We have embraced social networking sites so much that they have become a part of our everyday life. For most of us, checking our Twitter account, reading emails and following our friends’ updates on Facebook have become a daily routine.

There are very few situations when we cannot go online to check Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. For the average worker, the workplace should not be one of them.

All Cards on the table

In this piece, I’ve challenged myself to outline the most pressing issues regarding blocking of social media sites in the workplace and to figure out how to address them.

Let me start with the major issues raised by companies that insist on blocking social networking sites:

  • “Employees are less productive.” Most organizations give this as the main reason why they block social networking sites in the workplace. However, other argue that there are many other sites that employees visit that contribute to lower levels of productivity and cyberslacking.
  • “Bandwidth is hogged unnecessarily.” Businesses claim that accessing social media sites (and accessing other media, such as streaming video) is hogging most of the company’s bandwidth – this has a negative impact on resources and systems.
  • “Most people are not aware of the dangers lurking in those sites.” This is not only a concern with regard to the security of systems in an internal network but it can also affect the employee’s personal security. Unless an individual knows what steps to take and how to protect himself/herself online, they risk being scammed and their machine being infected with malware and other nasty web threats.

While employers point out the reasons why the need to block social networking sites, their employees are concerned that it could impact their work and their ability to communicate with others:

  • “There is no way I’ll be able to talk to friends and online colleagues. What if there’s a problem I can’t solve by myself? Who can I turn to?” Internet users often turn to social media sites for help and advice on issues that are related to their work, especially during critical and urgent times. Most users attest to the quick response of their online colleagues and peers whenever they do this.
  • “I’m afraid my morale will be compromised.” Employees turn to social sites to “keep themselves sane”. Taking a break from time to time to family and friends, helps them unwind and relax.
  • “It doesn’t make sense if we do part of our marketing on Facebook and yet Facebook is blocked?” True, but unless you’re solely responsible for marketing your company online, this argument shouldn’t be used as a reason.
  • “They’re doing this because they don’t trust us!” This is probably the primary concern for many employees who feel that policies are implemented in the workplace because they are not trusted.

A high wire act

It is not always easy to strike a balance between blocking social sites in the workplace and giving uncontrolled internet freedom to employees. However, there are some steps an organization can take:

  • Monitor employees’ internet usage. Businesses have every right to know how their resources are used and why they’re used by their employees. It’s not a question of not trusting employees; a business is simply looking after its own interests.
  • Restrict access to certain sites during work hours. Most employees go beyond the eight-hour work grind. Cutting access to bandwidth-hungry social media sites during peak work periods and then restoring access during slower periods or during breaks is a fair compromise.
  • Allow certain employees access to the business’s profile on social sites. This is a good policy to implement for marketing and PR teams, which are directly involved in product pitching and selling of business products and services.
  • Educate and keep employees up to date with the latest threats on social sites. While it is true that most people learn from experience, prevention is still better than cure.