The debate: is social media a distraction from work?

24 October 2016

Author: Lianna Cafolla


The debate: is social media a distraction from work?

When staff are playing Pokemon Go or spending work time on Twitter, is it best to ban, tolerate or manage their behaviour?

We have to set boundaries on social media
 
Companies need to provide a clear stance to employees on the use of social media platforms at work. The key is to ensure people are fully focused and productive and that external apps do not unnecessarily distract. We would advise that policies remain broad - the Pokemon Go of today will be replaced by something else tomorrow.
 
We should not treat social media as the devil of the workplace. When email was first developed, people voiced the same concerns that they do today about social media. In many ways, social media is the new email. It will become more and more prevalent in our day-to-day life, and whether it is for professional or personal purposes, it requires governing.
 
As a society, we are drifting towards a lack of human interaction and people playing out their lives through instant messaging or Facebook. Unless a variety of communication mechanisms are provided and encouraged, that can make its way into the workplace. I would encourage the continued use of email, Skype, social media, face-to-face meetings and conference calls to ensure the full breadth of human interactions have been tapped.
 
Some social media apps can add value. For example, we use Yammer, which is a way of cascading company news internally and fostering a sense of community within the office and between our international offices. Corporate wellbeing apps such as Fitbit can engage people and promote work-life balance. These can be used to support businesses and produce advantageous results.
 
Greg Tadman, Regional human resources director, Asia Pacific, PageGroup
 
Collaboration is a vital tool for business
 
Social media actually enables productivity. The most important skill we are seeing enhanced by social media is collaboration, and this is making a huge difference to business outcomes.
 
Our lives are so intertwined with the digital world that instructing someone to behave in a way that is not in line with societal norms is conflicted and often will not support the strategy of the organisation. For example, in the banking and insurance industries, organisations are looking to see how to use social media and apps to enhance the customer experience. If those companies then banned social media and apps in the workplace, it would be in complete contradiction to their strategy. Most organisations are not trying to fight the digital world, but are embracing it as a way to engage and communicate with employees.
 
We recently launched a collaboration platform in an international bank where employees worked together to come up with ideas to improve processes and operations across their business and across different geographical locations. People can comment and add to ideas, as well as "like" the idea. It has been very successful, with employees feeling they are contributing to the success of their division in the bank.
 
We believe in the "leveraged professional" where the digital world is here to help us, not to replace us. For example, Amazon Echo is a voice service that can translate. In the future, it may help call centre staff to speak to anyone around the world by translating in real time.
 
Susie Quirk, Partner at KPMG China and head of people and change advisory
 
We need a way to express our emotions in the workplace
 
In general, it might not be necessary to ban the use of apps and social media in the workplace. Instead, guiding people to use them wisely may be a better approach.
 
Social media and apps give people a break from the task at hand, and interesting photos and fun chats with friends can provide temporary stress relief. Social media can also serve as an emotional relief in cultures where people are traditionally taught to suppress their emotions. People are often more expressive of feelings, both positive and negative, on social media.
 
If used properly, social media can act as a support group or as a persuasive tool via, for example, gamification, or to build a collective mindset through Q&A sites or crowdsourcing that can enhance productivity at work. Many workplaces reply on existing social messaging or media platforms for online communication and remote collaboration. In businesses such as media, IT, trading, advertising and public relations, it is important to keep up to date with information and public opinion in order to respond quickly. Social media is a good channel for that. Work-oriented social networks can also improve people's sense of belonging, especially for geographically remote teams.
 
Online and offline communication are complementary, rather than one replacing the other. Face-to-face interaction can build higher communication efficacy and strengthen trust, while social media and apps can help to maintain connections among weak ties.
 
Prof Ma Xiaojuan, Assistant professor, computer science & engineering, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
 
HR must use its judgment
 
Many routine parts of our working day can be distracting, whether it's emails that arrive while trying to complete a project or colleagues in an open plan office. Often, a colleague wearing headphones is the unwritten signal that they are concentrating.
 
Although we need to be cognisant of becoming distracted during working hours by either the work-related or the personal, sometimes a distraction can be good for us - it allows us to rest our minds or interact with peers.
 
Employers need to trust employees not to spend work hours on personal devices playing games, chatting with friends, or completing personal projects. Employees in turn need to show a mature approach to managing their workload and delivering value to the organisation. While we all need to take a break during our working day to ensure our continued wellbeing, the trick is to not become distracted and to return to the task at hand.
 
There is an element of 'give and take' in the employee-employer relationship, and discretionary effort could be eroded by over-policing employee behaviour. The HR professional's role is not to act as the organisation's police, but to create a culture of trust and transparency that ensures work creates value for all stakeholders - in essence, honouring the psychological contract.
 
As technology develops, HR will need to use good judgement to manage the impact of technology on the organisation. The use of personal devices during the work day is a growing challenge. They're difficult to manage and can create risks to productivity and security. The question of trust and meeting mutual obligations in the employee-employer relationship is paramount.
 
Sarah Dunleavy, Research adviser, CIPD Asia