigned tasks on time?"

"Well, yes."

"Sometimes, when I need a break from my spreadsheets and calculations, logging onto Facebook helps me take a breather and refocus."

The CFO looked at him inquisitively and scratched his head, then he asked, "So you are saying your time on Facebook is like taking a break to chat with your coworkers at the water cooler?"

"Exactly!" replied the young man. "In fact, I'd probably not stick around here much longer if this were the kind of company that didn't let me have reasonable Facebook time. I mean that's how I keep up with everything going on in my life, with my family and friends. I do have a life outside work. I mean even when my grandmother is cooking dinner, she puts it on Facebook!"

THE SOCIAL MEDIA SOLUTION

My proposed solution to managing social media in the workplace is to just not worry about it. Why not just accept it as water cooler time and focus on what is really important? Employee productivity. If an employee gets his job done, who cares how much time he spends on Facebook, right? I suppose it can depend on whether you like to take a slave master or results-oriented approach. To emphasize my point, I'll tell a short story about how one of my clients and I dealt with the problem.

"I don't get it," said Brenda. "The Collections Department is falling behind. Nancy, the Controller, says we need to hire a fourth person. I counted the invoices we've been issuing and they have actually decreased 10% over the last few years. There is no evidence any more of our customers are slow paying than before. We still have about the same number of problem accounts. We've been managing collections just fine with three people forever. Now suddenly we are falling behind?"

"Too much time at the water cooler."

"We don't have a water cooler!"

Then I explained the Facebook/social media problem to Brenda, as discussed above.

"My goodness, you are so right! Every time I go into the Boardroom and look out the one way mirror, there are all my employees clicking and clacking on their iPhones. Why don't they just get their work done? They'll probably mutiny if I make them hand in their gadgets at the front door. What do we do?"

We then worked out a new schedule and set of requirements for the Collections Department. Without getting into all the details, we basically required the responsible employees to establish contact with any customer more than one week past due. Within another week, a Controller and customer approved plan of action had to be established. If not, the Controller had to immediately inform Brenda, the CEO, of the issue. Additionally, on a weekly basis, Brenda began personally reviewing the past due accounts with the Controller. Soon A/R was back on track.

In the end, by requiring measurable actions and results, we skipped taking any action on the social media issue, and got back on schedule. A fourth collections employee was no longer needed. Three people were still enough, and they didn't have to turn in their iPhones at the front door.

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