India Inc debates whether networking leads to 'not working'

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | July 20, 2007
The acceptability of social networking websites and instant messengers is a bone of contention for India Inc

To start & #BANNER1 & # with, a statutory disclosure is in order: I didn't have to look too far for this story idea. It happened the day agencyfaqs! barred access to certain social networking sites and instant messenger services between 9.30 am and 5.30 pm because it was `clogging up the pipe'. But as I worked the phones, I realised we weren't in a minority.

As social networking explodes in India, companies, large and small, are trying to walk the line between seemingly-harmless and addictive web surfing and the impact this could have on work. Firms that rely on the internet to a large extent are wary about the rising possibility of chatting for long hours, social networking, gaming, music and job searches.

Some companies have banned networking sites like Orkut and instant messengers (IMs) like Yahoo! Messenger, citing that they consume network bandwidth, company resources and infrastructure. There is also the fear of information leakage through these forums.

A survey carried out by online research firm YouGov for content security specialists Clearswift found that of more than 1,000 office workers in the UK, 42 per cent of those aged between 18 and 29 years discussed work-related issues on social networking sites and blogs.

Of course, banking firms and BPOs don't allow access to Gmail or Orkut, the reason for which is firewall safety. Being a bank, a lot of confidential information is being handled at all times so it is of utmost importance to have security against intrusion. BPOs have, as a rule, shied away from email, and the ban has been extended to social networking sites and tools.

Most IT companies in India like HCL, AMEX, Convergys, ICICI Infotech, TCS, Patni Computers, Niksun India and Wipro also ban the use of social networks in their workplaces. Sameer Mahendru, associate director, network operations, ACL Wireless, says, "We have banned sites like Orkut, MySpace in our network and the main concern behind it is security threats and viruses. IMs are allowed with limited usage but sharing of files on IMs is not allowed.''

However, as social networking becomes a more mainstream web activity, some firms are changing their policy and allowing access. These firms are of the opinion that social networks like Facebook can deliver benefits, both to the business and to the employee at a personal level. Blogging has also become more of a corporate activity, with many professionals indulging in it these days (though many firms now have a blogging policy in place).

A Dabur India Ltd spokesperson told agencyfaqs!, "We do not intend to ban any social network, but have firewalls to detect objectionable content -- the IT department monitors the overuse of some websites. Only IMs are banned as they consume a lot of bandwidth."

Other firms like Indiatimes, Apollo Tyres, Euro RSCG, Du Pont do not have a restriction on their employees visiting social networks. Krishnakoli Dutta, public affairs manager at Du Pont, says, "If they don't have offensive material, our firewalls don't block a social network. We have colleagues using AOL, and various IMs".

Community building and interacting also let the creative juices flow, according to ad agencies, which have a more flexible approach to social networks. Nikunj Patel, chief information officer, Euro RSCG says, "One can get new ideas, do a quick survey, indulge in a discussion and even search through social networks for useful stuff. Banks or production companies may need to block it, but we need to be on social networks.''

Yet the debate continues on the pros and cons of social networking in the workplace. In the highly-networked world that we are living in, the line between social and professional lives is blurring. And that's why a 'block all' approach may not suit large segments of India Inc.