Social Networks in the Workplace: An Ongoing Debate

Social Networks and Communities at Work

The arguments for and against the use of social networks in the workplace rest, at some basic level, on the foundation of the age old debate of mankind’s ‘state of nature’. Of course, since the Enlightenment, no one has really heralded the idea of the solitary individual roaming the land in their most basic animal form, it is unquestioningly accepted that humans are innately social beings. We can never know our true ‘state of nature’, but we can build on what we know with the proliferation and adoption of new and pervasive technologies that allow us to connect and interact in different ways.

In some organizations, social networks are seen as a distraction, and as many as one in five employers in America have banned Facebook, along with Twitter and a variety of other social sites. This move seems to imply a few things on the part of the employer, for instance, that you don’t trust your employees, that you don’t expect them to need short breaks throughout the workday, as well as a lack of understanding for our need to socialize, share, and connect with one another. Certain kinds of interactions absolutely have an appropriate time and place, and I am in no way advocating that all employees be allowed to neglect their tasks and chat on Facebook all day. What many of the people making these decisions seem to be missing, however, is the creative and professional potential that exists in the human need for interaction.

To draw on the previous posts in this series, it is necessary for online and offline needs and goals to suit each other, to be adapted to each other, and for neither to be denied. In this case, organizational social networks can be a powerful tool in the workplace. While other social networks promise the elevation of one’s social capital, an organizational social network can motivate employees to share and collaborate with the promise of professional advancement and the furthering of their reputation in their field. In addition to this, turning a network of employees into a community can create a sense of belonging, leading to loyalty, and even greater incentive to produce the best possible work in the interest of a greater cause.

The fear of social networks in the workplace is not entirely unfounded, our attention spans have reached an all time low, and many find it difficult to will themselves to say ‘that’s it, I’m getting back to work’, once they have strayed from the day’s tasks. Perhaps, in this sense, technology can prove to be either a blessing or a curse for employers. If treated as a useless luxury that needs to be denied, employees may be disheartened and feel that they are being punished like children. If left unregulated, the infinite distractions may take their toll on productivity, but if the social is properly leveraged and structured by an organization, infinite distractions could transform into infinite possibilities.

Reflection is hardly ever kind to those who deny change, whether it be political, social, or technological, as society moves on they are usually looked back upon as archaic and uninformed. What will be said, in the future, of those who deny the influence of technology today? How do we look back on those who have committed the same errors in the past? In the face of history, all I can say is, nobody wants to be the person who was afraid of Elvis.

Samantha Rosenthal on twitter @SammiRose90.