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I have been hearing a lot about this today since this new report from IT and Technology firm Morse which claims that office workers in the UK are wasting up to 40 minutes a week using Social Networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and that this is costing the British economy up to £138Bn. I think personally this figure is a little inflated for effect, although the report does highlight a couple of key findings which can be deemed useful for all. Graham Charlton writing in the Econsultancy Blog makes a good point in their write-up of this issue when he says,

"The lunchtimes of the UK’s workers have been shrinking over the past few years, with the average lunch break now just 28 minutes, which suggests that a lot of employees are working through their lunch breaks, and giving back more than the 40 minutes per week lost to Facebook and Twitter."

This is such a good point to consider when you think about the impact of this report. All in all if British workers lunch breaks are shrinking, does this not add to a loss in productivity? Everyone needs an adequate break throughout the day to recharge and relax, especially in high stress environments which most offices can be. So for overworked, overstressed employees, a welcome break of 10 minutes on Facebook or Twitter to catch up with news, articles, info, research, friends etc would be a welcome break for any worker who had to sacrifice the lunch breaks in the name of productivity.

In terms of ‘wasting time’ (as I am sure many deadline driven company CEO’s are going to take this report as confirmation of) I think more needs to be explained about what the potential gains for companies can be for their employees being active users of prolific and important social networks. Twitter (as any active user will know) is one of the best current and real time information resources for business. If an employee was spending 20 minutes a day (when they were supposed to be taking a lunch break) looking at articles and blogs which are talking about your companies business, making business and information contacts, sending out core information about your company and the news surrounding your products or services; is this really a bad thing? Is this really going to be a loss of productivity?

I can’t say that every office user who uses Twitter or Facebook will be doing it for a business format although I think a lot of them will be using it for productive methods. Even your office workers knowing about Social Media and being involved with it could be a very useful and positive thing. If one of your employees had said something bad about your company on a social network and none of your staff (or even yourself) had access to this or would have seen it, how would you find out about it? Finding out about a situation such as this could stop a great deal of loss and negative PR for your company, so again is this really a loss of productivity?

Social Networks and Social Media are aspects of our current culture which cannot be stopped. Whether you like it or not, sites such as Twitter and Facebook are becoming a way of life for the majority of people in the world and stopping or curbing access to these could end up having a worse impact on your business than embracing them and using them to gain the knowledge and understanding of how they work and how to use them for your companies gains.

With the amount of mobile internet users who are getting access to Social networks on their mobile phones, soon it will be something that cannot be controlled by an office server or a firewall program, so sooner or later companies will have to recognize and acknowledge the influence and opportunities on Social Media.

Rather than blocking Social Media from companies in the name of productivity, companies should be explaining the benefits of social media to their workers. Explaining to your employees that if they use social media for business and personal gains such as finding current and up to date information about your business, learning about new things which may be of interest to your business and being able to use this knowledge to create and harness opportunities for your company you will end up with a better workforce who will be on the ball with current events which have a positive, practical use to your business.

Knowledge is power. This should be the thing that you remember if you consider Social Media a ‘waste of time’ or a ‘loss of productivity’.