Microsoft study shatters myth, says social media use increases work productivity

Does your boss say no to social media at work? A two-year study as well as a Microsoft survey suggest social media usage increases work productivity.

Does your boss frown on using social media while you are at work because it is a distraction that decreases productivity? Well you can tell him or her that's a myth, since new results from a two-year study found that using social media at work actually increases productivity. A new Microsoft global survey agrees, "Nearly half of employees report that social tools at work help increase their productivity, but more than 30% of companies underestimate the value of these tools and often restrict their use."

"First of all, we're starting to understand the very premise - that social media usage inhibits productivity - is a myth," Nancy Baym wrote on the Microsoft Research Social Media Collective blog. "It's not just that the premise is wrong - we're also learning that blocking and banning policies are ineffective, giving traditionalist supervisors a false sense of control that, in reality, has been slipping away for years." Baym pointed out that a two-year study, "Exploring social network interactions in enterprise systems: the role of virtual co-presence," found that using social media at work can enhance workers' productivity.

Joe Nandhakumar, professor of information systems at Warwick Business School, was part of the team involved in the two-year study. He warned against companies banning social media as workers can still find a way to use it. In fact, Nandhakumar said, "You can't avoid it. You can't ban it, so how do we make this work for the organization?" For the company whose policy treats social media access as a distraction, he pointed out, "They said that about email. They said that about the telephone. Businesses should change - social media is a fact of life."

Microsoft surveyed "9,908 information workers in 32 countries" and "also found that 39% of employees feel there isn't enough collaboration in their workplaces, and 40% believe social tools help foster better teamwork. More surprisingly, 31% said they are willing to spend their own money to buy social tools."

The top reasons that social tools are restricted at work are that companies cite "security concerns and productivity loss." Financial services and government employees are most likely to have social media restrictions due to security concerns, while employees in other sectors blame the restrictions on productivity loss. Yet across the board of all industries, most workers feel that they are more productive thanks to social tools [pdf].

Microsoft researcher Baym added some excellent points. A 2011 survey by Right Management "found that 63% of workers surveyed said their bosses emailed them on weekends and expected a response either often or from time to time. Only 37% said that never happened. Another recent study by mobile-research firm Good Technology found that more than 80% of workers continued to work at home after leaving the office, adding more than a month of overtime work annually."

Given the ubiquity of mobile media, the fact that many find it useful to work outside of work hours, and the general breakdown of the 9-to-5 work day, perhaps letting workers use social media at work - whether consumer or enterprise-grade - is not so much a question of productivity, but of fairness. If work now has a place in our social time, why shouldn't social time have a place at work? Fair's fair.

If approaching the boss or your company's policy makers with the "fair's fair" logic seems unwise, then you could at least point them toward results from Microsoft's survey and the two-year research study that suggest using social media at work would make employees much more productive.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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