By Craig Buckler

Businesses Count the Cost of Social Networking

By Craig Buckler

banning social networksA recent UK survey discovered that 57% employees were accessing sites such as Facebook and Twitter for an average of 40 minutes per week. It concluded that non-business use of the social networks was costing the UK £1.38 billion every year ($2.28 billion US Dollars).

Portsmouth City Council discovered that workers spent 413 hours a month using Facebook and promptly blocked the website. Other councils have insisted that staff sign a code of conduct in which they promise to limit their non-business web access.

Despite the findings, 76% of the 1,460 workers surveyed stated they had not been issued with specific guidelines relating to non-work internet use.


Is Blocking Effective?

Businesses often react strongly to these survey reports and the list of banned sites on corporation firewalls can increase exponentially. But how effective can it be? It technically simple to block Twitter.com, but there are dozens of alternative websites and applications. Even catching them all does not prevent staff tweeting on mobile phones.

The social networks can also offer significant business benefits to customer support, sales, marketing, and research departments. Cordoning off huge areas of the web could be counter-productive.

Time Wasting is Not a New Phenomenon

The survey found employees were spending an average of just 8 minutes per day using social networks. There will be people who waste far more time, but how many minutes are wasted chatting with colleagues, making a coffee, taking a personal call, enjoying an extra long comfort break, or staring out of the window? No one can ever give 100% concentration throughout the whole of an 8-hour day.

There are obviously situations when employee’s personal internet use moves beyond reasonable limits. Business managers have a right to implement guidelines, monitor access, and reprimand staff who flout the rules.

Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic, but I would recommend businesses either provide full internet access or ban it altogether. People are clever — attempting to control employee behavior will ultimately backfire.

Has your organization blocked access to the social networks? Do they have usage guidelines? Has blocking helped or hindered your daily work?

  • There have been multiple attempts to filter using proxies in various offices I have worked in – in my own company, we just believe in trust and try to measure output rather than dictate non-business activities. If you cant trust your employees, they shouldnt be working for you.

  • I definitely agree with the idea of “allow full access or ban it completely.” If you block just a part, it always becomes a challenge to see if you can get around that part. Once you do, they block your new method too and it ends up being an endless game of cat and mouse. Then, you wind up wasting a lot more time then if you didn’t block it at all.

  • Wrong

    There is no way around a proper GPO blocking people from changing network settings and adding facebook.com and twitter.com to your local DNS servers.

    Working as a Network Administrator, I definitely do not agree with the allow all or block all concept.

  • rozner

    8 minutes a day is really nothing. There are people at my office who waste far more time just going on coffee and/or smoke breaks. Not to mention people who just come by your office to talk about whatever is floating around in their head since they have nothing better to do. I’ve worked for some large corporations, and I’m working for one now and people waste a lot of time and it has nothing to do with the internet.

    I find the blocking really annoying, not so much for facebook, but generally anything with “blog” in the URL is blocked and often I need some technical info which is answered in a blog that I can’t see. So I usually end up wasting more time by accessing it on my phone. And if I really feel like going on facebook I can do that on my phone as well (which I usually do in boring meetings, which is all meetings at my company … ). So anyway, I’m against blocking internet access.

  • People need breaks in their work if they are going to be productive. 40 minutes a week is nothing. This stupid obsession with monitoring every single moment of a person’s time in the office just causes resentment, and reduces motivation and productivity.

    Look at the work the person produces, not whether they are plodding along every second of the day. Promote them if they are producing great work, fire them if they are not cutting it. Forget whether they are spending 40 minutes a week on Facebook.

  • PatrickSamphire is right. The thing that none of this takes account of is that wasting time can boost productivity. I think of it as “creative time wasting” – it provides a break, mental relief, a few minutes of relaxation.

    All of will have experienced situations where we’re stuck on a problem, and find that often the best way to solve it is to stop thinking about it for a while. This concept is best described by the phrase “sleep on it” – to take the mind away from it completely, and by doing so, to allow new inspiration to come to mind naturally.

    Allowing employees to spend a natural amount of time relaxing at work yields an overall increase in useful productivity; and trying to block this kind of activity has further disadvantages in terms of breeding resentment.

    I do not accept that the use of social networking sites at work costs business money – such a conclusion proceeds from the false assumption that such time would otherwise be spent in 100% productive activity, which is simply not the case.

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