'Not all jobs created equal' for social sites

Nature of business and sensitivity of corporate data key in deciding whether to block social networking sites at work, say industry watchers.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Businesses should consider the nature of their business and determine how sensitive their corporate data is, before deciding if they should allow social networking sites to be accessed at the office.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Tan Poh Choo, practices director of SAS Singapore, said organizations such as banks and government bodies including defense and homeland security ministries, do not allow social networking sites to be accessed at work as they cannot afford to have "unintentional leak of information".

But, businesses in other sectors that do not have to deal with highly classified information, can benefit from allowing access to such sites. This will enable employees will be able to monitor relevant market trends and assess what consumers are saying about their company, Tan explained.

"Especially for tech companies, access to social networking sites is an advantage as employees will know the latest news," she said. "Employees will be well-versed in how their business is run and they can get feedback from others and see how the trend moves."

Tan added that the decision to allow, or block, access to social networking sites will depend on the company's culture. Businesses that "trust" their employees to be "meaningfully occupied" will be more open to allowing social networking sites at work, she noted.

"Companies can also decide if they want a total ban of social networking sites or just specific sites," she said. Should companies decide to limit access to such sites, she added that they have the right monitor such use if employees are informed of the company's policy and stance on accessing social networking sites.

According to a survey by IDC last year, less than 50 percent of companies in Australia, India, China and Singapore, allowed employees to access social networking sites at work during office hour, while Hong Kong and Korea proved more lenient in this aspect.

Reasons companies restrict such access include concern over productivity loss, security and relevance of social networking sites to the nature of the organization's business, Debbie Swee, market analyst for Asia-Pacific emerging technologies research at IDC, said in an e-mail interview.

A separate report last month by Robert Half Technology reflected similar findings in the United States, where over half of U.S. workplaces block social networking sites.

However, Brian Prentice, research vice president of emerging trends and technologies at Gartner, advised organizations to refrain from using "the potential risk of a problem" as an excuse to block the technology.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Prentice reasoned that businesses should not simply cite "loss of productivity" as justification for inhibiting access to technology, and should instead manage their employees' behavior and use of such tools.

He noted that social networking tools are not only meant for personal communication, but also "increasingly being used to support business outcomes".

"Not all jobs are created equal. In call centers, wasted time is directly correlated to an impact on customer satisfaction as there'll be a longer queue time," said Prentice. "But, in roles like sales, creative or middle management, that correlation doesn't make sense since productivity costs are more tightly bound to process productivity rather than time productivity."

The analyst also noted that USB drives posed a greater risk to companies than the publication of confidential information via social networking sites.

Gartner has been advocating access of social networking sites at work, noting that such sites will "make their way into the workplace whether enterprises sanction them or not".

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