Don’t Ban Facebook at Work

facebook.gifThis week in PCWorld, there is a controversial article recommending that employers allow access to social networking websites like Facebook in the workplace. The recommendation comes from Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), which is a federation of trade unions in the United Kingdom that lobbies for fairness in the workplace. Their primary argument is that banning Facebook is an overreaction, and will create a backlash from employees. Instead, they recommend setting policies for appropriate use. The recommendation is relevant in the United States as well.

I’m a project manager in the tech industry with a focus on social media and networking websites. Highly public recommendations like this one affect the volatile climate of my industry by further coloring public opinion and setting corporate standards. Facebook’s widespread popularity is a new phenomenon, and how people incorporate it into the workplace will likely set precedents and trends for all other Web 2.0 sites.

Personally, I agree with the recommendation, although not for the same reasons. The TUC is responding to a fear among employers that access to social networking sites will make their employees lazy, and they counter-argue that employee laziness is not a new phenomenon. As an active member of the social media development communities, however, I see a different angle to the situation. Facebook is a powerful and customizable information and networking tool. If used properly in a professional setting, it can actually make people more productive, focused, and resourceful.

Web Worker Daily published an article in July titled “12 Ways to Use Facebook Professionally.” It offers recommendations for managing industry groups within the interface, and suggests arranging your profile like you would arrange your desk – with work-appropriate items that inspire you. Between unlimited applications and granular privacy settings, users have the power to customize their experiences and how they present themselves toward whatever is most important to them – and that can absolutely be work-related.

I understand that not everyone would choose to use Facebook to augment their productivity at work, even if they understood how to. I also understand that many jobs do not easily lend themselves to a social networking presence. And in these contexts, I agree with the TUC – employees may simply be pursuing their social life at work, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to set standards, but not block it out entirely.

However, simply acknowledging that social networking sites can be used productively in the work environment opens up a whole new angle for the public’s relationship to the web. It is an evolving beast, for sure, and it will continue to change. So at the very least, let’s keep the doors open.

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