September 13, 2010
The virtual watercooler: Social media in the workplace
In our digitized world, the office watercooler—a place to socialize and break from the workday—is just a click away. A poll by MyJobGroup.co.uk is the latest to stir worries about worker productivity, estimating that social media use by employees could be costing British businesses up to £14 billion annually. Needless to say, that’s a lot of trips to the coffee pot. But while it’s easy to say social media is a costly new bane for employers, this oversimplifies the issue.
It may be that “virtual watercoolering” is simply redefining workplace efficiency. Some argue that social media is replacing, rather than extending, traditional work breaks. For example, workers are less likely to take smoke breaks than in the past and to engage in face-to-face conversations (due to increased mobility and tools such as instant messenger and e-mail). And people on average are working longer hours, so they will naturally spend more time “watercoolering.” Moreover, for Millennials, social media is an essential form of communication in their personal lives; for them, it’s a given—going without it is akin to working without a computer or cell phone.
We’re at a turning point in the global workplace: Open communication is here to stay, but many employers remain threatened by it. Businesses will have to learn how to adapt to the virtual watercooler and, just as important, how to leverage social networking within the enterprise so that employees spend as much time forging internal ties as attending to external ones.
Photo credit: marshillonline