Two thirds of British firms support social media at work

According to a new survey featuring over 1,000 responses, around 68 per cent of British workplaces encourage or allow the use of social media tools at work. However, the survey identifies a large number of people using social tools at work for an hour or more each day.

Naturally, the main comment from the survey is on the amount of time wasted, but I don’t think the entire picture is being painted here. It’s not just a simple case of should we or shouldn’t we be allowing access to social networks, and more general social media, in the workplace.
First, there is the replacement of other activities. If employees are spending an hour a day browsing Facebook, then it’s not easy to conclude if that is an hour of work time wasted, or just a diversion from other time-wasting they would have been up to anyway. Before Facebook came along there was plenty of material to read and share on the Internet… funny videos, newspapers, gossip magazines, even porn. There has always been a way to waste time online before we started getting all social.
Plus, there may in fact be many positive returns from socialising online, if it is as a representative of the company. Some people spend hours each day online in social networks because it creates visibility and value for their firms – not just to dodge doing anything more difficult.
But the real point is that some people will always try taking it easy in the office. There is always a contingent who arrives late, heads to the kitchen to make coffee for the first half an hour of the day, slopes off for a cigarette break before lunch, and finds it hard to return from the pub once they are at lunch… now that social networking tools are so useful for business it is hard to just apply the blanket bans that used to be common, but that means it is also hard to avoid people wasting time too.
Perhaps the real issue is that most people in office-based jobs are still judged by the time they sit at their desk, rather than the value they create for the company? Imagine if you had to consider what you did each day in terms of what it created for the firm? City traders do that each and every day they are at work – which is why they can be buying Ferraris one day and out on the street the next.
But without going to the extreme of a trader, measured by daily profit for a bank, is the real answer to this ‘wasting time at work’ debate to explore value-based work contracts rather than traditional nine-to-five permanent contracts?

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Value-based contracts? Nice idea but.... Firstly it's difficult to measure that value, and degenerates into semantic arguments over increasingly tenuous definitions of the word 'value' Secondly I can't see ultra highly paid c-level people wanting to move to a system like this, because their value is surely not proportionate to their wages. C-level wages are part of a self-created bubble, where management teams award themselves ever more, or leave to a more indulgent employer. Free labour market stuck in a feedback loop. The people with the power end up paid more and more, the people doing the actual work get squeezed more and more. Cue the gradual erosion of middle class in western societies. It's a wider problem that applies to all industries not just offices. Personal greed gets in the way of a fairer distribution of resources that recognise individual contribution. We don't have a better solution though. Value-based contracts would be great if the definition of value were not so easily clouded. The people being paid the most now might say we already have value-based contracts.
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I'm not talking about C-level people... they are already measured on value - though some may argue that the measurements are not calibrated very well. But in general, once someone is at C-level, there won't be someone snooping around saying they spent too long on Facebook, or too long at lunch, because that person can point to all the activities they are managing that create value for the firm. I'm talking about a fundamental shift in "normal" job contracts. Possible?
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The first hurdle is trust. If you act on the presupposition that everyone is going to rip you off and abuse your trust then you create a culture that enshrines that. In creating that climate you build roadblocks and impediments to the creation of value other than in a highly prescriptive and formulaic atmosphere that is both unpleasant to work in and one that stifles creativity and value. The Art, and its a management Art, is to build a climate that values creation without proscribing every nuance of 'work'. If you build a structure that stimulates and encourages people, they will normally turn up trumps; especially if you share some of the value with them. More importantly they will police themselves and manage out the losers. Balance is everything Or build robots and use them. Stalin and his ilk couldn't make this work either. Value based contracts ? .... little steps in the right direction first, i believe.
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