Banning Facebook At Work Is Like Banning The Telephone

from the it's-a-communications-tool dept

Earlier this year, we pointed out that it was silly for companies to block Facebook at work, because it’s merely a communications tool. It can be misused, but that would show up in the performance of the employee. Instead, embracing Facebook and recognizing that it’s just a communications platform — like the telephone or like email (both of which some companies wanted to ban when they first became popular), it can be a very valuable tool.

It’s good to see a new study agreeing on that point and encouraging management execs to learn how to embrace social networking, rather than ban it completely:

They are part of the way in which people communicate which they find intuitive. Banning Facebook and the like goes against the grain of how people want to interact. Often people are friends with colleagues through these networks and it is how some develop their relationships…. Allowing workers to have more freedom and flexibility might seem counter-intuitive, but it appears to create businesses more capable of maintaining stability.”

Now, of course, some people are going to show up here and start commenting about how much time they (or others they know) waste on Facebook during the workday. However, as we said, it’s no secret that some people abuse access to those systems — but the focus should be punishing for the abuse, not punishing everyone and throwing out the good with the bad. Others will (as they always do) say something along the lines of “if you’re at work, you should be working — using a social network should never ever be allowed.” Again, similar things were said originally about the telephone and email, and those have turned out to be very productive tools. Letting people communicate in the way they find most efficient and effective is a huge part of making sure a business is functioning well — even if it includes letting employees spend some time on Facebook.

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Comments on “Banning Facebook At Work Is Like Banning The Telephone”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Banking

How will you ever know unless you try?

Find a way in which it’s useful instead of shooting it down outright. Nobody is trying to do it, so nobody has an understanding of how it could work…given the chance.

Don’t see the glass as half-full.

Besides, what’s to keep you from using the telephone to dial up your best friend to talk about how Lost sucks and has since the 2nd season?

You don’t have the easy answer. You have the lazy answer.

Kevin says:

Like is not the same

The difference here, is that when you show up at work, you have a work email, and a work phone number, and generally speaking most people are banned/prohibited from using personal email/phones.

There might be use in creating accounts associated with each position within a company, and having that account inherited when replacing an employee. But beyond that I don’t see what benefit would come of using a work account for facebook. It doesn’t really have any abilities above and beyond those of email, and to expose coporate communication to the realm of facebook privacy concerns would be careless to say the least.

If there were some benefit to using facebook at work, I might agree with you on this argument, but those benefits haven’t presented themselves as of yet.

Jake says:

You make some valid points. Starting a company Facebook page is a cheap and easy way to get employees to meet in a social setting and help foster a sense of community; it’s a lot easier to keep a sense of proportion and remember you’re all on the same side when the guy on the other side of the conference table isn’t just another anonymous face in a three-piece suit, but Bob from Accounts who said nice things about the pictures of your new conservatory or wrote a note on your Wall wishing you luck with the house move.

As for the potential for abuse? Everyone spends some company time on non work-related activity; slipping outside for a smoke, calling a friend to invite them to go out for a beer, reading a magazine while they wait for a call or a hundred other things. And unless it starts to negatively impact on their performance, no big deal. Treating your employees like children is going to hurt productivity a lot worse than someone taking a few minutes to check their inbox or spend the last half hour of their day playing Freecell.

Adam (user link) says:

Re: just do your job

Not always true. I am doing a project for a Company that occupies my time from 6:45am when I leave home till 8:30pm when I get back home at night.

Not a whole lot of “personal time” to accomplish anything.

The company prohibits the use of personal email, social networking sites, etc. I really don’t need to use “YouTube” while at work, but it would be nice to be able to use Facebook or my own email during the work week.

Anonymous Coward says:

Perfect Mission Statement

Seriously, this one’s good:

Putting clients first by putting employees first, immediately after prioritizing fiscal responsibility and leveraging profitability toward exceeding by empowering our employees to put clients (and themselves) first, in a diverse and respectful environment of only those that come first, first.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lost productivity

How much $$$ is wasted when a company has a high turnover rate because they don’t respect their employees? Most places that I have worked required ALOT (6-9months) of learning curve just for the basics and also required compelte trust of the emplyoee because they had access to large amounts of SSN#s/etc.

I figure it’s a bad thing to treat these people as objects to be bought

LostSailor says:


While I agree that banning access from a workplace to social networking sites such as Facebook is overreaching, the study Mike cites is a bit more narrow than a blanket encouragement that Facebook will enhance productivity. The study emphasizes that there needs to be a clear business purpose for such access and its use needs to be closely watched, which means some way of monitoring employee’s use of the site.

If managed properly by a business, Facebook could be a decent tool, though I suspect other social networking sites will better suited to a business purpose will be better tools.

But extolling Facebook as a communications medium on the level of the telephone and email takes it too far and gives too much credit to a site that is not really intended for that purpose. Messaging, chat, and writing on someone’s wall simply layer over existing technology that is much more efficient for business communications.

I have Facebook open most of the time at work, and while I have many colleagues from both within and outside my organization as “friends,” we nearly never use it as a medium for business communication. And frankly, I don’t see Facebook developing in that direction in any significant way as other sites, such as LinkedIn are more focused on the business aspect of networking and companies–especially larger ones–who want to leverage the technology will (as the study cited points out) likely develop their own networking systems that can be more tightly focused to the tasks at hand.

Anonymous Coward says:

happy employees are productive employees

yea, enough said.

if i’m happy and my happiness is perhaps posting a few times on facebook throughout the day; then let me if i’m doing my job.

good morale = productiviy, a sense of worth.

the ‘your at work, you should be working people’ are prob the ones that abuse this type of thing anyways.

Ken Stewart (user link) says:

re: Banning Facebook

I must say this article is a bit far reaching in my humble opinion. Company’s spend good money on bandwidth, computers, software, etc., all provided for the benefit of the employee to be more productive towards the company’s goals.

It is not that I underwrite corporate America being a proverbial police state, but unless you are a marketing company/department I see no reason to take a stance of banning it should employees become irresponsible.

We do not forbid it at work, as we do take a stance that limited personal use of company resources is actually good business – and this goes both ways, because many take personal time to do extra work.

So companies focused upon staffing with high-capacity and productivity driven individuals has no need to worry, in my humble opinion. However, I would simply assert it should be viewed as a fringe benefit, not a right…


Elkar says:

Consider this

Ok, how many of you commenting here are doing so from your work computer on company time? Come on, raise those hands… Yeah, that’s what I thought… Now that you’ve been caught. Consider this:

How many people put up pictures of their family in their workspace? How many co-workers stop by and comment on those pictures? How many workplace conversations revolove around “Did you see the game last night?” or “How was your weekend?” or “Who do you think will get voted off Survivor tonight?”.

Let’s face it, these things happen all the time. What Facebook offers is already taking place with or without a computer. Facebook is a social networking site. Guess what, so is the average office. Facebook just offers a different medium in which employees may conduct their networking.

Can it be abused? Or course, so can the phone, email, copy machine, supply cabinet, lunch breaks, you name it. Facebook is not going to suddenly corrupt good employees. If an employee is going to abuse their privlidges at work, they’re going to do it with or without Facebook.

Darren says:

Facebook Etc.

If people are getting their work done on time, there is no reason Facebook and especially personal email should be blocked. Companies that do that are communist and need to give their collective heads a shake. I’m not saying you should be on these site 8 hours a day but when you have a legal break – be it coffee, lunch or other, you should be able to go online, just like you should be able to go outside, go to the washroom etc.

Now a days with businesses doing whatever they can to keep workers and can’t hire enough people, the last thing they should be doing is taking stuff away from them.

As for the bandwidth comment – that’s a the biggest myth of all time and I laugh whenever I hear it.

Chris says:

Security ramifications

We block facebook and sites like it for the security risk they pose while having little to no real value for the company. Posting of confidential data to one of these sites, or personal email (also blocked) where we cannot properly scan it for leaks would be devastating and irresponsible of us. As a financial institute, we hold data worth alot to some people, and we must protect it. Also sites like Facebook and Myspace with all the ridiculous plugins and applications that are not under the control of the parent site pose risks of virus and other malware infections. While those cases are limited, again, it is a risk we choose not to take for a system that has zero benefit to the company.

We are looking into providing internet connected computers that do not share the company network in a public space where employees may use these kind of sites on lunch and breaks, but right now that is on hold till after the first of the year.

barrenwaste (profile) says:

Re: Security ramifications

Are you seriously quoting security as a reason for blocking facebook? Any information shared on a social networking sight can be shared easier through other means. A letter in the mail, e-mail, posted via an anonymous library computor. Anybody quoting security as a reason is simply making excuses for thier excess control. I run a small business, I don’t care one whit if my employees use a social networking sight while working. As long as thier jobs get done, they can have as much fun as they like. Heck, half the time I have a social networking sight open while doing my reports. My friends are scattered throughout the country and we like to talk a little. No biggie, I just glance down once and a while, make a reply or something. Never takes me more than a minute or two, helps to relieve tension, and often clears the fog from my mind. Is it necessary? No. But it is a valuable tool, even if it’s not directly related to work output. There are reasons why we have breaks and distractions. The human mind is only capable of concentration for a set amount of time, after that your work output is significantly lowered. Makes more sense to let in a few fun things to keep the workers capable of putting forth a 100 percent effort during the times they are working.

narc says:

fed agency says no to facebook

A fed agency recently circulated a security memo to employees warning of the dangers posed by social networks like facebook. The memo dismissed “facebook has no part of the business of” this agengy.

Absolutely bizarre. You frame it well – facebook and blogs are modern address books.fed agencies are civil service agencies there to serve the american public. Social networks provide vital information the facilitate the interaction. Much like an address book, these service provide greater opportunity for interaction – the following of issues of concern – and discovering who petitioner are and the depths of petitioners concerns. To learn more about a person. Where they are coming from, the context of there concern is tremendous for democracy.

But this administration has stalled out egovt in the name of fear, er, I mean security. Maybe one day soon we will have leadershing that changes the way govt opperates, embracing these services as a means to egovt and civil service.

Colin Carmichael (user link) says:

communicating with the community

The one scenario I have not seen in the comments so far is that in some orgs (granted, not all) everyone is responsible for engaging their constituency in some way – customers, subscribers, whatever.

Facebook is where they already are, so engage them there. Don’t make them come to your corp website to get answers and resources, proactively engage them on their turf – Facebook.

Tough to do that if you have to do it from home when you’d rather be posting your kids’ Halloween photos.

GeorgeHWBush says:

You guys must all have pushy jobs.

We run a factory 24×7. When you’re working you don’t stop for a phone call, or to surf the net.

If we’re not producing, the machines could get clogged and have to shut down for 10 hours.

We don’t have desks, just shared terminals for checking production data.

Oh, sorry, you are all “knowledge” workers.

KamikazeH20mln says:

Get the facts straight

Let’s clear this up. Facebook is a *personal* social media site, not business. If you want business, then break out on Linked In. Time and time again, allowing *personal* social media sites takes away from employee productivity and/or create HR/PR nightmares as people post personal stuff and relate back to where they work. When potential clients see this material, it reflects bad back onto the company they are relating to. We don’t have these issues with Linked In since it is strictly business side of the invidual, so it stays unblocked. Thus we block facebook for HR, PR, security (their side apps share data back, which most people have), and productivity reasons. Linked In is monitored, but not blocked, since it DOES build business relationships from our employees.

(And yes, I do have a facebook account, but use it at HOME, and don’t list my job.)

Hiccup says:

From what I have noticed working for a very large corporation, is that management takes a blanket policy on things like this. It is much easier to ban a site for everyone, then to monitor each individual usage on the site and then take into account their job performace. I work in a call center enviroment on a goverment contract. It is different then more call centers because when the helpdesk started, employees were salary (due to the nature of the contract, I don’t know all the technical aspects of the contract that dictated this) but then people started taking advantage of that, they would show up for the 3 weeks of training then call in sick week after week after week. Since they were salary they still got paid and they decided to change policy to new employees on the contract would then be hourly. A nice example of a few ruining it for the rest of us, which is probably the same reason why Facebook/Myspace are banded on a lot of coorprate networks.

KamikazeH20mln says:

What cowards

A company can do whatever they want with their network resources…its THERE’s, not YOUR’s. Deal with it. Don’t like it? Then work elsewhere.

Btw, we do have allow groups for Facebook/Myspace, but they are restricted to HR, PR, and Marketing to track people talking about our company to management execs only. All their activity is logged and tracked against a central proxy. This keeps it in check.

Opening it up wide in the past has created HR and PR incidents which have effected potential clients for sales. Its all about the few bad apples that f-it up for everyone else. Its always easier to block then allow, especially when it messes with your sales flow.

Daz says:

Be realistic

We banned Facebook and MySpace at work – not because of slackers but because of the amount of downloads they used up. Before banning we would go through our download quota in a week, now we get through the month (just!). I’m not suggesting they do this during work either: everyone gets a lunch break!
Slackers aren’t really a problem as they’re easy to spot, regardless of Facebook or whatever website is or isn’t banned.

dazcon5 says:


It’s very easy for you to say “just punish the abuser” and I agree. The problem stems from who gets stuck being the “internet police” and who is going to pay for the resources required to “police” for abuse. Far cheaper for a company to block sites like this than try catch someone abusing the privilege. I have seen many instances where a benefit at work (like having open access to most of the ‘net) is yanked because one butthead abused it.

kelly monroe (user link) says:

To Block or Not...

As an IT consultant I am fully aware that IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. Palo Alto networks came up with a webinar,, that will explore the issues surrounding social media in the workplace as a follow-up to a very popular whitepaper you may have already read, It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company’s greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server’s safety and security.

quicksilver (profile) says:

Whether an application is blocked or not, self-control comes from within

Ive been using .
It uses a better method than blocking social media sites because it only monitors sites like Facebook during production hours. People/Employees still have the option to use it for a breather or during breaks really . Sometimes they use it for work too in helping reach decisions. For me its really unnecessary to block Facebook.

Jane says:

Employers neglect their ethical responsibilities on facebook

What about those companies who make facebook pages and allow the employees to be mentioned by random people in negative way ?
Facebook has no way to protect a persons character in the case of company pages.
I think that facebook should come up with a way to handle employee allowing defamation of character and other kinds of employer abuse on their website the truth is that the employee wont be able to respond to the comment and there name being on a site belonging to the place they work can destroy them put them in danger and cause many other problems for the person and if he/she asks the administration to remove the comment then what. Maybe places like hospitals and social work fields just shouldn’t have a facebook pages because there is always going to be at least one sour apple who isn’t happy with the service they recieved. But the really question is how does someone fight something like this if it happens to them?

here is one I know of:

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