Sunday, April 29, 2012

Social Networks and Workplace – will they ever Gel?


Social Networks and Workplace – will they ever Gel?

Social networking in the workplace is a major dilemma for today’s businesses more so in India compared to Western World. The question that constantly bothers the CIO/CEO and the organization is that will it help more or hurt more, or a combined effect of it is Help+ or Hurt-. Let me analyze here and see how it all pans out here and see whether i7 Networks can help in anyways to solve the dilemma.

Some of the biggest concerns are those which are always echoed by Indian CIOs which are the misuse of precious bandwidth for such non-productive tasks (i.e social media) plus unnecessary loss of productive time and worse all these access delays /hurts the performance of the business critical software which also plies using the same internet bandwidth. The deadliest of all what CIO/Legal confirm is the legal issue, what if users say something or leave a footprint which is not legal as per the law of the land.

But social media, you all agree to a large extent is very popular today and many people swear by it and is the cool thing today. I’ll even bet that most of you engage in it—at home, on the road, at work, or maybe even all of it. Nevertheless why there is so much astounding popularity of Social Networks? Various reasons and most popular is personal and other is of course business. On the personal front, social networking satisfies a powerful human need of association and communication – basically mainly socializing, and after all we are “Social Animals” and love to socialize, and in this busy mobile world, social networks provides a way to satisfy that Social behaviour of ours. Very well but let’s discuss the business side of the same. Today what we call it web 2.0 which includes all of social networking is used for many commercial purposes especially collaboration and many believe is an excellent way for business to network with customers, colleagues, partners, potential customers and potential new hires. Some HR believe that is an excellent tool to hire the new generation smart coders and is a must in the workplace to attract talent and to retain them. Some HR swear by it as the reason #1 for containing attrition in work place (especially in India and in cities like Bangalore where people get multiple offers today in just few hours). Also access to social media somehow makes employees feel the freedom at work and hence higher morale and hence better team work better productivity and definitely lesser attrition which directly relates to higher revenue, lesser cost and better quality products confirms the HRs (to those I spoke) and ditto feels the CEO. Definitely not as easy as dealing with pornography sites a decade back may be – it was simple then, just block it not so easy w.r.t Social media.

Of course there are downsides to allowing social network access too. It is so appealing, people are getting addicted to it and employers started to worry about the negative impact on their employees and on the organization overall. Productivity loss is one but the legal risks are far more today and of course to bandwidth drains and security problems. There are serious cons to allowing employees to access Social media.  Some of the serious issues are decreased productivity, network security breaches, bandwidth costs, network performance issues, legal liability, business information leaks, and damage to organizational reputation.  These concerns are very real and very difficult to counter. Consider just one of these, i.e., decreased productivity:

“Nucleus Research, an IT research company, reported in July last year that employee productivity drops 1.5 percent in companies that allow full access to Facebook in the workplace. That survey of 237 corporate employees also showed that 77 percent of workers who have a Facebook account use it during work hours. It also found that some employees use the social networking site as much as two hours a day at work, and that one in 33 workers surveyed use Facebook only while at work. And of those using Facebook at work, 87 percent said they had no clear business reason for accessing the network.”

The other ‘con’ arguments are equally weighty. Issues related to security, bandwidth, litigation, proprietary data, and company reputation can be extremely costly.
Basically to summarize, CIOs hate it, HR loves it, Legal doesn’t want to own it (the access to social media at workplace), employees want it but everyone agrees that you cannot prevent it or stop it completely as it is the “IN” thing today and you cannot escape not giving access to it.

So the question remains, “How do we maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks?” More specifically, the issue is, “How can we get our employees’ to restrict their use of social networking to business purposes only with a very minimal and safe personal front?”

This is where i7 Networks products plans to take a middle ground and helps employees get onto social network but is contained (or throttled) (so that business critical applications won’t take the speed hit), logged (and hence people are aware of what they are doing and are aware of it that it is logged and hence lesser risk legally speaking) and because of all these lesser risk in the bandwidth usage as well as cost and of course security is taken care of and makes employees and HR folks happy too ;-) More over we give enough control to IT as well as HR to fine-tune and optimize their controls over all forms of Internet usage, including social networking. Also one gets to not only see what apps user are using but even apps within the given apps can also be seen and controlled (example Facebook and say games apps within Facebook) – that is level of granularity that the product can provide.

To summarize, management needs to carefully analyze and weigh in all the factors as far as Social media access is considered and figure out the overall best interest of all parties and stakeholders, design the policy and explain the policy to all stake holders, get their buy-in and implement the same using the tool.  While it is not a total solution, it is certainly its foundation.  All aspects of implementation and enforcement depend on the design and clarity of the policy. A well-designed and thoughtful policy can go a long way toward controlling the use of social networking sites without damaging morale. We at i7 strongly feel that Social Networking is here to stay and blocking it completely is not the solution and not allowing it completely un-moderated is not going to help the concern either but best is to tow the middle line and use technology and products to design a policy which is safe and acceptable for all stake holders concerned!!

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