Conventional office wisdom would have us believe that social media is the ultimate productivity killer. It seems obvious, right? The more time an employee spends scrolling through Facebook or tweeting thoughts about last night's Game of Thrones, the less time they spend working.
But it turns out platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Slack may not always be rabbit holes of procrastination. In fact, a study from Deloitte and Google found that allowing employees to use the Internet and technology freely correlates to increases in overall satisfaction, employee retention and greater collaboration.
Can social media usage really improve office culture and increase innovation, productivity and efficiency? Here, three reasons to think positively about social media at work.
Diverse Social Networks Boost Innovation
In today's business environment, creativity is more important than ever. It's not enough just to have a great product or service, you also want employees who consistently offer new ideas across all aspects of your business—from the engineering department to the marketing team. But what spurs this innovation? A diverse social network, according to new research from MIT Sloan.
The study looked specifically at networks on Twitter, finding that people who carefully curated their networks to include a wide range of voices—especially voices expressing ideas and opinions different than their own—consistently submitted higher quality ideas to their co-workers.
So how do you get this benefit from your own team? Instead of banning employees from social media, try educating them on how to use social networks productively. For example, the study cites one HR professional who follows a 70/30 rule: "While 70 percent of the people she follows [on Twitter] are people directly relevant to her work, 30 percent are outside her comfort zone. The outside portion is designed to challenge her existing beliefs and includes sources not connected to HR."
Multiple Social Networks Lead to Greater Productivity
A surprising twist can be found in a study from data-analytics firm Evolv (now part of Cornerstone OnDemand), which looked at call center employees and found that workers who regularly used one to four different social media networks were more productive—and stayed at their jobs longer—than their colleagues who abstained from social media networks entirely.
The study also found that "super users," employees who regularly used at least five different social media networks, were the most productive of all, with 1.6 percent higher sales conversions and 2.8 percent lower average call times than all other employees combined.
Does that mean you can boost productivity by requiring all workers to use as many social networks as possible? Perhaps not. These results may simply show that people who are naturally social and tech savvy also have better customer service skills and greater productivity—itself a potential indicator worth looking at during the hiring process.
In-Office Networks Save Time And Improve Collaboration
The water-cooler has long been the stereotypical gathering point for employees taking a break, engaging in office gossip or informally discussing work. But new inter-office social networks are making the water cooler obsolete—not to mention fostering collaboration that fits more naturally into daily digital workflow.
Of these new in-office networks, Slack is generating the most buzz. As of the company's first birthday in February 2015, its growth figures claimed 500,000 daily users, with 10,000 new daily active users signing up every week, including large companies like Comcast, Walmart and the New York Times.
And while Slack advocates gush about how the network can improve office culture and create camaraderie among workers, it's best application may be as a replacement for group meetings. A recent survey from Clarizen showed that, "employed Americans spend an average of 4.6 hours each week preparing for status meetings and 4.5 hours attending general status meetings."
By allowing updates and collaboration without gathering in person for meetings, employees can take back at least some of those 9 hours lost to meetings each week, and apply it to their work.
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