Businesses that block their employees from using social networks at work may think they’re preventing employees from wasting valuable company time, but new research indicates that social media may actually boost worker productivity.
According to a recent study from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), there is a great deal of potential value in using social media “to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises.”
In other words, if employees can access Facebook and Twitter at work, a small amount of time may be lost or wasted, but the overall effect on productivity provides more gains than losses. In fact, MGI estimates that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals, by 20 to 25 percent.
“[T]he potential for value creation when social technologies are used to improve collaboration and communication within and across enterprises is twice as big as the value that can be created through all other uses across the value chain,” the study’s authors write in the Harvard Business Review.
According to the MGI report, correctly using social media technologies could add between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion of value annually to the consumer packaged goods, consumer finance, professional services, and advanced manufacturing markets.
A separate study from data analytics firm Evolv suggests that employees who use up to four social media networks are exceptionally productive and stay in their jobs longer than those who don’t have access to social media at work.
Based on a survey with over 100,000 responses from call center applicants, Evolv found that employees who belong to more than five social networks have a 1.6 percent higher sales conversion rate than their counterparts, and a 2.8 percent lower average call time.
Evolv acknowledged that there may be a link between work performance and more sociable employees, since they’re more likely to be both tech savvy and more efficient in job-related social situations. Such people know how to “get what [they] need, get off the call, and move on,” Evolv Managing Director Mike Housman told Inc.com.
The trick, of course, is to figure out ways to integrate social networks into your business culture without allowing them to become time-wasters. BusinessWeek recently cited a two-year study finding that found that common social media tools, such Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Skype, enabled employees to answer more customer queries at a quicker pace than relying on e-mail or phone calls.
Joe Nandhakumar, professor of information systems at the Warwick Business School in the United Kingdom and the study’s author, termed this the “theory of virtual co-presence,” which is the ability to collaborate with others over long distances in short, productive sessions to resolve problems or accomplish tasks.
Nandhakumar’s study revealed that company policies that encouraged employees to use social media for work “led to increased customer interaction and, eventually, higher productivity.” In a real-world business setting, a social media-enabled workforce was able to accomplish more sales and customer-relations tasks more quickly.
Allowing employees to use social media at work can increase productivity by facilitating better collaboration, providing faster communication among group members, and attracting and retaining highly skilled professionals.
Of course, people who can juggle five social media presences may simply be better-suited for customer interaction than less-connected employees. Career research firm PayScale noted that while Evolv’s data “showed a correlation between use of multiple social networks and productivity, it didn’t uncover a causal relationship.” The question remains whether being on social media makes a worker more productive, or if multi-taskers are more productive in general.
Some companies may also be concerned about the risk of security breaches when social media networks are enabled in a corporate setting. But, according to Nandhakumar, both the risks and rewards of social media in the workplace are swiftly becoming part of the price of doing business: “Ubiquitous digital connectivity should be seen not as an unwelcome interruption but as part of the changing nature of knowledge work itself that needs to become part of normal, everyday practices of contemporary organizations.”