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Fourth Rule of Knowledge Workers – Blocking is Somewhat Pointless

It’s been a little while since I wrote anything in this series, Part 3 was way back on June 21st, which just goes to show how time can really get away fro you! So, here’s the next topic for discussion, why blocking social networking sites may just be pointless.

First, let’s examine the reasons, as I see them, that many management and IT types give for blocking.

1. It’s not productive, it leads to people wasting time instead of working.
2. It’s dangerous, employees might leak confidential information or just say something that makes us look bad.
3. We’re worried about virus and malware exploits coming from social networks, or bandwidth being unavailable for other uses.

Of these, I can see maybe half a real reason to not allow social networking sites, but even that reason is somewhat disingenuous in many cases. Let’s take them one at a time.

1. People have been wasting time long before the internet, in more ways than I could possible recite in a blog post. Some people waste just a few minutes at work each day, but always manage to get their work done as needed, and some don’t. If you really think the people who work for you who are not getting their work done suddenly will because they can’t use Twitter, you are obviously too naive to work in management. Go do something else. Besides, as I like to say, if you have employees not doing their job, why on earth are you talking to the IT Department about that instead of HR? You have a personnel issue, not a technical one.

2. Yup, they might do something or say something they shouldn’t online, just like they might do the same thing every time they pick up a phone, send an email, chat at lunch in a crowded restaurant, talk about work to friends at the ball game, etc. You have policies covering confidential information and employee conduct, those still apply in the online world, it’s not any different. Instead of blocking, just remind them of existing policy, and that they apply on Facebook too.

Also, if you’re blocking because you don’t want employees sharing confidential information, what do you do when they go home? They’re probably already using social networks, and probably have 1, 2, maybe 15 profiles, all done on their own time with their own internet access, and you have to go home to see what they might be saying. That makes no sense.

Besides, if you’re going with reasons 1 and/or 2 as to why you block social networking sites, any employee with an iPhone or any other sort of mobile phone with internet access gets around you in a heartbeat. So much for being protected from the evils of social networks!

Finally, number 3. I do actually see some rational thought going on here. Social networks do come with certain types of malware dangers, mostly due to their social nature. It’s maybe a bit easier to trust a link from a Facebook friend, for example, and the malware guys seem to be catching on to that. At the same time, though, you have very similar dangers in email, and in many, many other websites. For example, I once witnessed a nice little piece of drive-by malware trying to load on my machine from a banner ad on a Major League Baseball site. Not a site that many people bother blocking, but also not really one that was related to my work. So, while you might eliminate a risk or two by blocking social networks, it won’t make you safe by any means. You’d be far, far better off investing your resources in solutions that will help eliminate all risks of malware coming in to the PC, and being passed on to the network, regardless of source. There’s always a new source, eventually you end up blocking everything. 🙂

Also, a note about bandwidth, also something I think there is some reason to be concerned about. Again, blocking social networking might free up some minor bandwidth, but singling out social networks as a source of bandwidth “waste” might also be a bit off base. We’ve already talked about the fact that there are many professional and career benefits in connecting with people in your industry, online or off. So, if you are blocking it for fear of bandwidth shortages, you’d better make sure social networking is less valuable than every other thing you allow to use bandwidth. That goes double for all you bosses that like to stream some music while you work.

Just saying.

To me you really have two choices. You can block all this social networking junk, and just hope that all of your employees who are using it anyway don’t do anything stupid. That’s a tad ostrich-like for me, personally. Or, you can engage in social networking right alongside your employees, encouraging them to connect with professional and educational resources, reminding them that the online world is just an extension of the world in which we all live and work, and therefore the same rules apply, and showing them that not only are you the boss, but you’re also a real live human being with a real family, hobbies, and maybe even a sense of humor.

Of course, that might come as quite the shock to many of them, so do be careful!

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