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Social Media – Is it the new office water cooler?

Alex Christie

30 October 2008

Water_cooler
Independent think tank Demos recently issued a report stating that employers should not see use of social media such as Facebook, or Bebo as a waste of employees time. It found that employees are changing and evolving in the way that they wish to communicate, network, share information and transfer documentation. Popular social media sites are seen to be the organic way in which growth in communications for social and business is developing – and it should not be stifled.

There are a few caveats in there, of course. Usage must be monitored – looking at pictures of your friends in varying states of inebriation all day isn’t going to get any emails sent or meetings attended. And there has to be an alignment with company goals, if a tangible gain is to be had from embracing social media as a method for employees to interact. Demos say there are benefits: focusing a group on a specific task can aid knowledge sharing and produce a solution more quickly than individuals having one on one conversations. Also, younger people who have grown up with email, mobile, and social networking are more accustomed, more comfortable and more productive working in this kind of environment.

I’ve worked in a massive organisation, where without Facebook (it was a while ago), I barely spoke to the people who were on the floor above me. Granted, this might have something to do with the fact that they were the legal department, but I think the point is still valid. Now, working in a global organisation – social media is just another way to keep in touch with colleagues right around the world. I think a lot of it isn’t about what is communicated – it is how it is communicated – and social media furrows a channel that is more interpersonal and less formal that the company-stamped and archived email.

The question is whether its more productive to gain the benefits of allowing staff to engage with each other by a channel of their choosing, or to miss out on the benefits of improved interaction by banning social networks and insisting on more traditional lines. Did employers ever stop staff talking to each other by the water cooler? No. How about the smokers in the smoking area – were they forbade from dialogue? Not likely. I once worked for a company that used to limit Facebook time to 7 minutes a day. (Why 7? Why not 10? Why, at all?!) Now I get to write articles about it. So maybe this writer is just a little bit biased… :)

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