Entries from October 2009 ↓

Canadian privacy commissioner opposes blocking after UK services company releases another misleading survey

While yet another completely bogus, self-serving studyhas assigned a completely unrealistic dollar amount to employee use of social networks on the job, an unlikely voice has arisen in opposition to blocking employee access.

Ann Cavoukian, the minister privacy commissioner for the Canadian province of Ontario, has called blocking employee access a mistake. According to an article in itbusiness.ca, Cavoukian said, “It’s like waving the proverbial red flag in front of your staff -– it’s almost a challenge to them to find a way around it.”

By itself, that wouldn’t lead most employeres to eschew blocking — after all, they may reason, employees who want to find a way around policies should simply be fired. But Cavoukian doesn’t stop there, noting that bans can often be counterproductive. For example, she said, finding a way to get to the sites they want to can actually take longer than just going to an unblocked site.

Cavoukian was speaking in the wake of a study released by Morse plc, a London-based company that makes money helping companies block employee access to site. Yep, another completely unbiased study by an organization with not self-interest wrapped up in the results.

Morse conducted its survey with 1,460 U.K. office workers. The results: 57% spend 40 minutes per day on average visiting social networks. That adds up to a full week each year, the value of which is, according to Morse, US $2.4 billion dollars in lost productivity.

Morse consultant Phillip Wicks called employee access to social networks “a productivity black hole.” Clearly he hasn’t seen — or has ignored — the unbiased reasearch that shows employees with access to social networks are actually more productive than those without it.

And, of course, the study doesn’t not take into account the hours these employees work in excess of the minimum eight-hour day, the amount of work they take home, and the amount of time spent on social networks that produces a benefit to the organization.

It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in this assessment. According to Robin Wauters writing in TechCrunch Europe:

Maybe it’s just the concept of ‘business hours’ that isn’t something the new generation of office workers is apt at dealing with, considering they grew up living in a fragmented world where social media make up integral parts of their lives that cannot simply be turned off. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing or a management problem, but one thing it is most definitely not: the fault of Twitter or Facebook.

Or do you really think that guy next to you who spends hours staring at his Facebook news feed is suddenly going to be way more productive when the IT department blocks access to the site?

One more survey to ignore, move along now, nothing to see here.

(Hat tip to Tony Molloy for point out the TechCrunch Europe piece.)

Kudos to Cavoukian, who might also talk about another way in which blocking access is counterproductive: killing employee engagement leading to less enthusiastic and satisfied workers.

Kudos to Robin Wauters.

And to the self-serving, deceptive, methodology-challenged dolts at Morse plc: Fail.

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.

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.

Brand manager brings insights from social networking to his P&G job

Reports of companies blocking access to social sites are often accompanied by a proclamation by a business leader or IT manager declaring that there is simply no business value in employees spending time in this venues.

Dave Knox, corporate marketing brand manager for Digital Business Strategy at P&G, begs to differ. Interviewed by Vince Thompson on his Smart Planet blog, Knox asserts that the time he spends on social sites provides perspective that he’s able to apply directly to his work.

When working for a big corporation, you have an amazing amount of resources at your fingertips. And you are surrounded by incredibly smart people. But most of these people have a similar background to you and are trained to approach problems in the same way. My blog has helped me by giving me access to people with different backgrounds and views on the business world. It is a way to connect with these people outside of my day to day work and really get a set of different viewpoints on what is going on with marketing.

My external network has emerged as my business filter, allowing me to sort through the noise and keep on top of what is really important. While it might save time in the short-term to slow down in social media, I think it would hurt me in the long term in terms of personal growth and knowledge.

Getting your job done has short- and long-term dimensions. Business leaders looking for long-term value from their employees need to get beyond the superficial understanding of social media and grasp the long-term value that can accrue to the organization when its employees are able interact with communities outside the company’s cloistered environment.

Measuring that long-term value — the worth of the insights and knowledge gained from online social interaction — sounds like a great project for somebody. In the meantime, what value has your on-the-job engagement in social media produced for your organization?

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?

Why the 54% of companies blocking access to social media should unblock

At least 10 of my colleagues have alerted me to a study released yesterday by Robert Half Technology, in which 54% of the sample of 1,400 CIOs of companies with 100 or more employees block employees from accessing any social media at work.

Mashable points out the Robert Half study is consistent with other reports. The trend is gaining momentum.

I even received an email today from a communicator who observed that she received a security notice that access to Stop Blocking was blocked at her organization. Right. God forbid anybody should be able to explore the arguments against this inane and counterproductive practice.

Given the publicity the Half study is getting, it’s worth reiterating the key arguments against blocking.

Well-communicated and consistently enforced policies will deal with most issues. The number of companies blocking access to social media sites is roughly on par with the number of companies without social media policies. Isn’t it possible that employees who knew what the rules were might actually follow them? Especially if they knew there were real and serious consequences for failing to do so?

Access to social media improves productivity. According to Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, “Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access.” But multiple studies prove exactly the opposite.

Productivity concerns are based on fatally flawed assumptions. First, there is research to suggest that every hour an employee spends at work on non-work-related websites is compensated for by an hour spent away from work on work-related activities. Do you check your work-related email on your mobile phone before you even get out of bed? Most knowledge workers say they do. Second, there are work-related benefits to social media activities, including collaboration, mindsharing and professional social networking amongst employees, affiliates and partners, according to David Lavenda of WorkLight (drawing on results from a Gartner study).

Employees don’t need your network. I can access any social network I like on my iPhone and my Palm Pre. I have a laptop with built-in access to the Sprint network that gets me on any site I want. Employees can (and do) bring these tools to the workplace. Your blocks have no impact. Employees can still get to Facebook all they want.

Who died and put CIOs in charge of worker productivity anyway? I’m not sure when supervisors and HR abdicated this responsibility to IT, but IT is simply not qualified to address employee productivity.

Blocking kills engagement. There are plenty of studies that tie high levels of worker engagement to increased growth and profitability. Trust is a pillar of engagement. So what happens to engagement when all employees get the same message, “We don’t trust any of you, not a single damn one of you, as far as we can throw you, so we’re blocking all of you”? Bye bye, engagement.

Access to social media is not an automatic invitation to viruses and malware. Those companies that do permit employee access have found ways to protect their networks. For many of the companies blocking access based on the fear of infection, it’s just easier to block than to find ways to protect the network while providing access. Laziness is not an excuse for blocking.

Millenials will not work for companies that block. These workers — the ones you need to hire to replace the retiring boomers — are networked 24/7 and expect the company to accommodate them. Many simply won’t work for companies that block access, which means you’re left to hire your second and third choices. Is mediocrity actually a hiring goal in your organization?

Bandwidth is a bogus issue. Bandwidth is the paper of the digital era. Can you imagine a company 25 years ago telling workers, “We’d love to get memos and publications to you, but we don’t have enough paper”? The very notion is absurd. They’d buy more paper. Companies pinching pennies on bandwidth are doing themselves a disservice in many more ways than one.

Please suport the Stop Blocking initiative. Contribute research you’re aware of to the wiki. Share how your access to social networks and other web content has benefitted you at work. Share how blocking has restricted your ability to be as effective as possible at work. Link to Stop Blocking; feel fee to use the Stop Blocking badges on your blog or site. We must get the word out that blocking is a counterproductive, knee-jerk practice that must be stopped for the sake of the very companies that are implementing it.