Debate about whether Facebook should be banned from the workplace rages on. And many organisations are still uncertain whether banning is a wise course of action or if it is even possible to enforce.
Let’s explore some of the arguments for both sides.
Why are some companies deciding to ban Facebook at work?
The popularity of Facebook is irrefutable. In December 2010 it surpassed google.com for the first time as the most popular site on the world wide web. Millions of us are hooked and there’s even a descriptive term coined for it – Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD).
Concerns around lost productivity generally drive management decisions to ban Facebook. It’s no surprise that managers don’t want their employees spending hours on the platform when they should be working.
Celebrity businessman and Dragons’ Den panellist Theo Paphitis banned Facebook at his workplaces and strongly advocates this move. Writing for a national newspaper in the UK he explains,
“The explosion in online activity has resulted in an orgy of self-indulgence and exhibitionism. Businesses might have been helped by the ability to promote themselves on the internet, but they have also been hit by the web’s encouragement of time-wasting by their staff.”
Other arguments supporting the case for banning Facebook revolve around upholding brand reputation and removing the need for staff discipline.
With users unable to access social media sites at work, management limits the possibility of messages being sent during work hours that may dilute their brand. And if you’ve invested valuable time and money in staff training, you’ll want high retention rates without the need to exert discipline around too much Facebook browsing.
Yet a blanket Facebook ban as advocated by Theo ignores some of the benefits that Facebook can bring to a business.
Why allow staff access to Facebook at work?
A blanket ban on Facebook can quickly prove a nightmare for HR managers and line managers. It can give the impression that staff are not trusted, resulting in lowered morale and resentful team members if the reasons for monitoring Facebook usage are not communicated adequately. After all, a happy workplace is more likely to be a productive workplace.
Facebook may have started out as a very personal tool that was not intended for corporate communication but that line has blurred dramatically in recent years. It now offers a number of business benefits.
It’s common for business to take advantage of Facebook’s gargantuan 800+ million user base to spread knowledge of an organisation through their networks quickly, easily, at a low cost and to drive revenue generation. It can be a great way for staff to keep up with industry news and provides an avenue for employees to monitor useful discussions occurring outside company walls.
So what’s the right decision on Facebook?
There’s no right or wrong answer. One useful option could be to focus on developing an Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP) specific to the company and designed to promote an engaged and productive workplace. An AUP is a set of guidelines that outline just how web browsing operates at the workplace.
In the majority of cases, a blanket Facebook ban does not work. The simple “allow” and “deny” functionality offered by firewalls or web security solutions is inadequate. You cannot resolve the problem of excessive Facebook activity without sacrificing the numerous benefits offered by the platform.
Enforcing an AUP can be a challenge for HR managers and line managers, but it’s probably achievable through the use of judicious web monitoring solutions that are customised to meet an organisation’s needs. For instance, access can be controlled on an individual user basis, granted by department, or even be set based on times of the day, such as lunch times and after hours. Alternatively, line managers might want to have Facebook accessible at all times but let their employees know that they need to use it sensibly and that the web usage is being monitored as a standard IT practice.
In this way, organisations can ensure they reap all the business benefits Facebook can bring.
Rhondda King is HR/Relationships Manager at MailGuard.