Simon Walker is a consultant, speaker, and co-founder and director of the consultancy Talentsmoothie, a specialist organisational development consultancy, with particular expertise in generational diversity. For more information visit

He is also a Non Executive Director of Global Lingo.

In a recent survey of over 1400 Chief Information Officers from blue chip organisations, only around 10% allowed staff full access to social networking sites such as Facebook.

A lot has been written about how this frustrates the worker (particularly the younger ones, the so-called Generation Y). This is true, but in this article, I wanted to focus on the business costs and lost opportunity in not allowing access.

The most common reason given for not allowing access is ‘lost productivity‘.

They (largely the Gen Y staff) would spend too much time on Facebook, when they should be working” is what we hear from managers. But when we ask the same managers about their performance management approach, and whether they focus on outcomes rather than time spent on inputs, they tend to get a little defensive. Personally I don’t care what people do all day, as long as they deliver the outcomes I’m paying them to achieve. I think most enlightened organisations and managers would agree.

I was working with a bank recently, with a bunch of senior, forty-something directors.

We were talking about what constitutes the ‘capital value‘ of their firm. Being bankers they jumped straight to balance-sheet items like cash and asset – Financial Capital.

With a little more pushing they talked about Human Capital – the smarter, more talented and more highly-skilled your people are, the more valuable your business. Finally we talked about network capital. They were really keen on this; they could see that the better connected they were to business partners, customers and contacts, through their little black books, social circuit or who they played golf with, the more ‘value’ they added.

I pointed out that the preferred method of maintaining this network capital among their younger staff may well involve social networking. The penny dropped: “So social networking sites build network capital, and we ban them at work..?” They went away to urgently review their policy.

I also think that banning Facebook or other sites is counter-productive in a simple practical sense. If people want to keep in touch (and many do), and are not allowed to use work systems, they will simply do it under their desks on their phone, which will be slower and more inefficient. All you are doing by banning it is risking giving them a repetitive strain injury!

Some organisations ban access on the ground of security. Again, I think this is naive.

Email is largely uncontrolled. Okay, there are IT systems to filter out rude words, but they are pretty unsophisticated when it comes to company secrets. I think security is a feature of culture – and trust.
Look at Apple recently and the launch of the iPad. Despite huge hype and pressure, virtually no real detail escaped from Cupertino. Can you Facebook to your heart’s content at Apple? You sure can, just as long you deliver the outcome you have been tasked with.

Finally, there is the huge online consumer conversation opportunity that you could be missing.

Enlightened marketing teams embrace social media with gusto. How ironic, then, the other day, when a client told me how successful their Facebook group was with consumers, but couldn’t actually show me on the PC on his desk!

So the message is clear: social networks are neither good nor bad; they are just another way to keep in touch. Banning them at work makes no business sense and can actually limit your organisation’s potential. Is it time to review your policy?