Over the last couple of years, the world has been inundated with the newest internet crazes: Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and blogging.
People spend hours every day keeping their Facebook and MySpace pages current. They “tweet” on Twitter to give others up-to-the-minute updates on their lives. They make and upload videos for YouTube. People have created their own blogs where they chat about subjects that are personal, political and professional.
All of this would be perfectly harmless if (a) it didn’t happen while they were at work and (b) they weren’t sharing anything about their place of work.
Some businesses are taking advantage of these new vehicles to market to customers or potential customers. Firms have employees who “chat” with their clients live or blog answers to frequently asked questions.
Other companies, however, have no idea about these potentially productivity-zapping applications and their rampant use during work hours.
Employees’ use of the internet for non-work related reasons is estimated to be a staggering two to three hours each day. Companies must get out in front on this matter and take a clear position that employees understand.
Some organizations have used website blocking software to limit access to these sites. Employees can simply bypass that by using their cell phones, PDAs or laptops to connect to the internet. While some companies have created policies in their handbook outlining that internet usage while at work is for company business only, they have yet to include cell phone or PDA usage in that section to catch up with technology.
Businesses should also consider the effect “tweeting” or having a Facebook page can have as far as sharing too much company information with the internet community at large. Say, for example, a company salesperson gets on Twitter, “tweets” that she just landed in Phoenix and is picking up a rental car to go see Customer XYZ. Imagine a competitor somehow getting that information and using it to their advantage. I have seen detailed information about the work people are doing placed on YouTube or Facebook in clear violation of company confidentiality clauses.
Companies affected by employee posts on social network sites have taken disciplinary actions that include write-ups, suspensions or even terminations of employees. These firings have fed lawsuits by the terminated employees that are just starting to work their way through the legal system, costing businesses big money to defend their actions.
Companies must establish a policy or position that is consistent with their culture. Businesses that openly promote technology can be more lenient about the social networking policies they create. Others in tightly regulated industries should be very strict in laying out the rules.
All companies need to consider that their younger employees are very tied to these technologies and could be put off by employers who have an overreaching policy.
No matter where a company comes down on the subject, it is just another round in the changes that new technology is making in the workplace today and in the foreseeable future.