Even the most ardent bean counters among us would agree that its use in harmless doses adds to employee fun/happiness
What might have been a shocker once is now a well-known fact - facebook may be more popular than search; and facebook is definitely more popular than sex. In less than 5 years, facebook has become a big part of most of our lives - we live on it, live off it and importantly for the site, we spend time on it. It is a testament to the genius of the platform that more people today search for help with facebook addiction, than with cigarettes; people have searched for “internet facebook addiction” 121.8 million times in recent days!
We love our virtual social networks, we connect through them 'regularly', we contribute 'regularly' and we lurk 'regularly' – regularly, here implying "as much time as is needed to reveal the part of my personal life I am comfortable revealing...and as much time as is needed for me to soak in the lives of my buddies that they are comfortable revealing".
This is where companies might have a problem - you see, the evil empire pays people to work for profits and hence assumes a certain monopoly over time. There are few bosses who would not have a problem if one were to 'step out for a quick smoke', 10 times a day (with typical elevator–and-coffee time, that would add up to roughly 2 hours a day!). If an average employee spends 60 minutes per working day on facebook, would that not be a bigger problem for any company?
As an individual, I fiercely stand by freewill and all that baloney; but as an entrepreneur with 25 people working in the company, I have slyly decided to jump the fence. And how? We blocked and banned facebook at work. Not twitter, not myspace - just facebook. As we now slide precipitously down the best-places-to-work lists, let me do some quick explaining. The reasoning was simple - knowing that your best friend's hair is a mess or learning that your college buddy is eating the best beer-accompanied-lobster, is not going to contribute to our top line or our bottom line. And yes, facebook is allowed after 7pm!
But then, the reasoning need not be as simplistic as that. First is the realization that there is an entire generation of people who feel cut-off without facebook. Second, even the most ardent bean counters among us would agree that its use in harmless doses adds to employee fun/happiness. And that the excuse of company data privacy does not hold, as there are surely better unregulated means to share company data with the outside world, if a smart employee were to put his/her heart into the cause.
So, would a 10-minute-per-hour 'smoke-break' for facebook use help? I am not entirely convinced - there have been stories of employees protesting facebook bans that initiated an hour-a-day time, which has now been slowly and gently relaxed into a free-for-all throughout the day. Either way, this is not a comprehensive solution - merely a cold war-like compromise. And then, what do you do with all those smartphones?
What is interesting is the trend of large companies to come up with their own internal facebook-like applications that help employees connect with each other, discuss and contribute to projects, and importantly, provide employees with a platform that feels similar to the ones they are used to outside of work. The success or failures of these projects may give us some understanding of why we participate on social networks in the first place - is it to connect usefully or is it to while away time passively? If it is the latter, then none of this is going to work.
Finally, I am not sure if there are any middle paths here - it is very clearly a Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Cruise situation (A few good men). And we all know how that ends! This battle is just getting started and promises to get vicious at our workplaces. In the meantime, I dread thinking of the day when a competitor's recruiter calls one of my good guys - "We will raise you by the current rate of food inflation...and psst, they allow facebook at work!"