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Many companies still do not give full access to social media (or even the internet) during office hours. They fear loss of productivity as people will chat away the time.
Microsoft conducted a survey to check the impact of social media on productivity. It surveyed 9808 knowledge workers in 32 countries. You can find the full report here. Here are some of the interesting results
social media usage
The 4 most reported purposes of social media are communication with other colleagues, reviewing documents, communication with customers and building a network. Germany, Switzerland and Japan have in general the lowest penetration of social media in professional activities. About 20% of employees that were surveyed in these countries state not to use social media for professional purposes.
This is a remarkable result because Microsoft surveyed knowledge workers that use computers and mobile devices for 75% of the time.
Security and Productivity
In 9 countries productivity loss is seen as the main reason to restrict the use of social media. The other countries report security risks as the main reason for restricting access to social media. Respondents in countries like China, India, Turkey, Mexico and Russia report gains in productivity related to the use of social media. In Belgium, France and the Netherlands only one quarter reports productivity increases.
The manager is the culprit
It seems to be the manager who plays a vital role. Only 31% of respondents say that their manager stimulates the use of social tools whereas 36% states the contrary. Reasons for that is that managers fear that sensitive information will be disclosed (47%) or that productivity will suffer (41%). 32% say that they know someone who has gotten into trouble because of the use of social media while at work. 16% say that they have gotten into trouble themselves.
It’s Culture again
The use of social tools seems to me to be heavily influenced by culture. Both company culture and national culture are at stake. If you work for a company with an introverted culture, use of social media might be be seen as an unhealthy way of self-profiling, exposing people to unnecessary risks. People that are visible on social media will be frowned upon. This is also the case in certain professional and national cultures that value discretion over visibility and exposure.
I remember discussions with German friends about the use of social media. The focus was mostly on the loss of privacy. Using social media to them was exposing too much personal information to too many people. This is understandable in a country that still has a vivid recollection of how the State spied on its citizens.
Opportunity versus threat
People seem to have adopted the use of social media much faster in the new and emerging economies than in established economies. To them social tools are an opportunity to get in contact with the rest of the world. They have understood that being connected has a tremendous value in a global economy.
When the world wide web opened up the internet to many users and companies in the 90ies, many people focussed on the threats. In 1996 I had to make a reservation to use the only PC in the company that was connected to the web and only few were allowed to mail with external parties. Can you imagine that? Today we think it’s ridiculous, but it wasn’t 20 years ago.
Everytime a new technology is on the rise, resistance is to be expected. And that is because the new technology is seen as aggressive to those who are not used to it. If managers focus on the risks of social media instead of on the opportunities, it’s mainly because they are not familiar with them.
Balanced leadership
The use of social media in companies is a matter of balanced leadership: letting go of unnecssary control and holding onto values. A company that prohibits its (knowledge) workers to use social media will not take advantage of the opportunities. The possible risks should be dealt with. But like it is with any sort of risk, you need to manage it and accept that it’s there. Without risk, there will not be progress.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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