EU

Ban social media as a distraction? No, it boosts productivity

Any manager who thinks staff should be banned from using social media at work is seriously misguided and could be doing grave damage to the business.

It is very obvious that social media allows people to accomplish a lot more. Photo: Shutterstock

Far from diverting employees from their jobs, social media and smartphones actually make staff more productive - and employers should learn to deal with that new reality.

Access to social networks via mobile devices gives staff a "virtual co-presence" with direct benefits for the business in which they work, according to a new study.

That core presence enables workers to complete collective tasks more effectively by giving them a greater freedom over when and where they do their jobs, the study of technology companies in the UK, Germany and Finland found.

"This was an investigatory study, rather than a statistical proving. But it was very obvious that social media allows people to accomplish a lot more," said Joe Nandhakumar, professor of information systems at Warwick Business School, which conducted the research.

"We can feel that in the academic environment. If you take that connectivity away, we are completely unable to work," he said.

According to Nandhakumar, evidence from the research suggests that knowledge workers who manage their presence successfully and control their responses are better at organising workflow.

He argued that social media is not an entertainment medium with side-benefits for business. "It's not a by-product. It's the main thing," he said.

Nandhakumar pointed out that social media is a central part of the culture of knowledge workers, "It's not a secondary effect. You can't avoid it. You can't ban it, so how do we make this work for the organisation?" he said.

Social media as a diversion

He warned against organisations treating social media and easy access to it via mobile devices as a distraction for employees.

"They said that about email. They said that about the telephone. Businesses should change - social media is a fact of life," he said.

"You can't stop people having this connectivity so we need to find out how we can manage it and how we can make it into something more positive rather than trying to ban it. Anything can be a distraction - a computer can be a distraction - it depends on how you use it."

Nandhakumar said successful organisations used to focus strongly on processes and then on connecting people. Now social media can provide a layer on top of ERP systems. "We can have the people on top of the processes to get the best of both," he said.

"What we should do as companies, we should empower employees to deal with social media and how they can spend their time productively. We can't really control these things. They are there for the knowledge worker."

The Warwick Business School paper is entitled Exploring social network interactions in enterprise systems: the role of virtual co-presence. It is due to be published in the Information Systems Journal.

About

Toby Wolpe is a senior reporter at TechRepublic in London. He started in technology journalism when the Apple II was state of the art.

117 comments
dasha_g
dasha_g

That’s a very interesting topic. I thought I’d drop a note to share some more related stats. Recently, we ran a survey on working habits with 2,000 respondents of various organizational levels. One of the question was what they’d name as the most dangerous threat to their productivity. Digital distractions, including social networking, ranked only the 5th with around 9% votes (http://www.wrike.com/news/wrike-survey-overworking-has-become-habit-forming). In our earlier survey that was focused on virtual collaboration, 91% said they’d easily abandon Twitter and Facebook during working hours, if it was needed. But here's another interesting thing: recently, I read about some studies that revealed how browsing the web/social media with work-unrelated purposes is actually good for productivity. The secret is that it shouldn't take more than 5 minutes as a way of taking a short pause from work. Such breaks make sense if you make them every 80-90 minutes.

pmerighi
pmerighi

People at work seems to be more addicted to social media than ever. They loose the focus on they real job.

thensley
thensley

Perhaps we could get the ne0-supreme court to rule on this issue. There are some valid business uses for these types of interactions however most of the interaction is personal-social. Human behavior is difficult to predict. Human behavior is a difficult thing to modify. The loudest most persistent will have their way.

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Not sales clerks or service people. Wish people writing these stories would point to a good definition of what they are talking about so people wouldn't confuse them with clerks! Some people need and can use the social media at work, others can't. It seems to create two classes in a work place but in reality there already was. Knowledge workers and warm bodies who are being replaced by the machines made by the knowledge workers.

phscnp
phscnp

All devices (dumb or smart phones, handheld games, etc.) are banned on the floor at a Target I worked for when underemployed. People should be watching for customers to help, then activities to further the business, then maintenance to perform. This was very effective. My wife cooks at a small assisted living facility (11 clients.) There are usually 2 staff on hand. Before an outright ban, one or both would sit down at the kitchen table and phone and FB and browse the web, rather than helping clients and doing maintenance. What these have in common is clients immediately present and always work to be done. Where mobile devices help is environments where the company demands availability when away from the desk. IT fits this model. We deliver failure events to teams via text or email. Users can modify this but the interface is less than intuitive. It is common for groups to email off-hours requests to group distributions. I could imagine using a separate "business social" account to facilitate some of this function, but I think the necessary features are not there. What I want is for all my tools to feed into the social site of choice, with user-friendly filtering including a scheduler to turn off audible alerts based on severity. What we have now is a toy. I like toys, and I play with them. But I don't play with them when my employment requires more.

groon
groon

[quote]“We can feel that in the academic environment. If you take that connectivity away, we are completely unable to work,” he said.[/quote] I conclude from this that prior to the advent of Facebook, no work was accomplished in the academic environment. I am so thankful that Facebook was invented!

jsargent
jsargent

When a ban is put in place, normally it is because a large number of people are taking advantage of the system. That makes everyone bitter and can be contagious. When the access time is limited, it is clear to all what the limits are, there is not need for confrontation. When a new guy is working hard to prove himself, at-least he does not need to be bitter because the guy next to him is stuck on social media all day while while he is busting his spheres.

&ltDTECH;
&ltDTECH;

The writer of this article seems very enthusiastic about the facts that he speaks of, its really nice to see what the research has put out, but where i live there are a lot of people that is being distracted by social media on the work sites, making more time for that than the actual purpose of their employment, it has a lot to do with the policies that the organization should be putting in place to stop these kind of short commings, I agree fully with the part on it creates a better scope for the day to day productivity but management should look at the bad sides of it, and make the employees more aware of these facts that I have stated...

raykaville
raykaville

What a bunch of garbage. My company uses Notes with a Sametime meeting feature. We have an object called a telephone on each desk. When I need to contact someone I can use my "social meda" and it's 100% effective. No need for an iphone. What I do see in my investagatory findings is a pile of foreign consultants who spend most of their day bumping into walls while they google funny images and chat with their friends. The rest of us actually work. Sorry, I can't see any value to having someone buried in a texting war while there's work to be done. Also, to those who "are completely unable to work" at school, those institutions have been operating for hundreds of years and everyone managed to learn. Maybe you should stop relying on your friends to give you the answers and dig for them yourself like everyone else. That's what university is all about. LEARNING not PLAYING.

markwhitmire
markwhitmire

"Investigatory" is right! This is nothing more than an academics personal opinion and has little to no value other than comical business entertainment. Is social media in the workplace a reality? Of course but it is a laughable overreach to say it increases productivity.

jnmartinez
jnmartinez

I just spent 30 minutes reading this article and related comments on company time. I am now participating in the Social Media experience by joining the community and adding my comments. I'm getting paid for it and my boss should just "deal" with it. My inbox still looks about the same and my "To Do" list hasn't gone down much. I feel that I can leverage this co-presence and gained knowledge into increased productivity in the future though. Look at this crazy dog playing the piano: fakelink.ly/iamembarrassedformygeneration.

steve.hammill
steve.hammill

Giving this study the hairy eyeball for now....

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I'm driving between stores and stopping every five or ten minutes to answer texts, update FB, or send a neat tweet about something I just saw. Then I'll get to answer questions from my boss about why it took 90 minutes to drive 10 miles...

PJ70
PJ70

Mark Zuckerberg? This is totally BS. No one uses social media at work to collaborate. They use it strictly for goofing off. Maybe in their "study" they had the people collaborate, but there are far better tools available in the workplace than a public chat room. This is stupid.

Cayble
Cayble

We see this kind of nonsense all the time from the tech savvy. Some new wave of IT trending thing comes about and the well informed tech savvy persons who work in IT often grab onto it and whoot and holler about the great new important thing thats going on and why the world needs to embrace it. Its the same thing with so much of this "cloud computing" blabber. Most real world people that have an oppertunity to become significantly informed about what a relitivly "complete cloud computing environment" would entail, say no thanks. Some cloud computing as it can be used to my benifit, thanks, having to turn over most of my data and get all my apps from the cloud? No thanks. Not needed, Im doing fine thanks. Then flip it over to many IT types working in the industry, cloud computing; its all fine and great according to them. Its new, its great its improved and we all need to buy into it. Its nonsense and so is the concept that the boss needs to let the workers get on with their social media usage on the job. Benifits are minimal and very intermittant, all the rest of the time its a waste from the employers perspective. IT professionals need to start taking courses about how Mr. and Ms. Joe Average really do live their lives, what they actually care about, how little about IT they generally know, or even care to know and what they really do want out of their computers and devices. Its clearly not at all what many of the IT savvy but real world inept professionals who live and work in the IT industry think it is, and think the rest of the world is somewhere close to the same page they are on. They measure real world peoples interests, at best by the people they know who are not in the IT business, but still usually people with the same kinds of lives they have, similar styles of education often, interests and of course quite often influenced by the very contact they have had from hanging around with the IT professional. Its not working for them. They make off base and pointless predictions and have too ofte wrong concepts of how things are going to go. They need to either just stop or get educated on the real world out look and interest in matters of IT for the general public.

jmoore
jmoore

Back in the day there was no social media and we worked for a paycheck and maybe health insurance. No one had to tell us to work hard because we knew if we didn't their was someone waiting to replace us. The arguement that socail media enhances productivity is BS and is only valid for employees of FB and other companies that rely strictly on the service itself. It won't replace email or phones calls or in person commuincation because it is a convoluted form of communication as well as nothing more than a fad that will fade away with bell bottom jeans as soon as the cooler more hipper younger generation comes of age.

Altotus
Altotus

Yea ebay and porno as well!

mike.gordon
mike.gordon

To never use the Warwick Business School for any sensible research I may need. With so many caveats to present a positive spin on the "findings" it's a complete mystery why any professor would lend his name to it.

johnfallon96
johnfallon96

It has been my experieince as an Operations Manager at a large facility and the voiced opinions of my counterparts across the country, that Social Network Access is like having games on the PC. I have not found one instance where they have been more effective or beneficial in any manner then employing regular emails with copies sent to all concerned or soliciting input. It just gives the employees the idea that if it is there to use it is okay to waste time with friends and hobbies. Also, after all Tech Republic has published about the dangers and problems with social networks, it is hard to comprehend why you would even support this kind of thinking. I agree if benefits exist, they are for an extremely narrow range of academic or highly technical fields and not recommended for across the board use of every business .

jwhwab
jwhwab

And that's not Bachelor of Science. I've never seen an associate use social media as a work tool. They're not going on there to consult a "colleague" about work. It's always about personal stuff. If my company didn't block social media sites, half would be on there wasting the companies time. Again, BS.

BillGates_z
BillGates_z

As bogus as social media as a business model - the model of delivering more faces to ads in the hope they'll buy more crap (which, after all, is the basis of our economy).

SycamoreISU
SycamoreISU

This month has been another reminder of how inconsiderate people can be. We had to play "computer police" because someone was live-streaming a NCAA tournament game and pegging our network connection. Dozens of people weren't able to work because someone couldn't just listen to the radio. Similarly, using social media at work largely distracts people from the job they are PAID to do. That's why those sites are blocked on our company computers. We don't specifically ban you from accessing these sites on your smart phone, but we can still tell when work productivity drops from overuse. If people could just keep the terms "company time" and "personal time" in mind before doing something, this wouldn't be an issue.

bufddymike
bufddymike

Why such angry commentary? Everyone seems to disagree with the author, why? If I had to guess, I would put everyone commenting negatively on this article in the 45+ age category...amirght? I am a 30 y/o in the finance field and have to agree with this article. Somewhere down the road, employers are going to have to learn to deal with social media. It's not going away. Let me say that again...it's NOT going away! Nothing your company can do will stop it. You can try and eliminate it or control it but all you are doing is irritating your younger staff and they will eventually leave. You are pushing your talent out the door. My generation is big on social media but not nearly as big as the one below me. Kids today are equipped with technology as early as toddlers (ipads, laptops) and given smartphones before they hit double digits! They know their way around technology far better than Baby Boomers and Gen X and with that comes the ability to multitask far better. I've seen it in every job I have ever had. Truthfully, being on a smartphone to access Facebook or Twitter is no different than the 60 y/o woman who works in an office next to me calling her husband and hairstylist 2X-3X per day. The IT department at my corporation quickly learned that banning social media was not the answer. If an employee wants to waste time they are going to do it regardless of which medium they use. My grandfather once told me that way before the days of smartphones, his coworkers and him used to take long bathroom breaks reading the printed news. I'm not sure if social media scares the older generations because they don't understand it or they just simply are not willing to accept it...but I can assure you that if you don't learn to you are putting your company at risk of falling behind.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

As someone who has spent countless (no, counted, since I bill for the time) hours analyzing logs to discover how employees are using their employer's bought-and-paid-for time online, I can say with no undue confidence that this is complete nonsense. Of course, now that most people have their own smartphones and are no longer dependent upon the corporate network to access the Internet at work, there's little way to stop it. I like cute kitten videos as much as the next guy. But please don't try to convince me that this is making anyone more productive. Most people I know (myself included) need fewer distractions at work; not more. Now if you excuse me, I've got to get back to work.

john.ammon
john.ammon

Social Media is to business the same as the telephone and email, Employees can abuse any of the three. I've seen employees waste countless hours communicating to friends and family on all three media channels. Most companies still don't have social media use (incidental use) policies written into their companies employee handbooks, procedures, policies...... And if you mix in BYOD (employees can use their personal devices for business use) then the picture gets even fuzzier. Define your company polices, communicate those policies and treat people as professionals and then weed out your non productive/non professional workers.

edewey
edewey

is that it brought out a lot of good comments.

rcosby
rcosby

Clerks, hairdressers, waitresses, and bricklayers are not knowledge workers! Everyone's days are filled with distractions. I think some of you are missing the point. This isn't about your waitress being on facebook. Of course non productive people will be non productive. The point is more that knowledge workers can responsibly use social media and increase their productivity at the same time. Is it faster for me to get an IM message from my daughter telling me that she is changing plans or to take a phone call from her? Both my wife an I are professionals. We both manage busy calendars and stay in touch with our teenage daughter. In a day filled with meetings, conference calls, and shutting myself inside of my office to try to get some work done, it is MUCH more efficient to scan a page and swap updates with family than it would ever be to try to reach anyone on the phone. Double that if a call to my mother is involved ...

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

These comments remind me of a meeting at a transportation agency about 20 years ago. I was part of the MIS2000 contingent that was arguing for agency access to the Internet. I remember that one of the old guard shouted at me that we had a 'job to do and that was build roads, not play on computers!' I shouted right back and said 'our job is to serve taxpaying customers and they are using the Internet to communicate!' Today you would be hard pressed to find a business 'not connected' to what was then considered frivolous and rife with potential abuse by employees.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It is not right or wrong in and of itself. Bill and Jane sharing LOLs about Fred is not the sort of knowledge sharing a compant wants to see their time being used for. Now there are some advantages for a relaxed approach to it as long the people involved get their work done in an above average manner, though mixing social and business in one tool raises a whole series of issues. For me though as a Company's first social media policy should be, it's not for socialising...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I look forward to vehemently disagreeing with you at some point in the future. Not today though.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is a git on their wall. Or forgetting they are on social media and mentioning inhouse strategy. Or attempting to claim an ex-emplyee's address book as company IP, due to it having some contacts in it that could be deemed as valuable to them. Or clicking on a link from a "friend" and introducing a virus into the company network... All of which we keep seeing and yet there are still those citing unfettered access to social media as a general business necessity... One wonders at their motivation and or IQ.

LalaReads
LalaReads

Though one could argue that companies have already blurred the line by expecting employees to monitor email and be available during non-work hours. as for the inconsiderate person, some people don't realize how much bandwidth is needed for livestreaming. it's a good opportunity to educate everyone. If you have repeat offenders then you know you have a personnel issue to deal with.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

We had a similar problem when everyone needed to live access to the budget statement and the COO's annual address... It's not that simple, the quest for an easy answer is the real problem.

333239
333239

As for the younger generations, I'm sorry but there is a big difference between using Facebook and "knowing your way around technology". They have "the ability to multitask far better"??, LOL you must be joking! (or Darwin was wrong). "Skiving" as we call it around here is nothing new and has nothing to do with technology, it is a management issue, however temptation can be removed. If I freely issue beer and wine to all employees, I may well find that more become unfit for work than if I didn't. Yes, they could bring their own into work anyway and drink it secretly if they wanted, but they wouldn't last long in the job. Likewise, why should I provide something that won't improve, but instead harm their productivity?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You compared FB and Twitter to someone calling her husband and hairdresser. Those are distractions too.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

It's the wisdom and ability, gained through time and experience, to understand what is appropriate and what is not. And not everyone gains it.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

At your implication that those who disagree with the article do so based on age. I happen to view social media as more than just [i] facebook[/i]. The core concept of user generated content which can be shared with a group is what makes the idea of social media productivity so compelling. If your argument had been based on Wikipedia or how a successful presidential campaign leveraged social media to win, you might have won some folks over. For the record I mostly agree with the author. However the naysayers make excellent points concerning abuse.

eaglewolf
eaglewolf

Not only do you have a real problem with age, but reality. So you're scared of the 'older' generation? So toddlers are technology experts? Everybody who doesn't agree with you is over 45? The woman who calls her husband and hair dresser isn't an age dependent problem, yet you had to say she was 60+. How different is that from your 20-something coworker who can't take 5 minutes away from Facebook to complete a task for a client? Both are policy issues that need to be addressed by management. You have the attitude that many lawmakers have: we don't have the time, money, resources to enforce these laws against [xyz], so let's just legalize all of them and .. presto! The problem goes away. Right? As long as the employee, of *any* age, is wasting company time and resources playing and not working, then the system is broken. And just because today's kids know what buttons to push .. what to drag around a screen .. does NOT make them techincally competent or knowledgeable. Is the baby sitting on the potty trainer that comes complete with the iPad holder technically competent? Get over your disdain for people over 45 - you might actually learn something from them.

LalaReads
LalaReads

It seems like all those who disagree with the article see social media as an isolated issue, when it's only the latest tool one can use - or abuse. it's merely a tool and it's how one uses it that determines its usefulness. some are only focusing on the negative aspects of tool. yes, work is a place of your business it is expected that work is to be done and everyone needs to focus on their work. However, if a business does not allow employees a chance to take mental breaks and socialize - in moderation - the work environment is little more than a sweat shop. if your business benefits from your employees going above and beyond to meet a difficult deadline then you will create a more effective team by giving some slack. Also consider the benefits not easily measured - improved morale, increased focus, teambuilding and increased creativity. The morale improves because business is treating the employee with respect. employees with kids focus better when they know they can reach their kids and know they're safe - texting is faster and less disruptive to coworkers than a phone call. team building - coworkers share a funny post with each other and improve their working relationship. It's much quicker and cheaper for a company than sponsored afterwork activities that only impact a small percentage of the employees. As for creativity, I'm not saying social media creates creativity but that it's a tool one can use to refocus. I am certain that everyone here has gotten stuck on a problem where they need to take a break and focus elsewhere for a while. sometimes watching a fuzzy kitten video is the perfect solution, especially if you're feeling frustrated by the problem. additionally, work is increasingly encroaching on many people's personal lives - companies expect employees to carry a work phone home, do work at home, monitor work email, etc. how is it ok for business to expect more time from an employee and not allow the employee to check social media - within moderation - while at work, especially when doing so can have so many benefits that are not easily quantifiable?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

equivalents on here from time to time. I would have been just as vehemently against. Ban or open up completely is a foolish position. Maximise the benefits and minimise the costs is what any body with an IQ should be doing. I'm in your over 45 group, but my distaste for facebook et al, stems from a very simple observation. Just because someone wants to be my friend doesn't mean they are.... Social media is deisgned for socialising, not for business. In order to to use it foir business that same rules cannot apply. On social media I'm ConanTheDestroyer, or Fetish Toy whatever, when I'm acting as Tony Hopkinson of Acme Corp I cannot be those people, even if I worked for the gaming or porn industries. If you personally or your company allows a blurring of identities on social media tools for those two separate perspectives, the only result will be a world of hurt for one or both.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Reminiscing that folks don't like change? Implying that Web 2.0 might make work more productive the way ftp & e-mail did? Chuckling at the irony of us arguing productivity on a social media site?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

that doesn't mean everyone in the business needs access to social media. A transportation agency wouldn't let one of the accountants operate a snowplow; it's not part of his job.

LalaReads
LalaReads

Everything on one's desk, the window (if you're lucky), being able to see past your cubicle walls, your coworkers next door on business calls - all are potential distractions, let alone that (almost) everyone has lives outside of work that can be very distracting. Its' up to each employee to figure out how to focus themselves and be productive. I'm still scratching my head on how the average worker can use social media in a business sense too, but it doesn't change my position that banning it will improve productivity. The vast majority of good workers will not allow social media to interfere with their productivity. Bad workers are already goofing off. In the vast majority of instances, social media abuse is not the cause of nonperformance, just a symptom. Let's turn the tables around on this - just think how much easier it will be to fire the nonperformers. You'll have clear documented evidence of inappropriate use of time.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This is the third mention of receiving texts from children as less disruptive than phone calls. Is texting 'social media'? It's direct from one device / account to another. Between dependent children and parents, it's probably all over one provider's network.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We have a problem lately with 'drive-by downvoting' by people who can't be bothered to tell you why they disagreed. From my viewpoint, if they can't be bothered to tell me why, I can't be bothered to care.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Some of the residency accounting staff drove a mean snowplow at the annual ROAD-EO. :) BTW my hat is really off to folks who do that. If you've never seen a top notch driver it is hard to describe just what kind of fine control they have. And wrt to Internet access, not everybody has computers. Not everyone gets cell phones. But when it comes down to communicating to stakeholders you had better be using whatever medium they use.