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Social Media in the Workplace: Distractor or Collaborator?

According to a recent study, the average person logs onto Facebook 14 times per day on their phones alone. Assuming most of us get 8 hours of sleep, that’s nearly one log-in per hour—not including each log-in on a computer. This naturally suggests that most of us check social media at work, but is this necessarily a bad thing? If you have the mentality that using social media tools impedes employee productivity, think again. Microsoft recently released a survey on social media use in the workplace which found that the use of social media tools at work actually has the opposite effect. The survey, which polled nearly 10,000 information workers in 32 countries around the world, resulted in a surprising 42% of those polled saying that they felt their output increased during the workday when social media tools were accessible.

So what does this mean for you as an employer? If you have strict rules in place about social media use in your office, it may be time to loosen up the screws. Fortunately, only 5% of those polled answered that they ignored company policy and used social media against their employers’ wishes, but a much larger 37% said that they could do their job better if management was more supportive of their social media use.

This could be for a variety of reasons. It’s been proven that taking quick breaks throughout the workday to look away from work and recharge for a few minutes increases productivity, and a quick Facebook break might just be an excellent way to do so. Tools like Facebook and Twitter allow for socialization, which is a great way to re-energize. In fact, of those polled, 39% felt that there wasn’t enough collaboration in their workplaces—something that social media can apparently fix, as a whopping 68% agreed that they use social media at work largely to communicate with colleagues. There are several ways to increase collaboration at your company and many businesses, large and small alike, are going as far as reorganizing their office layouts to encourage employee communication. But with 40% of those surveyed agreeing that social media use in their office has resulted in increased collaboration, there may be a much easier—and cost-effective—way to get coworkers talking.

A less surprising finding of the study showed that the group that consistently ranked highest in its desire for increased social media use was that of the 18 to 24 year-old age bracket—probably the most social generation thus far. It’s well-known that two of the most important factors for millennials are work-life balance and a feeling of trust and independence in the workplace, so the freedom to use social media is a much-desired perk for them—and, apparently, an effective productivity booster.

An even higher concern than productivity loss amongst those polled was that of security in regards to confidential information, but should you lay down strict policies or even internet blocks on social media, your employees, especially those in Generation-Y, may feel that you don’t trust them enough to get their work done or respect company privacy. This should not be the case, as employees who feel their organization trusts them are more likely to feel more at home and work harder. So invest some trust and social media freedom in your employees—after all, millennials are predicted to comprise nearly 50% of our workforce by 2020.

While communication may have been the main focus of social media upon its conception, the sites that make up today’s social media giants—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—have all evolved to incorporate many new uses. As a result, there are several reasons besides communication and employee productivity that incorporating social media into your office culture can help, rather than hurt, your company. For example, many businesses are now using these sites to develop new marketing strategies, advertise their services, share information with others in the field, and create an internet footprint that could potentially lead more clients to their doors. And while many organizations already have a Facebook and/or Twitter page of their own, allowing employees to log on during work could encourage them to share updates, news, and information across these pages with their personal friends—thus expanding your business’s audience and professional network.

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