Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to the Connecticut Technology Council’s IT Summit.
The panel discussion, entitled “Social Media: How to Manage Your New Digital Workfoce and Your Workforce ‘Friends’”, explored the impact of social networking on how businesses communicate with customers and employees, and how to reconcile the need for security and control with the desire to remain flexbile and competitive.
My law partner, Glenn Cunningham, served as panel moderator and Christopher Luise, executive vice president at ADNET Technologies, LLC joined me.
One of the questions that was raised during the IT Summit was one that I sometimes hear. Paraphrasing, the question was essentially this: ”I think social media is just a waste of time for employees. There is no return on investment for it. And what am I supposed to do with a young employee who spends four hours on Facebook each day?”
There’s a lot of subtext to a question like this and it would be easy to discount the person’s views as someone who just “doesn’t get it” with social media.
But I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are plenty of people who — with some justification — still believe that social media is a passing fad with minimal utility and that allowing employee use of social media is opening the door to misuse.
The utility of employee use of social media is going to vary wildly depending on the type of business the employee works for, the position of the employee, and how the employee uses it. To say all social media is “good” or “bad” is just too simplistic. The same could be said for e-mail 15 years ago (“why would I send an e-mail, when it really requires a letter?”).
At the presentation, Luise pointed to the 2013 Gartner Hype Cycle for Social Software that suggests that social media usage and incorporation into corporate life is still just in its infancy. Indeed, it suggests that companies are now beginning to incorporate social media into their enterprise software directly, with sites like Microsoft’s Yammer taking off.
“Increasingly, social technologies are not implemented on a stand-alone basis, but are tightly integrated within a variety of other technologies, including business, IT operations, unified communications and collaboration applications,” said Gartner.
The question raised at the summit also poses another issue: How do you manage employee use of it? Well, as I’ve preached before, firewalls won’t work much anymore. But there is a simpler solution too: Manage the employee’s overall performance.
If the employee is missing deadlines (whether its because they are on social media or not), then discipline and counsel the employee that they need to get their work done.
Employers have done this in other contexts in the past. If employees were taking multiple “smoking breaks” and weren’t getting the job done, the biggest concern for the employer was the failure of the employee to meet performance standards. The same should hold true for personal use of social media.
There is also, I think, one other aspect to this question — that somehow the Millenial generation isn’t working hard enough nowadays. That generalization is making its way into comedy bits and commentary.
But again, employers should be wary about making such generalizations and stereotypes of its younger employees. Judge each employee on his or her own merits.
Clearly, each generation brings a different perspective to things that employers should understand. Recent college grads who might communicate primarily through text messages and Snapchat photos aren’t going to sit idly by when their employer tells them they can only use e-mail to communicate.
Social media is still a work in progress. It’s up to employers to continue to evolve to deal with this developing technology and manage the workplace effectively, not up to employees to figure it out on their own.