As we seek to deploy social networking tools in the enterprise plenty of questions arise re potential waste of time and resources. We set out with a number of positive objectives e.g. improve communication, improve ability to find people and information, support collaboration and team work. But we also have a key question to address re potential downsides:
Does a facebook or twitter type application become a distraction – another source of interruptions in the day while trying to complete tasks; another temptation to move away from the task at hand?
We talk a great deal about the ability of people to multitask – but what does this really mean? In many activities the ability to concentrate, focus on the job at hand, is paramount. Constant interruptions/ distractions are more likely a hindrance than an aid.
In many ways we already have too many distractions at work – phones, mobiles, email, people, memos, noise, etc. Social networking and ‘presence’ type applications generate additional potential distractions.
So what’s the way forward? I think time management is back at the centre of the issue. You have an amount of time to perform your role – within your role you have a range of responsibilities (and these have their own priorities). Within the context of all of this you have a number of tools and resources (including people, templates, gadgets, software, social networks). The real challenge is to figure out how to use these to the best possible advantage. And I don’t think many of us are mastering this. For instance when I use an application such as Rescue Time it gives me anindication of the amount of time I spend on social networking sites. As someone trying to understand these environments and figure out how to harness them for productive use I allow myself generous amounts of time – but inevitably I am distracted and exceed my targets.
Interesting this week to read a piece in the Irish Times dealing with the concerns of parents and teachers about the impact of social networking on school children. There was a time when parents worried about kids who were playing too much competitive sport close to exams to kids who had too active (traditional) social lives. Now there are very real concerns about the amount of time spend on social networks – where there are unlimited distractions for any participant.
There are plenty of lessons in all of this for those of us rolling out these types of applications across enterprises. We need to remember what we are looking to achieve, we need to measure whether we are achieving this and we need to monitor the risks associated with these initiatives e.g. loss to productive time, unexpected bahavioural changes. Notwithstanding all of this we need to figure out how to realise the potential benefits.