Facebook at work, A good idea?

Posted on November 16, 2007. Filed under: Social Media |


The boss wants to be your online buddy; Is a superior who asks to join your Web-based social network being intrusive?

JOSEPH YADAO joseph.yadao@mediacorp.com.sg

9 November 2007

TODAY (Singapore)

The request seems innocent enough: Your boss wants you to add him to your MSN Messenger or Facebook. Put in that position, I’d do a double take, and wonder if I really want higher-ups perusing my online profile.

Everyone has a little bit of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in them, and often it is Mr Hyde who manifests online. Some, if not most, of my friends’ social networking website profiles feature incriminating evidence of their wilder alter egos who surface on Friday nights.

We even tailor our nicknames in our instant messaging programs to reflect our feelings towards something or someone.

“If people put information about themselves up on social networking sites, then they can expect all manner of people to look at it, so they should consider carefully what they reveal before they publish,” said Dr Jennifer Jarman, assistant professor at the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore.

Facebook does allow its members to tweak privacy controls so they won’t reveal select information to certain contacts, but not everyone is so prudent in managing their personal information.

Companies like Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs have banned Facebook. But on the other end of the spectrum, there’s Serena Software. This month, the software developer introduced “Facebook Fridays”, where its 800-strong global workforce is given one hour of personal time to surf the social networking site.

In fact, Serena president and chief executive Jeremy Burton is such a fan of the social networking site that he decided to make Facebook his company’s intranet. He believes that colleagues who know each other on a personal level will work together better.

“We feel that company intranets today are limited. They only allow you to passively get information from employees,” said Mr K C Yee, Serena Software’s vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region.

“We believe it is more important to use an interactive arena where we can engage in two-way communication with our employees, partners, friends and families.”

In the media industry, where networking and communication forms the bread and butter of their business, sites like Facebook are embraced with gusto. Staff from leading public relations firms and advertising agencies like Ogilvy, and Young and Rubicam have formed their own networks on social networking sites.

A survey of 500 Facebook users by IT security and control firm Sophos showed that 14.8 per cent of users admitted to being logged in to the site for the whole day, while 37.2 per cent accessed the site at work “once or twice” a day.

“People post personal information and images that express who they are, so it would be quite intrusive if employers insist that employees share their Facebook accounts for work purposes,” said Ms Mylinh Cheung, spokesperson for HR firm Mercer in Singapore.

If knowledge is power, then it could be abused. More and more employers are trawling social networking sites like Friendster and Facebook for information on their potential employees, although the mole in this case would be the victim himself.

“If the employees prefer to keep their work and social networking activities personal and separate, they should be allowed to do so without fear of repercussions,” said Ms Cheung.

However, that is easier said than done, with most people telling Today that rejecting the request might hinder their career prospects. They’ll accept the request, but will water down their online profiles.

“I gave my boss my MSN contact, but that also means he can find me on social networking sites,” said an account executive at a major events company who declined to be named.

“If employees have concerns about employers requesting information other than what is normally requested on a resume, they should raise these concerns with the appropriate authorities,” said Dr Jarman.

Last I checked, my contract didn’t say anything about me having to reveal my MSN or networking site profile to my superiors. Personally, it’s not that I have anything against my colleagues, but what I do or who I am outside of work is nobody’s business but my own.

“If the employer is not accepted as a ‘friend’, then he should not take it personally, but accept that the employee wishes to draw a boundary between work and personal life,” said Ms Cheung.


The Facebook phenomenon has swept through the Singaporean population aged 15 to 35 like a hurricane over the past year. To many friends I know, it is has overtaken the position of Friendster, a popular social networking platform that many Singaporeans are familiar with. In fact, Singapore, represented by a red dot on the world map, clocked the tenth position Facebook usage in October 2007.  

 (Facebook User Stats as of: October 25, 2007)

The massive spread of popularity of Facebook is probably because of the high levels of adoption of information communications technology (coined as ‘infocomms’ in Singapore) in the nation. In a survey conducted by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) in 2006, 78% of Singaporean households own a computer and 71% has access to the internet, marking an unprecedented high level of IT penetration to the masses within the nation.  

Businesses in Singapore have also been highly dependent on IT resources and computer usage. More than half of all businesses in Singapore make use of computers in their operations. The chart below shows you a clearer picture of the business computer usage in Singapore.


This extensive penetration of computer usage provides opportunities for employees in Singapore to access Facebook accounts during office hours. In August 2007, an online survey by security and control firm Sophos prompted the discussion on whether social networking platforms should be allowed in the office. Think about this, if the manager and the employees are “on the same side”, having the superior on Facebook is hardly any threat to the employee.

To get everyone “on the same side”, managers and employees have to lower their guard and learn to trust the other. Social networking provides a good platform for communicating beyond work, which allows management and employees to know each other better. Be it a scrabble game or an attack by the vampire clan, it will definitely adds colour to the character. The constant communications this format will form a personality behind the solemn mask of professionalism during work. When that happens, hearts will be opened and trust will follow.

Whilst in the short run, operational efficiency may be affected, when everyone is “on the same side”, I believe the synergies developed will definitely bring results.

Just a personal thought to share. =)


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