Wasting time is not a matter of tools

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On of the main issues about social software introduction within companies is that it would make people waste time. In order to answer this question, we have to understand the underlying concerns.

Because the suggested way of working doesn’t need many discussions : in the current context, people are more efficient in a network rather than in a silo. But why so many anxieties ? In fact there’s no doubt about tool’s efficiency but about the way people may use them, possible deviant attitudes that would transform a productivity tool in an unproductivity tool.

Two situations have to be distinguished : the case of internet use from the office and the one of using the same kind of tools in an intranet context.

I’ve largely discussed the first case here. I’d like to add that if companies biggest fear is seing their people having fun during work time, wase their time, the same things were said about phone and email. And, considering email, that’s not people who waste their time having fun with email but the corporate misuse of email that make people waste their time and cause huge proctivity losses.

Another point is that people who want to take their time don’t need internet. It’s very easy to seem busy. But companies must beware of preventing access to sites that have a real business purpose and, in so doing, generating an high level of frustration.

The second case is about “internal” waste of time, and the concern is elsewhere. Companies being supposed to pilot things, they have to define what can be done or not. It’s mainly a cultural issue : some will want social activities to be business-related only, some will find that any subject of discussion is an engagement and cohesion factor. There’s no absolute truth about that : each company has to find its own.

Another issue is the “it’s useless” assumption. “It” would be even more useless if companies positioned these tools as simple decorations, waiting for something to happen. Paradoxically, it’s when organizational purposes are not taken into account and are not used as business tools that they’re really useless.

Sometimes, companies also fear they would not take benefit from their employee’s activities. It’s rather a subjective argument but it’s imporant too. It’s logical if you consider than people are locally assessed, in a small and limited business perimeter although they are shared and interconnected ressources. So it’s a waste of time according to the usual indicators, but it’s not a consolidated waste of time. It’s only virtual, depending on where the measurement is made : at a local scale it may look like wasted ressources, at a global scale it shows synergies and higher productivity?

In the other hand I have to agree that there will always be people who’ll use everything they can not to work. Contrary to those who only want to have a break, this case is really about a lack of engagement. Perhaps it’s a “casting mistake”. Perhaps it’s about lazyness. But when the phenomenon is very common, perhaps companies should wonder if they’re not responsible for such poor engagement levels and focus on the causes rather than on the consequences. Tools don’t bring fever…they way people use them is only a corporate thermometer of management and organizational issues.