Entries Tagged 'In the news' ↓

Demolishing Barclay Communications’ blocking argument point by point

An article by Barclay Communications appearing in a tech publication from Northern Ireland is strident in its insistence that blocking employee access to Facebook is a requirement in the face of so much risk.

“According to a recent MyJobGroup study, over half of the UKs workforce could be trying to check and update their social networking sites in work,” the article asserts. “As a result social networking has become one of the biggest and most dangerous time wasting activities in the workplace.”

With glee, I’m going to destroy every argument Barclay’s IT services manager, Stephen McPeake, makes. After all, the four “biggest risks” McPeake cites are exactly the four I’ve been shooting down for the last couple years. (In fact, I’m developing an 11-part video series that covers these — along with the benefits organizations can accrue from employee engagement in social networks — that I’ll upload to YouTube as I complete them.)


McPeake says: “Consider an employee on minimum wage, working an 8 hour day, but wasting two hours of that on social networking. In the end that one employee could cost a company up to £3,000 a year in lost working hours.”

True enough, if that employee…

  • Only puts in eight hours in the office. He doesn’t come in early, he doesn’t stay late. He clocks in at 8 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m.
  • Never works away from the office. He never takes a conference call, responds to email, or does any other work at home, at the beach, at the park, on vacation. Increasingly, this is a ridiculous assertion, particularly as the Millennial generation enters the workforce with its concdept of “weisure” — the blending of work and leisure both in the office and at home.
  • Engages in online activities that produce absolutely no value to the organization, such as evangelizing product, sharing competitive intelligence, or seeking subject matter expertise that can’t be found inside the organization.

The fact is, productivity stands to suffer if employees can’t connect to Facebook or other networks. The University of Melbourne has produced research that shows productivity increases 9% among employees who are able to acccess the Net for fun during work. That’s better research than the insipid back-of-the-envelope calculation McPeake (and his ilk) has produced.

But productivity from the use of Facebook goes beyond the Melbourne rationale — that spending some time on the Net for fun resets an employee’s concentration, bolstering his ability to get work done efficiently. Last month, a Gartner representative predicted 20 percent of employees will use social networks rather than e-mail as their business communications hub by 2014. Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, also sees the importance of Facebook as a channel of staff communication, writing that blocking Facebook “creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email.”

So much for productivity. Let’s move on to McPeake’s second risk:

Attacks from hackers

MckPeake says: “Social networking is one of the newest and most effective ways for hackers to gain entry into peoples’ computers. They pose as trusted friends or connections and then send you a private message recommending a site, video or link. Since they are your ‘friend’ you think nothing of viewing, opening or even downloading whatever they are recommending.”

Tell it to the Marines, Mr. McPeake. After all, this past February U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a directive opening social networks on all of the Department of Defense’s networks, enabling everyone from a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a private in the field in Afghanistan to participate on Facebook and other social channels. The rationale was simple: The DoD decided that the Net was a field of maneuver, not a fortress to be defended. (That’s my favorite metaphor for this whole issue, by the way.)

So how does the DoD protect its network from hacker attacks? After all, whose networks require stronger security than the military’s? Multiple approaches are taken, including strong network protection from infection. According to my contacts in the DoD, there hasn’t been a serious infection since the decision to open the network so soldiers and staff can participate in social networks.

If the U.S. Military can do it, so can your organization.

Frankly, Mr. McPeake’s recommendation to shut down access is nothing more than the easiest, laziest way to protect a network. It’s (obviously) not the only one.

So with network security behind us, it’s time to shift gears and address Mr. McPeake’s third risk:

Data Leaks

The article points to multiple instances of employees compromising intellectual property using social networks, then points out: “Last month many German companies, such as VW and Porsche were so afraid that their employees would give away trade secrets and be less productive with social networking sites that they completely blocked them.”

The stupidity of this argument is so deep it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let’s start with Beth Israel’s Paul Levy who, in the same post cited above, notes that confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator. Employees don’t need Facebook to do it. That reminds me of the instance of the Coca-Cola employee who stole a vial of liquid and some papers from a filing cabinet and tried to sell them to PepsiCo (which, to its great credit, turned the employee in; she’s now doing time).

Facebook and other social channels are nothing more than one more channel through which company IP can be distributed — and it’s not much different than email, when you get right down to it. And let’s not forget that employees don’t need the company’s network in order to disclose IP. Many employees carry smartphones with access to social channels, or they can do it from home after work. Blocking access does nothing to stop this bad employee behavior. Training, education, and enforcement of policies will do far more.

And it’s also worth noting that Porsche, as clueless as its blocking effort is, opted to keep YouTube open because of the wealth of training material available through the video sharing network.

That leaves only one more argument from Mr. McPeake:

Slows a company’s internet connection

Barclays Communications argues, “Streaming videos, constantly updating news feeds, playing games and downloading pictures will utilise a large majority of a company’s broadband speed.”

Technically speaking, this is true. I know one hospital that reluctdantly locked down staff access to Pandora, the music streaming service, because so many people were using it and leaving it on all day that vital patient data was moving slowly through the network.

But consider the parallel situation 25 years ago when communication was largely print-based rather than digital. Did you ever here of one of those organizations proclaim that they wished they could send out an employee newsletter but, damn, they just didn’t have enough paper.

The notion is absurd. Companies bought enough paper to meet their communication needs.

Bandwidth is the paper of the digital age. If normal use of bandwidth is slowing the network to a crawl, get more bandwidth. It’s easy to make a business case for this bandwidth, particularly as organizations begin to recognie the substantial business value that exists when employees (adhering to policies) can access social media from work.

That’s business value to which Mr. McPeake is blind. Instead, he says, “We would recommend that you completely block social networking sites with a Firewall such as Smoothwall.”

Do you get the feeling Smoothwall is a Barclay Communications client?

In any case, my advice to Mr. McPeake is to stick with IT and leave business decisions such as these to people who understand that the risks he cites are no risks at all when properly addressed. You have to wonder if Mr. McPeake ever read a quote from Allan Seckel, Deputy Minister to the BC Premier and head of Public Service, who has spoken widely about opening access for all BC employees. Social media, he said, is playing a more and more important role in the everyday work of public employees. Blocking access can impede the ability of employees to do their work, leading them to circumvent blocks and use their own equipment.

And, as an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted, “Email as we know it will soon give way to a more fully networked form of communication, which companies will learn to adopt. The only question is whether they will do so early or late.”

It’s time to chuck recommendations and arguments like Mr. McPeake’s into the trash, where they belong, and begin looking ahead to the networked realities of the world of work.

Is social media a fortress to be defended or a field of maneuver?

In re-listening to an interview I conducted a few months ago with U.S. Department of Defense Senior Strategist Jack Holt, I waas struck by a sound bite that encapsulates brilliantly the reason organizations should stop blocking employee access to social channels and provide them with the training and guidelines they need to operate safely and productively in these spaces. Holt, who focuses on new and emerging media for the DoD, said (and I’m paraphrasing here):

Will we treat social media as a fortress to be defended or as a field of maneuver?

You can hear a brief segment of the interview (less than four minutes) in which Holt makes this case here:

The DoD regularly sends soldiers into harm’s way in pursuit of military objectives. To ensure success, soldiers are well-trained to operate in various environments, from tropics to the desert to urban centers. If they can be trained to be safe and effective in these environments, why (Holt asks) can’t they be trained to operate safely and effectively online?

The DoD’s answer — encapsulated in its policy opening its networks to staff access to social media — is yes, they can.

That philosophy has led the government of British Columbia to open its networks to employees, as well. The guidelines issued by the province to its public servants not only opens access, but encourages employees to use these channels. Stories about BC’s policy quote Allan Seckel, Deputy Minister to the BC Premier and head of Public Service, making the case for open access. Social media, he said, is playing a more and more important role in the everyday work of public employees. Blocking access can impede the ability of employees to do their work, leading them to circumvent blocks and use their own equipment.

British Columbia’s decision runs counter to many government agencies — particularly provinces, states, cities, and towns — which assume that any employee spending time on social sites is using taxpayer dollars to screw around. According to Seckel, staff using social media were able to deliver updates during emergencies and engage in public consultations.

“We don’t block access any more to social media,” he said. “We want to say to our employees that we trust them — and we do trust them — to be responsible,” Seckel told the Vancouver Sun.

Nevertheless, organizations worldwide continue to treat social media as a fortress to be defended, keeping their staff behind the moat rather than teaching them to maneuver on the field to the organization’s advantage.

For example, luxury car maker Porsche has banned employees from social media sites based on fears of industrial espionage. Corporate security honcho raier Benne told the business publication Wirtschaftswoche that the company was afraid of employees leaking information via Facebook, noting that foreign intelligence agencies systematically use facebook to connect with employees and extract information.

Blocking access, of course, does not keep employees off Facebook, whether they use a mobile device or connect when they’re at home. Again, training and education is the better solution, which then allows employees to evangelize the brand among their social graphs. Clearly, Porsche hasn’t paid much attention to GM, which encourages employee engagement in social media and has linked car sales to employees’ online brand ambassadorship.

Employee use of social media should no longer be viewed as a source of risk. Treating social media as a field of maneuver can help focus organizations on strategic approaches to mitigating risk while reaping the benefits of engaged employees interacting with their online communities.

Cross-posted to a shel of my former self.

The illusion of security vs. building community

Pretty much everyone in the healthcare world is buzzing over a Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week that superficially made a strong case for blocking hospital employee access to Facebook.

The article, by Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske, chronicled the case of 60-year-old William Wells, who died at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California, where he was brought after suffering severe knife wounds inflicted by a fellow resident of his nursing home.

Instead of focusing on treating him, an employee said, St. Mary nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: They snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.

The article chronciles a number of incidents at other hospitals involving staff violating patient privacy (and HIPAA) on Facebook, along with the fates of the nurses who posted the information (several were fired). The article has inspired conversation in the healthcare community about the need to block employee access to Facebook.

It’s a kneejerk reaction. After all, before social media, it was just as easy to share inappropriate, confidential information via email. (And, at one point in the early 1990s, organizations everywhere resisted the use of email for exactly that reason.)

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO Paul Levy has written perhaps the best analysis of the St. Mary case and the resulting flurry of blocking commentary. Levy’s excellent post concludes:

If you block Facebook on the hospital server, will it nonetheless be used in the wrong way by misguided people? Yes. They will use their iPhones or some other such handheld devices.

I know this sounds like the pro-gun argument, “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” However you might feel about that issue, this one is different. By blocking this medium on your hospital server, you will remove a highly effective communications tool, all because you are fearful that a few misguided people will misuse it. You trade the illusion of security for a loss of community.

In an earlier post dating back to October 2009, Levy also noted that blocking Facebook creates “a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email.”

I’m currently reading a book, “The 2020 Workplace,” which delves deeply into the work habits and expectations of the Millennial Generation (born between 1977 and 1997); indeed, email is viewed (correctly) as an inefficient means of communication given more effective tools. As your Millennial kids how much they use email.

Blaming Facebook (or MySpace or Twitter or what-have-you) for human behavior that can be practiced with email, Usenet news groups, the telephone or in the elevator is not only misguided; it turns a blind eye to the more effective channels for communication that can actually improve communication in your institution. If you remember policies banning email in your organization in the early 90s, it’s easy to see today’s blocking policies as a failure to learn from mistakes made a mere 20 years ago.

The entire post is worth a careful reading, especially if your organization is on the brink of blocking staff access with the deluded expectation that it’ll solve a problem the roots of which have nothing at all to do with Facebook.

Why can’t business behave more like the U.S. military?

I continue to be impressed with the way the US Department of Defense (DoDis handling staff use of social media. As most organizations continue to succumb to the FUD factor by blocking employee access, the DoD recognizes the importance of online engagement by staff at all levels — from Pentagon workers to soldiers in the field.

If ever an organization was security-conscious, it’s the DoD. Yet they’ve managed to address security concerns while trusting hundreds of thousands of members of the organization to represent the DoD well in social forums.

A Social Media Hub has been added to the DoD’s arsenal of social media tools — another approach from which mainstream business can learn. While the DoD hub is accessible to the general public, it would be equally easy to create something like this on a corporate intranet as a resource for employees.

The home page of the hub proclaims, “ocial media is an integral part of Department of Defense operations. This site is designed to help the DoD community use social media and other internet-based capabilities to share responsibly and effectively, both in official and unofficial capacities.”

The site offers three core categories of information:

  • Learning and Resources — “I’m concerned about social media and I need…” reads the introduction to this section, which leads to education and training resources, social media guides and examples.
  • Policies and Procedures — This section begins with “I manage an official DoD social media presence and I want to…” which directs visitors to policies, user agreements and a form to register a page with the DoD.
  • Collaborate and Connect — “I have questions about social media,” reads the introduction to this section, “and I want to…” Visitors can access discussion forums, FAQs and an Ask the Experts section (a contact form).

The page includes many of the elements more commonly seen on inidividuals’ social media channels, like retweet and Facebook share buttons. The site walks the talk in other ways, such as the embedding of SlideShare presentations in the Examples section.

Access to resources like this can reinforce policies and training and raise the confidence of employees who know they have somewhere to go where they can not only review the rules but ask questions, view case studies and have conversations with others in the organization.

Once again, I’m left wondering: Why can a command and control-centric organization like the US military take such a rational approach to social media while the average US corporation behaves more like we’d expect the military to behave?

(Cross-posted from a shel of my former self.)

Does blocking access to students make any more sense than blocking employees?

I’ve been intrigued, since launching this site, by the inordinate number of comments left by high school students. After all, the Stop Blocking initiative is aimed at business, not academia. But Voce Communications’ Doug Haslam pointed me to a notice that Newton North High School — close to Doug’s Boston home — is considering shutting down student access to Facebook.

According to the Newton North Library’s Learning Commons website:

This is being debated at SFA (Student Faculty Administration). Your input will help SFA decide. The next meeting is April 13th @ 7:00am in the library. It is open for all students and staff to attend. (Note: Facebook is currently blocked at all Newton Public Schools.)

A poll included with the item currently stands at 370 votes against blocking and 87 in favor. The cynic in me suspects it was mostly students casting the opposing votes and parents voting yes.

The comments left to the item on the Wicked Local blog that directed me to the Learning Commons site, however, got me thinking more about the issue. The impetus behind the ban is at least partly based on the worry that kids use Facebook to bully others. One comment, for example, reads…

I am a private tutor in Newton. Just this year, I have had 3 Newton students (2 from North, 1 from South) who have been involved with the Newton police due to cyberbullying via Facebook. I am not sure what the outcome was, but I know for a fact that there were threats and there was police involvement.

Bullying is a problem, to be sure. It was a problem when I was in school, and when my parents were in school. The recent case in South Hadley, Massachusetts — in which nine teens were indicted for their roles in relentlessly bullying a 15-year-old girl who was driven to kill herself — is another tragedy that points to a serious need for action.

But blaming the Internet or Facebook is a mistake. In fact, I don’t care for the term “cyberbullying.” Is bullying that takes place over the phone called “phonebullying?” The venue is irrelevant. The channel isn’t the problem. The problem is the attitude that some kids have that bullying is okay wherever they can engage in it.

The situation reminds me of hospital CEO Paul Levy’s reaction when he learned that another hospital in the area was blocking Facebook because some staff members had violated HIPAA — the regulation that protects patient privacy — on Facebook. Levy, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (also in Boston), wrote on his “Running a Hospital” blog:

Any form of communication (even conversations in the elevator!) can violate important privacy rules, but limiting people’s access to social media in the workplace will mainly inhibit the growth of community and discourage useful information sharing. It also creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email. Finally, consider the cost of building and using tools that attempt to “track utilization and monitor content.” Not worth the effort, I say.

Interestingly, the use of Facebook under consideration at Newton North involves a portal for parents, where they could view information relevant to their childrens’ education, including homework and projects.

I see multiple problems, though, with blocking kids’ access. First, many of them — like their counterparts in the business world — don’t need the school’s computers to access Facebook; they can do that just fine on their mobile phones. Lack of access from school won’t stop cyberbullying, either; they’ll just do it when they get home to their own computers.

But what’s really at issue is starting to teach using the channels that kids are already using in a manner that reflects the way peopale will be working and learning with increasing frequency. Collaborating on team projects makes more sense on Facebook than a proprietary school system because Facebook is (for now) the network they’ll continue to use in college and then in the work world. (A recent study (PDF file) from the Society for New Communication Research (SNCR) determined that decision-makers in the business world are making faster and better decisions by tapping their Social Media Peer Groups (SMPGs) via Facebook and LinkedIn. Failing to guide students in the use of the resources they’ll be required to use just to get their jobs done by the time they graduate is a failure of the education system.

I’m not talking about unrestricted Facebook use while students should be focused on schoolwork. But teachers need to begin figuring out how to incorporate social networking into their teaching plans in order for the coursework to be truly relevant. The idea that people work in isolation is fast becoming outdated, as the SNCR study reveals; teaching kids to do schoolwork in a vacuum is not preparing them for the processes they’ll need to understand when they go to college (where online collaboration is just the extension of the age-old study group) and then when they enter the world of work.

That is, teachers should be teaching the ways social neteworks can benefit their learning while actively discouraging bullying of any kind. The issues are, in fact, mutually exclusive.

Doug Haslam himself gets the final word, from a comment he left to the Wicked Local blog:

The thing is, people will form their own groups where they want regardless of what is “blocked.” It makes sense for schools to have some presence on Facebook — not to supervise or watch, but to participate as part of a community.

A proprietary network makes sense as far as assignments, but experimenting — as class groups, in the right circumstances — with Facebook and other social tools is a way to tap into how people are now working together in the real world.

That doesn’t mean students should be using Facebook during school hours to play Farmville, just as it shouldn’t in the workplace (where, for the most part, Facebook should not be blocked either. But, there are some applications. As someone astutely said (in an earlier comment), high school kids are on Facebook anyway. Maybe we should teach them how to use it to be better community citizens (online and off) rather than ignore it at our peril.

B.L. Ochman offers five reasons for open access

B.L. Ochman, author of the What’s Next blog, has listed five reasons for keeping employee access to social networks open. Ochman, Managing Director of Emerging Media for Proof Integrated Communications (Burson-Marsteller’s digital marketing unit), was responding to a client’s assertion that YouTube is blocked at his company despite the fact that many employees carry the means to watch YouTube videos in their pockets.

Ochman’s five reasons for keeping access open:

  • Resistance is futile thanks to the proliferation of smart phones
  • Employees who don’t want to get their work done don’t need social networks to waste time
  • Social networks actually can make workers more productive
  • You’ll miss great ideas that emerge from conversation and collaboration
  • Employees are more trustworthy than they’re given credit for

“If you can’t trust your employees, you have one of two problems,” Ochman writes. “You are hiring the wrong people or you are not properly training the people you hire.”

Read the entire post for more details and some interesting reader comments.

Blocking isn’t the only way to maintain security

Cross-posted from my primary blog, a shel of my former self

In a comment left recently to a post I wrote for Stop Blocking back in October 2007 about malware on Facebook, David Jones with CommerceMicro wrote:

Stupid, out dated information.

We have users that repeatedly get infected with viruses and spyware no matter what level or type of antivirus and antispyware software we install. It’s rather odd that ONLY THOSE particular users get re-infected day after day and that they all have MySpace accounts, FaceBook accounts, or whatever. Their employers have to continually pay us to come and clean these infections.

My reply was a bit terse. I asked Jones if he believed all the companies that don’t block access were lying about not encountering the problems he cited. (And no, I wasn’t snarky enough to point out that “outdated” is one word.)

The security issue does, however, appear to be supplanting productivity concerns as the main reason companies block access to Facebook and other social media sites. Among the dominant social networks, Facebook presents the biggest risk to company security, according to 60% of the respondents to a survey of 500 companies conducted by Sophos, an IT security organization. No other network comes close. MySpace ranks second, with 18% of companies identifying it as a concern, followed by Twitter (17%) and LinkedIn (4%).

The concerns are not illegitimate. The incidents of reported malware and spam attacks through social networks has jumped 70% since April of last year. Social networks have become common launching pads fore a couple of particularly nasty worms. The risk of infection, though, is not the only security issue that keeps IT staff up at night. Employees’ individual behavior represents a risk, particularly as web-unsavvy employees fall prey to phishing and other devious ploys. And then there’s the fear that employees will share information they shouldn’t.

Sarah Perez goes into considerable detail on the Sophos report in her post on ReadWriteWeb. Perez also notes that even Sophos isn’t advocating an outright block, despite the study’s findings:

Unfortunately for those in charge of enforcing corporate security, simply blocking Facebook and other social networks via URL is not a realistic solution anymore. The networks are often a large part of a company’s marketing and sales strategies, notes Sophos, meaning they cannot be blocked outright. Instead, companies are encouraged to use a unified approach for mitigating threats that combines data monitoring, malware protection and granular access for their employees.

A Financial Times article (free registration required) has the same advice, noting that organizations have too much to gain from employee interactions on social networks. The article, penned by the head of an information risk management and e-discovery firm, rightly notes that leetting employees access social networks from work gives them “the ability to locate the right people, information and expertise quickly, but they also greatly aid external networking, sales and marketing activities.”

The article (which I discovered on the Idea Peepshow blog, notes thyat 89% of businesses in the UK have no policies governing employee use of social networks and calls for companies to establish and enforce such policies.

As I’ve noted before, protecting the company is a matter of ensuring the proper network safeguards are in place (such as anti-malware/spyware software and the latest virus definitions) and that employees understand their responsibilities.

It works in a lot of companies that don’t block access. It can work in yours.

90% of UK councils block employee social media access

Reports of the degree to which organizations are blocking employee access to social sites continues to be discouraging, particularly given the reasons for these policies are based on misinformation and a fundamental failure to recognize the value that would accrue to organizations that developed smart policies to foster smart engagement between employees and the public.

This time around, the bad news comes out of the UK, where 90% of councils restrict access to social media. The results come from a study conducted by SOCITM, the professional association for public sector ICT management. Ironically, this group had earlier encouraged organizations to lift such restrictions, recognizing that “social media is…an economical way for public sector organisations to deliver services, communicate with staff and engage with the community.”

According to the study, 67% of councils have implemented scorched-earth policies, blocking all use of social media. Among the remaining 33%, some confine use to lunchtime and before and after work. The SOCITM report interprets these finds as proof that councils don’t see any business value to employee participation in social media.

There’s an almost equal split between councils that view security as the main reason for limiting or blocking access and those who see productivity as the problem. Still, SOCITM believes that stopping employees from tapping into these sites is impossible, given the fact that most workers have their own devices — like smartphones — that give them access to services like Facebook and Twitter. But the fact that employee access increases engagement with the communities the councils serve is the dimension of the report that jumped out at me. According to Christopher Head, who co-authored the report:

CIOs and heads of ICT need to take the lead and educate colleagues on the organisation’s management team about the benefits of social media, as well as finding ways to accommodate them appropriately and safely through the corporate infrastructure.

This advice is coming from more and more quarters, including reserach firm Gartner, which has urged businesses to take advantage of employees’ connection to sites like Facebook to facilitate their business-to-consumer strategies.

It just seems managers would rather succumb to baseless fears and take the easy way out than listen to the advice of experts who know what they’re talking about.

Open access is smart business, not an employee entitlement

Cross-posted from a shel of my former self.

At first, I shrugged off the semi-literate comment left to one of my posts over on Stop Blocking, the site I started to advocate for reasonable employee access to the Net, and particularly to social media sites.

The post to which “reason,” as he called himself left a comment reported on a study that showed 54% of companies were blocking access. Here’s his response:

isnt it funny in todays world how everyone thinks they deserve better than what they are getting without haveing to really work for it no job owes you facebook time so feel your rights are being taken for granted grow up you big baby work time is not your fun time so if you block your workers from facebook @ work dont feel that blocking reduces productivity and engagement, limits recruiting capabilities, and denies networking that ultimately benefits the organization. thats a bunch of crap do your job facebook dont pay your bills you lucky to even have a job.

I blew off the comment initially, relegating it to the “just doesn’t get it” dustbin. But I found the comment kept coming back to me, not because reason’s reasoning is right but because he seems to think that I’m advocating for employee rights in my efforts to get companies to stop blocking.

I’m not an employee rights advocate. If I were, very few of my clients would be interested in my services. My goal is to help organizations succeed. I’ve achieved my goals if companies are more profitable, more competitive, more nimble, more productive. I’m campaigning to get companies to open employee access to social sites because increasingly the networked connectivity of workers is driving competitiveness, productivity and other indicators of improved performance.

The fact is, through all my years working in employee communications, I’ve never been concerned with whether employees are happy. It’s not a company’s job to ensure employee happiness. Employee job satisfaction is another story. It’s tangible, it’s measurable and it has a direct bearing on employee engagement, which is a predictor of organizational growth.

But even job satisfaction is just one return a company gets from networked employees. Zappos encourages its employees to network on the job, resulting in a reputation for stellar customer service. Employees engaged in their social networks can also reduce the cost and improve the quality of recruiting. It can surface issues the company needs to address. It can generate ideas for new products and services. It improves employee productivity.

On that last note, productivity, I came across an item today on TMCnet sporting the provocative headline, “Workplace Productivity at an All-Time Low.” The press release touted the products of a company called Pandora — not the music streaming site, blocked by a number of companies — but rather one that “allows managers to analyze activities performed by employees and the time spent on different work items. It also affords the ability to track computer usage at a group and/or an individual level, cross-reference activities reported by an employee, and access an employee’s desktop in real-time.”

The all-time low productivity claim is based on this calculation:

On average, workers with an Internet connection spend 21 hours per week online while in the office, a little more than four hours per day. And on average, 26% of that time is spent on personal-interest websites. That amounts to roughly an hour per day, or 22 hours per month.

Pandora is just one of many companies that profit from the fear they produce with such outlandish claims. As I’ve repeatedly noted, these calculations don’t account for the benefits such networking brings to the organization, the improved productivity highlighted in a University of Melbourne study, or the amount of work these employees perform outside the 9-to-5 office hours because they’re networked. In fact, another story that crossed my desk today points out that companies in the UK were able to maintain productivity even as snowbound workers were unable to get to the office because their ability to connect with each other and the office let them get their work done from home.

And, as I’ve also noted before, these lost-productivity assertions don’t stand up to statistical scrutiny. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased in the third quarter of 2009 by 8.1%. That’s a far more credible number than the back-of-the-envelope calculations Pandora, Websense and other monitoring-and-blocking companies use in their scare campaigns. In fact, it reveals the productivity claims by these companies as an outright lie.

Yet these tactics continue to influence managers, as evidenced by the fact that most companies block access despite the fact that blocking is contrary to their own self interests.

Leaders need to realize that organizations that encourage their employees to network during work — guided by clear policies and improved business literacy — will experience success that eclipses that of organizations that block access.

It’s not a question of employee entitlements. It’s a question of smart business practices.

Boston hospital jerks its knee, blocks employee access

Abuse of an established company policy is a management issue. Even when it involves company systems, it is not an IT issue. The abdication of management responsibilities to IT may briefly create the perception that the problem has been solved. In fact, a larger problem has been created.

Consider the case of a Boston-area hospital which has blocked access for all of its employees to social networking sites. According to a memo issued to employees,

The decision is based on recent evidence that some employees have been using these sites to comment on Hospital business, which is a violation of the Hospital’s Electronic Communications policy and a potential HIPAA violation.

In other words, the actions of a few employees have led the hospital’s management to ban access to these resources for all employees, including those who have abided by the hospital’s Electronic Communications policy. The message this sends to the majority of employees who play by the rules:

Your good behavior is irrelevant. We have opted to trust none of you.

This message can only result in deterioration of employee commitment and engagement. It would have taken more effort for the hospital to identify those who absued the privilege and discipline them according to the established policy. It would also have required some effort to communicate to the rest of the workforce that the hospital regretfully had to enforce the policy, and will continue to enforce it.

But employee behaviors are managed through reward and recognition. Recognizing that consequences will befall employees who violate policies is a sure way to obtain compliance. Sadly, it is far easier to simply block everybody than to take the correct steps.

But this hospital goes one jaw-dropping step further, noting in the memo that…

The Executive Team will be working in the coming months to ensure that we have written policies in place that articulate the appropriate use of social networking sites while on duty at the Hospital. Once these written policies are in place, we have educated all employees about expectations and disciplinary action associated with violating the policies, and we have the appropriate IS tools in place to track utilization and monitor content, we will consider once again providing access to these sites. We expect this will take a period of about 6 months.

Six months?

Several hospital social media policies are in place and available online, including those of The Mayo Clinic, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Henry Ford Health, and The Cleveland Clinic. Why should even the most tangled of bureaucracies require six months to review the best practices and put a policy in place?

Finally, as I have noted before, most employees have cell phones and will be able to post exactly the same HIPAA violations to the same networks using their personal Internet-connected devices. Blocking access on hospital computers will prevent exactly nothing.

This is precisely the kind of brain-dead, mindless, knee-jerk reaction that is crippling organizations as they move ienvitably into a networked ecosystem. I learned about the situation on “Running a Hospital,” the blog by Paul Levy, CEO of another Boston-area hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess. Paul published the hospital memo in its entirety, but introduced it, in part, with these words:

you can guess my view of this: Any form of communication (even conversations in the elevator!) can violate important privacy rules, but limiting people’s access to social media in the workplace will mainly inhibit the growth of community and discourage useful information sharing. It also creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email. Finally, consider the cost of building and using tools that attempt to “track utilization and monitor content.” Not worth the effort, I say.

There are voices of reason with an eye on the long-term view in the world of business. We need to spread those voices and offer the alternatives to mindless blocking of all content from all employees.

In this case, a clearly-communicated and enforced policy would have done the trick. Instead, this unnamed Boston-area hospital has taken proactive steps to disenfranchising its workforce while inhibiting the sharing of information and keeping virtually no employees from using these social sites.

Good move.