Last week I predicted that social networking would narrow, but deepen, as the faddish nature of it started to wear off. There may be another reason why the vast numbers of people involved may start to drop: employers are waking up to the productivity implications of the use of social networking tools in the workplace.
Social networking eats time and bandwidth (allegedly)
A poll of office workers conducted by Global Secure Systems (GSS) (in association with the organisers of the Infosecurity Europe 2008 conference) seems to indicate that large amounts of company time and network bandwidth are taken up by staff’s social networking activities.
According to the results, 41% of the sample admitted to visiting these kinds of sites at work and the pollsters calculated that they were spending “at least 30 minutes a day” on this activity. Two respondents even admitted to spending three hours a day on these services. Global Secure Systems then carried out a kind of ‘back of a fag packet’ calculation to arrive at the conclusion that social networking was “costing UK corporations close to £6.5 billion annually in lost productivity”. The calculation involved multiplying the average time spent on social sites by the number of office workers who have Internet access at work and their average salary. All this was duly picked up by the Times Online with the lurid headline: “Facebook and MySpace a threat to Britain’s competitiveness?”
There is an important message here, but I reckon such figures need to be taken with some degree of caution. Firstly, the poll information contained in the actual GSS press release doesn’t provide any detail of how the sample (of only 776 people – a little on the low side) was obtained (for example, what types of employees were polled and when and where). Secondly, the assumption is that all social networking is non-work related, but these technologies are in part altering the way people work. A journalist or a sales manager, for example, might quite legitimately be spending part of their working day on Facebook as this is where people with a particular interest can be found.
Nor did the final calculation of the billions being wasted take account of the fact that not all employers actually allow the company Internet access to be used for non-business related activity. I know from conversations I have had with friends and acquaintances that many corporate companies severely restrict Internet access to a number of industry-related websites or, even more punitively, only allow access to the corporate intranet.
Whether the calculation and its attendant headlines are strictly accurate or not, it is clear that there is the perception of a growing problem. GSS go on to point out that in a recent round table meeting of 20 chief information officers held by Infosecurity Europe 2008, one of the biggest concerns was how to manage social networking at work. There were estimates, for example, that as much as 30% of company network bandwidth was being taken up with Facebook.
So maybe the whole thing will just be turned off by large FTSE 500 companies who want some ‘real’ work to be done in company time. Ironically, this might happen just as some useful work-related ways of using the tools are being discovered.