Banning Facebook in the Office – does it impact productivity?

I have attended a number of conferences and continue to notice attendees confessing that Facebook is banned in their workplace. This is slowly reducing but is still very prevalent.

I suppose the banning isn’t the thing that surprises me – it’s the commentary around the statements and the person delivering the message.

At a recent Online Social Media and Business Collaboration conference the topic of Facebook in the work place was raised on a few different occasions. Facebook in the workplace was discussed in coffee breaks and in presentations – where in one instance a show of hands was requested if “Facebook was banned” in their office. I’d say a quick glance around the room showed maybe a third of the attendees raised their hands.

A lot of the commentary about workplace ban of Facebook is based upon the “time wasting” nature. And in a number of instances, the people delivering the comments – and this is a sweeping generalization – are middle management types probably in the 40+ age group. This isn’t overly surprising either as many of these people would be KPI’d around playing their part in productivity and efficiencies of operations, delivering services or widget sales under a broader set of corporate objectives.

Something to consider as media becomes more invasive is that banning Facebook or Twitter can be futile, as access via mobiles (maybe even company provided ones!) is continuing to increase..

Interestingly Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital and their Innovation Practice, recently said his concern wasn’t using Facebook in work time, but working in Facebook time!

This issue reminded me of a previous life where I was responsible for building a call centre in a credit union. The skill sets of the people needed to deliver the levels of service expected in a call centre of a member based organization are quite specific. They need to be energized by customer engagement and welcome conversations. When the management reporting system was put in place, an interesting anomaly was presented.

The high performers in this area were ALWAYS on the phone – even if there was a lull in the call volumes. If not talking to customers, they were calling family and friends. They were always talking. And this is what made them high performers.

They’d put their conversation on hold to jump onto incoming calls, then get back to who it was they were talking to – or drop the call if it got really busy and call back later. Through observation and discussion, this continuous engagement kept their motivation levels high – and they were the ones managing the greatest amount of traffic, and consistently delivering the highest sales results.

They were highly social and engaged.


Simply reading the management reports on call activity would have suggested they were wasting time by having personal conversations in company time – not delivering on the expectations of their jobs. I suppose anyone with a phone on their desk could be accused of the same thing?


Perhaps not sweeping bans, but observations and understanding of motivations of staff – which could well inform the motivations of customers – and looking at a responsible usage program could be of benefit. There will always be a group of people looking for ways to avoid their responsibilities – this suggests unmotivated employees. They distract themselves with the phone (desk or mobile), newspapers, sms, water-cooler conversations, the list goes on.


The tool that they engage with to pass the time may not necessarily be the issue.


The question is, does a sweeping ban actually result in the desired behaviour, and what is the opportunity cost?


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