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Facebook: Changing the Rules of the Working Environment

Sun, 18 Dec 2011 Source: Togobo, Theophilus Fui

- Theophilus Fui Togobo -

Since its launch in February 2004, with initial usage among students of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford as a social networking site, Facebook has expanded exponentially with a global reach. With its current number of users estimated at over 800 million globally, it would be the third largest nation if it were a country.

As an innovative tool, it has become the largest groundbreaking social network the world has ever seen since the advent of the Internet. Individuals, families, and friends are using Facebook to stay mutually connected and so are academic institutions, media houses, corporate bodies, and grassroots organizations, among others mass groups and individuals.

Accompanying its spread and ubiquitous use are concerns about its usage and its implications for time management at the workplace. For example, in most African countries like Ghana where the Internet is just beginning to grow, most people who work for state institutions and private companies, where there is access to the Internet explore its availability at the workplace to communicate with friends, relatives, businesses, and other acquaintances.

But it’s time-stealing susceptibility has already been recognized in both academic and organizational circles. Facebook use at the workplace has already become an issue of concern for managers and supervisors. There is no doubt about its propensity to distract individuals from their main office tasks and its implications for productivity. Sophos, an IT security and control firm, in a recent survey examining the potential productivity implications for business that allow their employees to access Facebook during office hours has already established its negative impacts. Sophos polled 500 Facebook users to find out how often they accessed or checked the popular networking site from work, and found that while 37.2 percent only visited the site once or twice a day, eight percent admitted using it up to 10 minutes a day, and an astonishing 14.8 percent, approximately one in seven, confessed to being logged onto Facebook almost permanently during their working day.

This situation is what impelled these writers to go to town to investigate the use of Facebook among Ghanaian workers and its impact on productivity. In an interview with six individuals within the corporate environment (who chose to remain anonymous), their usage of Facebook varied greatly from as low as five minutes a day to three hours a day. The number of hours spent on Facebook by the six respondents totaled seven hours fifty minutes (7:50), translating into 470 minutes per day, or almost the total number of man working hours of an employee who works on an eight-hour - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. - shift per day. Although respondents were sampled from six different organizations, it is obvious that if all the six respondents had worked in the same company, their cumulative number of hours on Facebook would have financial implications for the organization.

While some organizations and employers have started taking steps to block access to Facebook and other social networks at the workplace from their employees, others are in a limbo about its impact on time management at the workplace. In Ghana and other developing countries, the policies to regulate this cutting-edge innovation at the workplace are not even available.

With its flexible networking capabilities, Facebook allows users to accumulate friends and funs often running into hundreds and thousands for some users. Just as in real life situations, time is an important factor in cultivating these relationships and friendships, and keeping in touch with these contacts. Individuals, therefore, spend substantial time on daily basis or between regular intervals cultivating and maintaining these online relations. These online relationships also complement offline communication, face-to-face and telephone communications. “By keeping in touch with people who are not seen on regular basis, it helps keep up with “what’s on” and what the others in the network are doing, making the sight tightly integrated into the daily lives and practices of its users,” in the estimation of Wellman et al in their 1991 research titled “Does the Internet Increases, Decrease, or Supplement Social Capital.” This real-time synergy among its users is what makes its application in processes requiring rapid information transfer or exchange in some working environments a must, for instance, a moderator of a talk show in a media environment might deploy its use to allow rapid participation among its listeners who want to contribute to the program. On the other hand, it might become a distraction to an accountant who uses it to communicate with friends and relatives who interrupt his or her workday in every minute.

In the later scenario, man working hours are lost on Facebook. While Sophos has confirmed an astonishing 14.8 percent of users it interviewed (translating into approximately one in seven), who confessed to being logged onto Facebook almost permanently during the working day, sparking fears of its impact on productivity at the workplace, inconclusive research originating from Ohio State University indicates fear among students that the use of Facebook may lead to poor grades due to its time-consuming nature.

The implications are that Facebook and other social network sites have become a way of life, penetrating even formal working environments with implications for time management and productivity. This development, therefore, calls for the need to investigate the time-stealing potentials of the medium, as each interruption can either be a disruptive crisis or an economic potential depending on how the medium is deployed or applied.

Every day, each us gets 24 hours to accomplish what we need to do and enjoy what we want to do and no person has more of it each day than any other person. Therefore, our commitment to our primary activity determines how we accomplish our goals. If an employee is chatting and at the same time entering data, one of those activities will be recorded as the primary activity and the other can be a distraction; in this case, Facebook can be a distraction when its use is unrelated to the primary activity. It is, therefore, possible to track these distractions by finding the average time - the number of employees engaged in chatting on Facebook, and the amount of time participants spend chatting on the medium – each employee spends on the medium. This would reveal how much time an employee who uses the medium spends on diary day away from his or her primary activity. It would help provide an important reality check, revealing how much time employees devote to chatting on Facebook or not chatting on Facebook with implications for productivity.

As the data indicates, all the six participants are users of Facebook, which they access from their workplaces with varying degrees of flexibility. While some attempt to avoid using the medium during working hours, others believe they use it with some level of moderation which does not allow its use to impede their primary activities.

It could be deduced that, unlike in some working environments where access to Facebook and other social media is blocked, none of the respondents work in an environment where access to the medium is blocked or prohibited. This being the case, 7:50 man hours (470 minutes) is spent by these individuals on the medium. This cumulatively can steal time from productive time of an organization. Assuming all these six individuals who participated in this pseudo-research work in the same organization, the total number of hours the six of them spend on Facebook per day would have equaled the typical office hours or working day (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.). This will cumulatively amount to 39.16 hours (2 350 minutes) per week, translating into a whole week’s productive time for one worker.

The implications are that if time is valued most highly and paid for accordingly, then when an employee is able to deliver more value per minute, hour, day, month and year - either as (1) value than established standards call for or (2) more value than others performing the same task can deliver or (3) in meeting the production requirements of his employment, then it is obvious that the organization may lose in any of the three aspects of production measurement.

“Couched in financial terms, time is “capital” and businesses look at time this way,” according to Bittel in his “Right on Time! The Complete Guide for the Pressured Manager.” Thus, every minute that is spent away from a primary productive activity may lead to some form of loss to an organization. Based on this fact, it is evident that the use of Facebook steals from productive time at the workplace with cumulative implication for overall performance of an organization, where the primary activity of an employee does not require the use of the medium.

From the foregoing, it is clear that we must see time in a more visual and measurable term. This way, employees will be able to reduce disruptions like the ones on Facebook in order to maximize their productive time while at work. Employees can set a time each day when they will visit Facebook and respond to friends and contacts, preferably break time, a few minutes before the start of work, or a few minutes after work. To avoid obtrusive instant messages from Facebook when researching online, employees whose daily job schedules are online-related can log on with a different address or user name that is not known to his or her contacts or set the computer to block the retrieval of Instant Messaging facilities.

Organizations should not leave these decisions entirely in the hands of their employees. They must discuss these issues with their employees and agree on ways to prohibit the use of social networks such as Facebook during working hours either by blocking it or making employees sign a code of conduct to prohibit its use during working hours.

What is, however, unclear is whether Facebook use, might lead to increase productivity as a result of flexible working environment which allows its use. This notion is a deduction from the evolving flexibility at the workplace in recent times which even allows for telecommuting in the delivery of task. There is the need to investigate whether this form of flexibility has any positive psychological consequences for users (good feelings) which might translate into employees’ maximizing their productivity when they are allowed to use Facebook.

Business entities and organizations with any misgivings about the impact of Facebook use by their employees in the working environment might wish to take that bold step to investigate the impact of its use on their business.

Theophilus Fui Togobo

English Tutor, Awudome Secondary School.

Columnist: Togobo, Theophilus Fui