Employees, like the Internet, Route Around Blockages

I appreciated Laurel Kaufman’s post this morning on the Girls In Tech blogs about “Big Brother Is Watching You on Facebook” and Employment Law. I think she does a good job in explaining how employees should consider privacy settings on their personal social profiles to avoid those profiles being used against them in employment settings. Of course, not putting up compromising photos or tweeting racist or obscene things will help too. But the other point is about employers restricting access to social networks at work.

I remember in the early 90s, I had to have an “Internet Permission Form” signed before I could use the net at JPMorgan. They knew which workstation was mine, and could monitor traffic. I’m sure there is less of this kind of thing at work these days (though I understand it for environments where compliance rules are in effect.)

Its my feeling that, as we move from the “Information Age” to the Network Age, employers who don’t allow employees to check their external social media sites (except in secure facilities such as military, hospital or banking) are going to have problems with both morale and productivity. Banning soc nets is much less wise than allowing the occasional peak – with recognition that employees who abuse the privilege are going to get a talking t0.

What will happen when employers block Facebook, MySpace, and other networks? Blackberry and iPhone will happen. Employees will show up with their own mobile devices, and take *longer* to access their social networks. The devices take longer to type on, longer to access the social networks, and the phone networks are slower. So instead of taking 5 minutes to read status messages, they’ll take 10. Perhaps they’ll sneak away to do this – so they won’t be at their desks to answer the phone. This is bad for your company.

Employees, like the Internet, will “route around” the obstruction.

It is more advisable to put up policies defining what is acceptable, just like the occasional personal call where we look the other way. Even better – don’t be embarrassed if your employees have personal lives, and also have a link to their job. Find ways to encourage the employees to be out promoting the company on social networks. Why have 3 “corporate communications specialists” when you could have thousands of ambassadors that love your company because you treat them with respect?

Of course, this calls for good social media policies to be in place, and some employee training. Teach your employees to talk with your customers, and solve problems. Is it worth it? Well, it was worth about $1B to Zappos.

Not sure how to set this up for your company? The Harbrooke Group, or any number of other good social media consultancies, can help you.