Are your employees “home-ing” from work?

A recent worldwide survey on social media use and the workplace has found that more and more employees are ‘home-ing’ from work by spending work hours checking personal email, social media sites and shopping.

The report, from UK-based software security company Clearswift found that due to increased pressure from work and longer hours, many employees are undertaking social and private tasks at work.

The trend was most prominent in 25-34 year olds, with 57% saying they checked social networks, personal emails and shopped online at work and 25% watched YouTube videos regularly.

“The increase is a natural move as more people integrate social media into their daily lives,” says Benjamin Nicoll, social media expert and GoDigital Media founder. “People will start to use it at work because it’s a way of communication for more and more people.”

In fact, one fifth of the 1,629 people surveyed said they would turn down a job if they it didn’t give them access to social networking and personal email.

But rest assured, 66% of all employees did say they make up the time they spend using the internet for personal reasons by working later or through lunch.

Hilary Bickwall, the Global HR Director at Clearswift says technological advances mean the boundaries between work and home are blurring and a ‘Generation Standby’ is developing – people who never seem to switch off from work or home.

“What this report has shown is that ‘Generation Standby’ employees are now enjoying, and expecting, greater levels of flexibility and mobility than ever before,” she says.

“But this cultural shift raises new questions about trust in the workplace, the use of new technologies, the balance of power in the employer versus employee relationship and levels of control that businesses now have over people and content.”

Nicoll agrees there are dangers: “It can have a massive impact on the amount of time people spend socialising at work and there’s also a major danger in terms of content and what employees say, but at the same time you don’t want to censor your employees too much.”

Seventy nine per cent of respondents said the most important things to them in a job included being trusted to manage their own time, and being trusted to use the internet as they wish – even more important job role and pay.

A further 62% of employees feel they should be able to access web and social networking content from their work computer for personal reasons.
Nicoll says that while it’s important to give employees flexibility at work, the key to managing any issues is educating employees and having policies in place.

“I don’t think that it’s a wise move for companies to ban the use of social media,” he says. “For smaller companies in particular, it’s a good form of exposure, it can bring in business and there are lots of other benefits that social media can have.”

“But it is essential that businesses have polices in place. It’s very important that employers educate their employees about what’s acceptable and that what goes out there is in public domain.”

Brad Swebeck, partner at Hicksons Lawyers, emphasises the importance of polices to manage social media use.

“You need robust policies in place,” he says. For employers that do allow the use of social networking they must develop strict policies on how it can be used.”

“You cannot provide that benefit to people without having some usage guidelines imposed. It is very important.” he says.

Nicoll and Swebeck both agree that businesses need to have recourse or damage control procedures in place in case something goes wrong.

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