Social Media And The Worker Bee

Balancing Social Media Benefits with Work Efficiency


Drawing of Maslow's pyramidal hierarchy of needs showing social media needed per level

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Social Media that Fulfill ‘Em – by Erica Glasier, on Flickr

Social Media Adoption: Evolve Or Die

The days of business owners burying their heads in the sand of social media ignorance are abruptly fading away. At the very least, a brick-and-mortar outfit needs a website to complement meatspace advertising. Larger corporations with web savvy and currency to burn are opting to bring in the big guns: dedicated social media managers, a well-orchestrated Internet advertising campaign, and the software and hardware tools to support them. The overriding message is: evolve into a slick technological predator, or die like an archaic economic fossil.

With all of the accoutrements that a constant social media presence requires for businesses, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and lose track of the number one resource: employees. Whatever confidence-boosting euphemism you choose to call them – team members, consultants, workers, associates, partners – they drive your organization. Indeed, they ARE your organization.

And these worker bees are increasingly becoming connected. Quickly sending an IM to their counterpart several time zones away is much cheaper than booking a flight to an intercontinental meeting. A blog post on a new product feature is instantly available to both employees and customers. Tweets and status updates arrive at lightning-speed compared to the stale publications with yesterday’s highlights.

Organizations adore the cost savings, and extol the increased collaboration and customer engagement these tools have brought them. Employees themselves testify to the ease of sharing ideas, the opportunities for inspiration and creative work, and the comic stress relief that social media brings to their daily work grind.

Social Media: Time Sink, Money Grabber, Lawsuit Magnet

But the constant chime of notifications and barrage of profile updates carry the risk of losing focus and whiling valuable work time away in the time sink that is social media. Research shows that 1 out of 10 employees spend more time keeping up with their (personal) Twitter timeline versus the comparable drudgery of working. That’s $4,452.00 down the productivity drain for one offending employee.

A community manager (who blogs, tweets and moderates company Facebook pages) needs to use social media for work most of the time. An accountant working on company books may not need the same level of engagement, but the tweet notifications on his mobile device might well distract him to the same level nonetheless. Lastly, any employee who thinks a Vine of drunken carousing at the stockroom will stay amongst his drinking buddies is just a lawsuit away from a rude awakening to the ubiquity of search (and the permanence of past sins).

Websense and other tech companies are cashing in on the need to moderate social media use, but BYOD (bring your own device) makes policing more difficult. Although requirements on Internet connectivity and computer use vary per job, the presence of mobile devices, faster mobile connectivity, and social networking apps negate the IT controls that some impose on company-owned computers.

Stanford University’s 2009 study on multitasking demonstrated that information processing, long-term-memory, and cognitive control all take significant hits due to social media distractions. Flipping constantly among a variety of glowing screens, streams, feeds, and windows instill a false rhythm of productivity until one realizes that the 30-slide presentation due today stands depressingly blank.

Tips on Staying In Focus – and – Staying In Touch

What is clear is that digital workers and businesses need to adapt a balanced view of social media. One must adopt a coping strategy that gives you the benefits of connectivity while letting you maintain focus when needed.

  1. Get in the Zone. When working on a task that requires heavy intellectual lifting and intense concentration, tune out. Put that mobile on silent mode. Set a schedule for the task beforehand, change your status to Busy – Do Not Disturb across all your networks, inform your best bud to save the juicy tweets for later, and put on your headphones. If needed, escape to a quiet, private sanctuary like a meeting room or private office.
  2. Small sips vs. large drips. After an intense bout of software development, it is reasonable to take a break and clear your head. Pausing for bio breaks and switching your focus to something less stressful does wonders for productivity. A five-minute social media escape after two hours of keyboard pounding gives your brain some breathing room. You might even find something interesting in your feed to inspire you at work.
  3. Compartmentalization. The boundaries between work life and personal life have been blurred by social media. Not only are audiences interested in your latest product releases, they want to see Instagram posts of your cool company outings and weekly drunken hack-a-thons. Part of the social media revolution meant getting more personal with the customer; a need to show that businesses are not legal entities, but people like you and me and the potential buyer of your newest offering. Good taste, prudence, and hewing to a corporate image still reign, nevertheless. Your boyfriend’s whitewater-rafting weekend photos are perfectly okay to peruse in limited quantities. Even better, enjoy uninterrupted browsing after work.
  4. Psych it out. The guilt trip and shaky hands we feel when we log on to Facebook a day late for your cousin’s beach trip photos finally has a term: Fear of Missing Out. Try to break the cycle and get comfortable with the idea of momentary disconnection. There’s always time later; the train ride home gives you some time to catch up.
  5. Face time. We are not referring to the popular video chat by Apple. Simply said, try to balance screen time with flesh-and-blood social interaction. For one, this gives the other party a sense of importance from the notion that you took time and effort to arrange a physical meeting. Also, communication is 10% verbal and 90% non-verbal, and these cues are often missed or misinterpreted online.

Mastering the Tool, Mastering Ourselves

Advances in technology arrive at such speed and ferocity that our feeble flesh brains and work habits take hits at times. However, distractions may not always wear the form of bits and chips. The water cooler, center of impromptu meetings and office gossip, may be an even worse distraction than your tablet.

Social media is, primarily, a multi-tool with a constellation of uses. As businesses and information workers, we are responsible for using the tool as we see fit. We are also responsible in ensuring that we exert control over these tools.

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