Earlier today, social media watch site Mashable posted an article that said a study showed that there has been a 20% increase in employers that are blocking social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It is already common place for companies to block things like YouTube and even various web mail applications. I even have co-workers whose client blocks all web blogs. I for one think that the blocking of social media sites and applications is a bad idea for employers to do. The reason? It decreased moral. As someone who routinely uses social media sites like Twitter to find answers to questions from people who do things all the time that I only do every so often, I find that blocking things like Twitter, Facebook, or even simple IM services (like Live Messenger or AOL) can have a disastrous effect on my productivity.
Look at the bigger picture. It’s a simple means of allowing a worker to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. Human nature alone dictates that I will never know everything, but someone out there is going to (more than likely) have the answer to my question. Being able to send a blast out on Twitter or even read a news blog can save me hours of work I might have to on my own as part of a trial and error process. The internet is an extremely useful tool. Yes, it can be used to waste time on, and some people would rather surf the internet and watch stupid YouTube videos all day than do actual work, but realistically most workers are going to use the internet as a tool to find answers more than they are going to use it to waste time. And hey, lets be honest, no one works all the time. You have to have a mental break, otherwise you’ll go crazy or make bad decisions. So taking 10-15 minutes every so often to do something that might be considered “unproductive” will actually result in better productivity. I know I’m going against all sense of general manager logic here but think about it, if an employee wastes 30-60 minutes doing the occasional unproductive things like watching YouTube videos or reading non-work related websites but has solid quality output, what does it matter? Does someone have to go back and fix his work, is she constantly behind schedule? If not, what’s the harm? If you have a slacker, deal with them. Give them warnings and if necessary, fire them.
As an example, I once worked with a guy who constantly touted his productivity, but it was well known that all he did was play web games, listen to music on his PC, and browse the internet. It looked like his numbers were great, as a support guy his number of closed tickets rivaled other “less productive” members of his team. But when we started looking at how many of his tickets were reopened after the fact because the problem was not fixed, it opened management’s eyes to a much larger and more costly problem. So while he appeared to be a very productive individual, he was in fact the least productive as he generally created more work for the rest of the team. The problem here wasn’t his browsing the net, it was his work ethic as a whole, and this was eventually dealt with (he was let go). The point I want to make here is that if the company had used hard rules about internet access and began blocking sites as a result of this one guy, it would have decreased the moral of the other team members and even less work would have gotten done because they would have all been upset with this one guy who didn’t do his work and caused the rest of them to lose privileges.
The key here is, everything in moderation. Reading blogs, following certain people on twitter, even the occasional look at LinkedIn Answers helps me stay up to date. And as a consultant, being up to date is extremely important. However if my work starts to slip, that’s a problem, but if I’m getting my work done on time and it’s quality work, there should be zero issues from management when I take a few minutes to read a news article, look up something on eBay, or watch a music video on YouTube. In the long run you’ll see more work from me if you allow me to work the way I like to work than if you force me to work in a way I don’t like.
Draconian access rules like blocking web blogs, social network sites, or video sites will only lead to lower employee moral overall and a higher turn around rate on employees, meaning higher costs overall because you’re constantly having to train new people on your practices, policies, and routines. Like I said, open the internet up to your employees, deal with those not working and you can have a productive and happy team.