UK businesses pressured by staff to utilise social media for work

02 October 2018 6 min. read

As the means of popular communication fluctuate rapidly in the digital age, many employers are being left behind by the practices of their staff. According to a new study, a growing portion of workers favour the use of consumer-grade tools such as WhatsApp or Instagram for work.

Digital transformation has rapidly become the clarion call for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors in recent years. The need to embrace innovation to stave off the threats of digital, agile new competitors has seen even the most established and dominant market incumbents rushing to adopt new digital mechanisms for doing business, including inthe realm of workplace communications. Thanks to the arrival of rapid mobile data and the approach of 5G technology, the nature of modern communication is almost unrecognisable to the state of play just a decade ago.

While costly text and minute packages were formerly the only manner of contacting friends and colleagues away from their desk, while email or an in-house messaging system were often how firms would contact staff in the office, the proliferation of smartphone technology has mashed the two worlds together. With notable platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger now offering cheap, secure and swift ways of keeping up with conversations where-ever and when-ever needed, such apps present a major opportunity for many businesses, when it comes to how they work internally, or interact with customers.

Use of social media at work

According to a new study by managed communications provider Maintel, however, it is an opportunity that many businesses are slow to react to, or even hostile towards. Following a survey of 1,000 employed adults across the UK, it is clear that a substantial proportion of employees would now like to use consumer-grade tools such as Snapchat or Facebook Messenger for work, while a large number of businesses remain unwilling to facilitate this.

The poll, conducted by 3Gem Research & Insights on behalf of Maintel, found that unsanctioned brands of communication technology were often the most popular. Perceived security risks and impossibility of corporate oversight mean that many employers forbid their use, or block their use in the workplace. Instagram is not approved in 41% of organisations, while Facebook Messenger is refused by a further 34%, and Snapchat by 38%.

However, the traditional top-down approach of employers to moderate their employees behaviours in this regard are not only out of step with a more horizontal digital era, but missing out on a potential productivity boost. More than eight in 10 employees have upped their usage of Facetime at work in the past three years, while 32% of UK workers admitted to use Facebook Messenger for more than two hours at work, and WhatsApp followed at 29%.

Untapped potential

These messaging apps in particular present two potential areas for improvement in the practices of UK employers. First of all, the data seems to suggest that forbidding digital technology based on an employee’s smart-phone is a futile act, and efforts might be better spent on other matters. Second, at present, these platforms are largely used for non-work activities – unless it is to speak to colleagues.

% of employees would like to use social media for work

The most popular use for consumer communications tools is to communicate with friends and family: for example, 70% said they use Facebook Messenger to speak to friends, while 38% said it was used to contact siblings, and 39% used it to speak to children or grandchildren. These figures were broadly similar across different platforms. This should firstly be seen as indicative that many employees do not feel that they have sufficient time to spend socialising with these groups – and that social media has come to be a vital crutch supporting their lop-sided work-life balance – but also that by refusing to engage with their staff via new technological avenues, employers are missing an opportunity to increase productivity.

According to the research, 24% per cent say they would like Snapchat to be approved by their employer, while 19% would like to see Twitter approved, and 17% told the survey they would like to use Facebook Messenger or FaceTime to communicate with colleagues, customers and Partners. The potential for a social media model to improve turnaround time and productivity within a business has already been demonstrated by the growth of ERP systems for example. These include products such as VOGSY, which leverage newsfeed systems and accessible interfaces to create a new way of doing business in the professional services world. If businesses could similarly tap into this with the use of apps like WhatsApp or Snapchat, they could find an innovative way of adding value to their firms.

Commenting on the research, Rufus Grig, CTO at Maintel, said, “Employers have a good reason for providing effective, safe and sanctioned communication tools at work. They want to maximise efficiency and productivity, reduce costs and travel, ensure compliance and optimise security. When employees fail to use these tools, it’s usually because the experience – compared to consumer platforms – can be poor; hence why we see such significant use of the likes of WhatsApp and Facetime for business use.”

Grig concluded, “Businesses should appreciate that blocking certain tools and mandating others is only part of the solution. Organisations should work closely with employees to understand what frustrations they experience with existing tools and select and develop solutions to make these platforms more compelling.”