Once employed only by a generation who uses acronyms like “LOL” and “OMG” in everyday sentences, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are starting to find their way into the corporate world.
As part of Steelcase’s Nature of Work in 2008 research series, the company looked at the potential of social networking sites as they become more and more prevalent in the working world — though social networking has been around for decades.
“A lot of people look at social networking as some new phenomenon and it’s not at all. Social networks have been around forever. It’s simply the people you trust,” said Chris Congdon, manager of corporate marketing for Steelcase. “Any organization that wants to help get work done faster wants to support good, strong, healthy networks, because when people are trusting each other, they’re sharing information. Now we’re using all kinds of devices to connect with people in our networks.”
The survey revealed that only 37 percent of workers currently use such Web sites for professional purposes, yet 71 percent of those surveyed believe such sites will assume a larger role at work in the future. Of the 37 percent, the majority is under the age of 34, but a growing number of 34-plus workers are using it, as well.
“When you think about who uses Facebook and MySpace, generally the demographic runs a little younger,” said Congdon. “I’ve seen just in the past couple of years that it’s beginning to shift. Older workers are starting to use those kinds of devices as a way to stay in touch with people or a way to express themselves.”
Congdon cited a baby boomer friend who sent a link to her Facebook page along with her résumé to help potential employers become acquainted with her as a whole person.
As more young people enter the work force, Congdon believes the use of social networking sites will only grow larger, and that companies need to find ways to capitalize on this trend. For instance, the survey reported that 59 percent of workers feel these sites are useful in marketing, and 58 percent believe they are helpful in recruiting talent.
Steelcase has even implemented an internal site.
“We have our own pages that are available to other employees in the organization. In the past you just had a phone directory with your phone number and your name and maybe your e-mail,” she said. “Now a lot of organizations are starting to go to these kinds of sites where you can have more information available. It’s a way for people to connect internally.”
There is a strong perception, however, that social networking sites might reduce productivity. Still, Congdon argues that the balance between work and life is more blended in younger people, and lack of productivity due to social networking sites is not an issue.
“It used to be that people came into the office, you worked from eight to five, and then you went home and you turned off. Now we live in a world where you’re always on. It’s actually a luxury to turn off,” she said.
“The idea of being able to have this blend of moving back and forth between your work life and your personal life actually can increase productivity. People don’t feel like they have to go away to be able to have their personal life.
“It’s a very different way of working, but I think we’re going to see that way of working start to shift a lot because people are working all the time in all kinds of places.”