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I am interested in exploring how workplaces are actually changing (not the hype). This blog is my place for thinking out loud about what I see happening - or not happening.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Facebook - Business Friend or Foe?

I have been arguing in my last couple of posts that people within business enterprises connect as they see fit, and will not be constrained by formal systems in organisations. Blocking access to social enterprise sites is therefore futile, especially since they can be accessed through mobile phones and hand-held devices.

This article claims that authors Dennis Howlett and management consultant Don Tapscott, belive that “the Facebook generation will wipe out the command control infrastructure in business today.

Who knows what will happen? I used to think that social media, including social networking sites, would be like a hand grenade lobbed into businesses - shifting the balance of power in favour of employees, giving them a collective voice and forcing previously less enlightened indifferent employers to listen and be more responsive to employee needs. Now I am not so sure. Employers of choice don't have to be forced to be open and communicative. I think these are the businesses already getting the potential of social networking sites. As for the rest - as I said, who knows what will happen?

The author of the article I referenced earlier in this post said "Of course, one can simply disable Internet access for most employees, while at work. You can decide for yourself whether that makes good sense. Most executives will not want to take such a drastic step."

Well, if an item in theguardian Saturday 25.08.07 is to be believed, that is exactly the drastic step executives are taking in as many as 70% of UK workplaces, which are reported as banning access to Facebook during working hours. I get nervous of passing on unsourced and unsubstantiated statistics, and this one should be treated with caution even if it does appear in a quality national broadsheet.

The newspaper item compares divergent attitudes of two large organisations. The first is Transport for London, which 'has become the latest employer to ban Facebook'. Ernst & Young, in contrast, places no limit on using social networking sites. Richard Jordan, head of employer brand, is reported as saying "One of the reasons why we're so open about using social networking sites is because this is one of the largest ways the web has changed in recent years - and it's important that our people understand that and how the web works."

What I find so interesting about the Ernst & Young response is that it is not couched in terms of advantages or disadvantages to the business - although Jordan does go on to say that keeping in touch with friends within the business who move around 'can be useful'. It is recognising that that is how the world is (connected and complex) and not how businesses might like it to be (controllable).

It remains to be seen if businesses that adopt a knee-jerk banning of access to social networking or video sharing sites reflect on the wisdom of their decisions and change their minds.

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