Entries Tagged 'Productivity' ↓

Canada government blog helps employees get access

This blog focuses mostly on the value to organizations of allowing their employees to access the social web. It is equally important, though, to grasp th degree to which employees are desperate to use these tools — not to waste time, necessarily, but in many cases because they help employees do their jobs.

The “Government of Canada 2.0″ blog recently published an instructional guide to help employees of Canada’s government get unblocked. The blog is hardly an official government vehicle. In fact, it’s upfront about being “in no way endorsed by the Government of Canada.”

The post, “Strategy to get your Internet unblocked,” is “a bullet-point strategy to possibly unblocking Internet sites. I’m taking a business-oriented approach here, and broad general steps.”

What follows is a guide to overcoming a staggering government bureaucracy that involves sending requests to the Help Desk to determine whether an unblocking process exists and taking appropriate steps based on the answer. The author — Douglas Bastien from Ottawa — also offers tips, like articulating the business case for access in writing, communicating the business need to higher-ups, and asking for the rationale behind the blocks that do exist.

Bastien also refers to policies addressed in an earlier post, a 1998 policy on the use of electronic networks and a 2003 policy on management of information technology. Bastien writes,

I’m actually convinced that the TBS policies don’t block access; it’s restrictions from the department, exerted through Deputy heads’ (continuing) implementation of these policies because ”Deputy heads have a responsibility to put in place policies and practices that promote the appropriate use of electronic networks… consistent with the operational needs of the workplace”.

Beyond working within the system, though Bastien doesn’t see much hope of getting access to employees — access he believes employees need to do their jobs. “Your only last option is leaving to go elsewhere,” he writes, acknowledging that for many, it’s just not an option. He does, however, point out that some corners of government are beginning to recognize the relevance of unfettered employee acccess.

There are those who work corporately toward a balanced use of Government network, such as my blogging mentor Etienne Laliberté, whose post “Facing Facebook” communicates the trust position he pursued for his department on Facebook (applicable to other social networks). Please read the article, we need more managers like this paving the way for acceptable use of social networking, than just blocking it outright, or not blocking it and pointing fingers at those who break the rules.

Bastien also lists some means by which employees can simply route around the blocks, but clearly he’s more interested in employees en masse making the case for access.

Hat tip to Donna Papacosta for pointing me to Bastien’s post.

The irony of investing in social marketing while blocking your own employees

Social media as a marketing mechanism is clearly hot. I can’t scan my feeds without finding yet another report of yet another study detailing companies’ increased commitment to and investment in social media. Here are just a few:

  • eMarketer reports on an The Aberdeen Group study that found 63% of companies planned to increase their social media marketing budgets in 2009. Twenty-one percent were set to boost their budgets by more than 25%. And worldwide social media advertising was expected to grow 17.3% this year to $2.35 billion.
  • A study from the Association of National Advertisers revealed that 66% of marketers have used social media in some capacity this year, with Facebook being tapped by 74% of them, YouTube by 65%, and Twitter by 63%.
  • Twitter is the social media channel of choice among Fortune 100 companies, according to a Burson-Marsteller study, which found 54% of these organizations active on Twitter, compared with 32% using blogs and 29% with active Facebook fan pages.
  • There is a correlation between financial performance and engagement in social media among the world’s top brands, according to a study conducted by Altimeter Group and WetPaint. Simply stated, socially engaged companies are more financially successful.
  • And most recently, a study from SNCR, Deloitte, and Beeline Labs released just the other day reports that 94% of respondents said that they plan to maintain or increase investment in their online communities. The investment pays off, they said, in word of mouth, customer loyalty, brand awareness, idea generation, and improved quality of customer support.

The fact that businesses are seeing tangible benefits from social media explains why investment continues to rise among most companies, even when budget belts are being tightened. Driving these results is the that comes from real people connecting with each another in spaces where they share mutual interests. Companies are smart enough to know that (according to research) customers want the companies with which they do business should be present in these spaces.

So it is all the more confounding that these very same companies won’t let their own employees engage on these sites.

As reported here and elsewhere, a survey of CIOs found that 54% of companies block all employees from visiting any social sites. It’s deliciously ironic that 54% is exactly the same percentage of Fortune 100 companies that are active on Twitter.

If companies block their employees from engaging, who do they think their fan pages and Twitter accounts are attracting? Think about it. If every company prohibited employees from visiting Facebook, then the only time anybody could visit the company Facebook fan page would be when they’re not at work. Given the hours most companies require of their employees, that’s not a heck of a lot of time to interact with customers.

What’s more, if the fan pages of those 54% of companies are being viewed by employees from the 46% of companies that still allow some kind of access, none of the companies’ employees are able to interact with those visitors. They can’t. They’ve been blocked.

American Airlines announced just the other day that it’s launching BlackAtlas.com, a travel-focused social network for African Americans. According to one report, “The site will feature discussion boards and blogs on which users can share pictures, video and travel stories and tips, along with rating and recommending businesses and travel destinations.”

I don’t know whether American Airlines allows its own employees to visit social sites, but with more than half of companies in the blocking camp, odds are American’s own black employees will be barred from a site where they could interact with BlackAtlas.com members and personify the airline’s culture.

Gartner, in fact, projects that 60% of the Fortune 1000 will host online communities by 2010 so they can gain information from their customer base “which can be used for short-and long-term customer relationships,” according to Garner researcher Adam Sarner.

Employees at more than half of them, though, are not allowed.

Organizations need to think more like Dell, which realized its roadblock to Facebook made no sense when it launched a green initiative on the social networking site so employees could engage and participate.

The presumption of most companies blocking access is that employees are being unproductive, wasting time. In fact, the lines have blurred so much that even an employee spending a few minutes online to take a break from work could wind up having an interaction that benefits the company.

How have your non-work social interactions wound up serving your organization?

Taxpayer group forces Portsmouth Council to block staff access

Most of the discussion about prohibited employee access to social media has been focused on companies. The kneejerk tendency to insist on these restrictions, though, isn’t limited to management, HR and IT. Even customers can get into the act.

In this case, the “customers” are the citizens of Portsmouth in the UK — or at least those citizens involved in The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which turned the screws on the Portsmouth City Council based on the belief that Council employees accessing Facebook was a “waste of public cash.”

According to a BBC News report, staff was spending 400 hours each month on Facebook, but the math reveals that this comes out to a whopping 5-6 minutes per month per employee. What’s more, the Council allowed staff to use Facebook during breaks and before or after work, and there’s no evidence that any staff members engaged in their social networking outside of those break times.

It also appears that the Council didn’t determine whether any of the time spent on Facebook was dedicated to interacting with Portsmouth citizens, monitoring relevant discussions, vetting possible new hires or engaging in any other activities that would serve the citizens of Portsmouth. Nor, it appears, was there any effort to determine how many hours the average employee spent working on behalf of Portsmouth’s residents, either in the office, at home or on the road.

Citizen taxpayer groups serve a purpose, of course, but given the results of a University of Melbourne study that proves employees with access to social networks are more, not less, productive, the blowhards with The Taxpayers’ Alliance may well have shot themselves in the foot. Rather than energized staff ready to work on their behalf, their misguided actions could well have led many employees to be less motivated. The Melbourne study argues that employees who can take a brief break between tasks and check in on their networks are more energized than those who simply trudge from one task to the next.

The Portsmouth ban will also include Twitter, Bebo and other social sites.

Mark Wallace, speaking for The Taxpayers’ Alliance, is quoted in the BBC article saying, “It is sad that it has reached a point where councils need to ban staff from Facebook. But people are employed to work hard for the taxpayer and this is clearly a waste of public money.”

But with no evidence that the taxpayers are not being well-served by Portsmouth employees, and an average of 5-6 minutes per day on Facebook that could be happening at break time or before or after work, Mr. Wallace’s assertion sounds to me like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. As usual, clearly communicated and consistently enforced policies — management by exception — is a better solution that an outright ban, one that ultimately can have more negative consequences than the non-existent problem the ban purports to fix.

Thanks to Neville Hobson for pointing out the article.

The productivity paradox

It’s gotten hard to pay attention to technology news without hearing a report from Websense or Challenger, Gray & Christmas or some consultancy tallying up the lost productivity companies suffer as employees spend time on Facebook and other non-work-related websites. The numbers sometimes reach into the billions of dollars. How do companies survive?

The answer of course, is that the studies are a load of crap. Not taken into account is the fact that a lot of the time spent on these sites does have a work-related dimension to it. Also not taken into account is the fact that workers put extra time to make up for the time spent online, regardless of whether that time is spent at the office or at home. And let’s not forget the amount of time the average knowledge worker spends doing work at home anyway. (Raise your hand if the first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your Blackberry to check your work email.)

The truth of this is borne out by news last week that worker productivity has increased more quickly in the first quarter of 2008 than previously reported. I read this is the June 5 edition of USA Today that was delivered to my hotel room:

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that productivity rose at an annual rate of 2.6% in the January-March period, faster than the government’s initial estimate of 2.2% a month ago.

This is consistent with other Labor Department reports, not to mention one from the United Nations, that shows generally increasing productivity with the U.S. leading the pack.

How can that reconcile with the billions of dollars in lost productivity attributable to Facebook? The answer is simple: It can’t.

Facebook breaks boost productivity

A study from a research group in the UK has determined that employees who take short breaks online — using Facebook, for instance — can improve employee productivity. MindLap International looked at European women from seven countries. The study deliberately provoked stress among the test subjects by having them complete computer-based intelligence tests. The women were then given 10-minute breaks to go online before returning to the test. The breaks reduced stress and improved productivity.

Read the full article from the Financial Post.

Comments suggest blocking access is fine; I respond

Ragan Communications has posted an article (in which I was quoted) dealing with the issue of employers blocking access to social media sites. The response has been interesting. I started responding in the comment area, but that’ll just take too much room. Here are the points made by various commenters and my responses (I’m not naming the authors of the comments because the personality issue is not relevant):

In response to my assertion that most people won’t abuse the privilege: “Most people abuse everything they can get their hands on.”

The deep cynicism that characterizes this statement aside, I have to keep coming back to one of my ke points: I’m not suggesting a lack of rules, only that the rules be addressed by management and not technology. I’m all for rules.

But, okay, let’s address the cynicism. The author of this remark would also feel comfortable with a statement like, “Maybe there’s a little bit of good in most people, but by and large they’re bad.” You can brand me an optimist, but I don’t believe that. What’s more, people can receive incentives to do the right thing if an innate belief in doing the right thing isn’t enough. In business, those incentives come in the form of promotions, raises, and bonuses, none of which will be coming your way if you don’t produce.

There have been plenty of studies supporting the nature of incentives that are effective in the workplace. Access to Facebook won’t change any of them.

I argue that denying access to everyone is tantamount to saying, “We don’t trust any of you as far as we can throw you.” Here’s a comment: “Rules and laws don’t diminish trust necessarily. They facilitate function. Do you distrust your government because of speed limits? C’mon.”

Blocking access is neither a rule nor a law. It’s an impediment, an obstacle. A rule says, “Company computer resources will be used primarily for work purposes.” Enforcement of the rule is a supervisor’s job. I just don’t understand why people have an issue with this. As I’ve noted so many times, nobody is checking your handbag or briefcase as you walk into work to make sure you don’t have a skin mag or a Sodoku book, even though your employer could implement such a draconian policy. No, most companies leave such performance issues in a supervisor’s hands. Why block access to websites for fear people will use them for the same purposes?

“The business of business is to make money. You get paid money to help your company make money. Chit chatting on Facebook, watching vides on YouTube and other social media sites is best left to your personal time, not time your employer is paying you to help make profit or reach targets for the public good.”

This statement is so wrong-minded on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. Of course, the opening two sentences are dead on. But I have to shake my head at the notion that the time you spend on social media sites is somehow at odds with the profit motive.

Companies (and the author of this statement) are mired in a work model that hasn’t existed for years. What’s changed?

  • Knowledge work is not an 9-5 job. Knowledge workers come in early, stay late, and work weekends. They take work home. How much of the time you spend at home is truly “personal time” and how much is time spent on work matters? If your typical work week consumes 65 hours, when, exactly, are you supposed to do those things that, in the 1950s and 60s, was relgated to “personal time?” Work-life integration suggests a trade-off: If I’m going to do work at home, I’m also going to live part of my life at work.
  • In knowledge work, productivity is not measured by the number of widgets you produce in an hour. Is work getting done? Is it getting done on time? Does it meet the quality requirements that were set for the assignment? If the answer is “yes,” then your organization is not suffering lost productivity. And by the way, productivity in the U.S. is quite high and growing, according to studies from both the U.S. Department of Labor and the United Nations.
  • Multi-directional conversations are the norm. Word of mouth matters. Companies used to count on employees to be brand evangelists and company advocates at PTA meetings, family dinners, and church on Sundays. Today, that extends to the social media space. Employees involved in online communities not only get great feedback that benefits the company, but they can solve customer problems and bolster the company’s reputation.
  • Work gets done on social networks; it’s not all idle chit-chat. Think an engineer won’t join an engineering group where he’ll learn about new techniques and be able to bounce ideas off other engineers? Think a salesman won’t watch a YouTube video that addresses a sales technique? Blocking access to these networks inhibits professional development and absolutely can thwart productivity.

The business of business is to make money, but the means by which money is made has evolved. Sorry for the cliche, but the only thing that remains constant is change, and the nature of work has changed. Why this surprises people — and why they resist it — is something that eludes me. After all, you’d be hard-pressed to find an indentured servant in America these days, even though it was once a common business practice.

This item is cross-posted from my primary blog.

Productivity focus shifts to Twitter

by guest blogger Neville Hobson

During last summer, there was a spate of mainstream media commentary that social networks like Facebook serve little or no purpose from a business point of view.

Much reporting about companies banning Facebook in the workplace. We were even treated to a variety of opinion that said things like the cost of lost productivity in Australia was about A$5 billion annually, and $130 million a day in the UK.

twitterNow it’s the turn of Twitter to come under some scrutiny with a post by Irish entrepreneur Pat Phelan.

Never mind what are Twitter costs, what’s the cost of Twitter? asks Pat in a post that quotes some back-of-the-envelope calculations to arrive at a lost productivity total of 30 million hours per month.

There’s a monetary value attached to this:

[…] Our estimates for 2008 suggest @ a minimum lost productivity cost of $20/hour this will represent $300M/month so $900M for first quarter, $600M per month for 2nd quarter so $1.8B, $1.2b per month for 3rd quarter so $3.6b and $2.4b/month for 4th quarter so $7.2b.

In total Twitter should cost economy around $13.5b in 2008!! Isn’t that FB value?

But why only highlight a negative point? What about potential positives? Plenty of people see that there are positives.

I left a comment earlier today on Pat’s post which said in part:

[…] Even without any credible facts to hand that support any claim to show some business productivity benefit from using Twitter, lumping everything into a ‘lost productivity’ bucket makes no sense at all.

While it looks like there might be some tongue in cheek in Pat’s post, it does still highlight a valid issue – how do you look at rapidly-emerging communication channels such as Twitter from a business perspective: a waste of everyone’s time or with some productivity value?

I use Twitter. A lot. Jaiku too (which is where I most frequently see Pat). I’ve found that these tools are becoming quite an indispensable means of engaging with some people, a means that complements (and sometimes, replaces) some of the other ways in which I communicate with them, eg, phone, email and IM.

I guess I’m on Twitter and Jaiku on average an hour every day. That’s actually quite concise for being active in both networks. But I use TwitKu, a web-based tool that lets me interact with both simultaneously in side-by-side windows on my screen. A terrific time saver.

So let’s just run some numbers here:

  • 1 hour/day = 7 hours/week = 365 hours/year. Reverse the annual figure back into months = an average of roughly 30.4 hours/month.
  • Taking Pat’s $ figures, this would work out at a monetary value during the course of 2008 at $608 a month or $7,300.00 for the year.
  • That’s the minimum value of the time I spend on Twitter and Jaiku. Let’s split the value equally at $3,650.00 each per year.

Far from being a waste of productivity time, it looks like an absolute bargain.

If I can engage directly with people around the world via these tools in a way that lets me discuss thoughts, ideas, points, etc, and make quick decisions or actions that via other means (email, for instance) would take five or six times as long (meaning more $/£/€), then I’m going to continue doing it.

I see tools like Twitter as productivity enhancers, not wasters. $608 a month looks like pretty good productivity value to me.

Twitter (and Jaiku) isn’t about idle chit-chat – but it can be just that if you want it to be (and it is only that for some people).

For some highly credible examples of specific benefits from using Twitter, go and read Dan York and the 10 ways he’s learned to get value out of Twitter.

It all works for me as well.

At-work online shopping as an employee benefit

While so many companies worry about the productivity issue with access to online content, consultant David Gammel wonders if allowing employees to use online shopping sites at work might not be better approached as a benefit:

Announce that each employee is encouraged to spend up to 2 hours shopping online for the holidays. Tell them they have to work out coverage and scheduling with their bosses but that you want to recognize all they do for you year round by making their shopping a bit easier. You gain good will and scheduling efficiency while losing nothing that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

The shopping thing has always rubbed me the wrong way. As one CEO put it to me, would you rather have your workers spend 30 minutes on the web doing some shopping, or have them take a three-hour break to go to the mall? With the kinds of hours companies are demanding of workers, if they can’t shop while working they probably won’t have much of an opportunity to shop at all. (Remember the days when you couldn’t make personal phone calls from work? When, exactly, then, were you supposed to call your doctor, who worked the same hours you did?)

Gammel’s idea is a good one: Build employee loyalty by letting them know you expect them to bring their lives to work just as much as you expect them to take their work home.

The growing social media contradiction

Rob Cottingham pointed me to a Canadian study that suggests business and marketing leaders believe the importance of social media is eclipsing that of traditional media. The study determined that 46% of respondents say that social media is more important than TV, radio, newspapers and magazines; 85% believe social media have become vital elements of the communication mix.

At the same time, though, 66% don’t think employees should be using it at work.

The study of 444 business and marketing leaders was conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights for Veritas Communications’ new com.motion unit.

Consider that, according to the study, 43% of business and marketing leaders have profiles on MySpace or Facebook. That would include a significant number who believe their own employees shouldn’t be able to access that profile or interact with the business leader — or other employees, customers, or others in their business network — during company time.

If social media are critical elements of the communication mix, shouldn’t employees be exposed to it? Participate in it? Shouldn’t the organization help employees figure out how to represent the organization in their online dealings, the way some companies are?

Rob also wondered (in his note to me), “So… Which group of employers is going to be more attractive to a young, entrepreneurial workforce in an era of skills shortages? And which group stands the better chance of being alive, vibrant and growing in ten years’ time?”

At least we’re starting to witness some chinks in the armor. A few days back, I heard the usual report from job placement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas warning companies that productivity would suffer on Black Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving when online retailers offered deep discounts. Their estimate: $488 million in lost productivity, based on 68.6 million American workers spending an average of 12 minutes on the Net. The company also pointed out that those 12 minutes result in $700 million in online sales, which is positive for the economy. But in the radio interview I heard, John Challenger also said that employees are increasingly expected to work when they’re away from the office, which balances things out.

Challenger also offered this, from a report in the Kansas City Star:

While employers shouldn’t be surprised to see distracted employees on Monday, Challenger, Gray said it is hard to measure productivity using a traditional “widgets per hour” formula.

The consulting firm said that while some productivity will be lost, employers should not fret because, realistically, workers are not paid by the minute and are not expected to be productive every minute of their work day.

Overall, “… unless online shopping causes deadlines to be missed or Internet performance to suffer, companies should not attempt to crack down on the practice. Doing so could negatively affect moral and loyalty, which ultimately will have a greater impact on the bottom line than a few minutes of cyber shopping,” said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas has been releasing these productivity calculations for some time, around everything from Black Monday to the NCAA Final Four. This is the first time I’ve seen an admission that the numbers don’t mean very much.

I’ve cross-posted this from my blog.

Jeremy Burton on “For Immediate Release”

Today I was lucky enough to interview Jeremy Burton, the CEO of Serena Software, about his belief that encouraging employees to use Facebook provides clear business advantages. The interview was for For Immediate Release, the regular podcast I co-host with my colleague, Neville Hobson. You can get the Burton interview here.