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What it means when staff use Facebook for work tasks

What it means when staff use Facebook for work tasks

There was a time when Facebook was strictly banned by enterprise firewalls, along with anything ‘social’ or seemingly fun. Once mobile apps took off, the firewall became less of a hindrance to people. The Facebook app was launched in 2009, and about a billion people use it every day – some of them are probably at work when they use it (shock!).

Beyond the photos and event invites from friends and family, people are using the Facebook app (or the specialised Facebook Groups app) to get things done with colleagues.

Nurses on Facebook


Nurses (among others) use Facebook Groups to swap shifts, organise cover, and arrange nights out. It’s clear that people working on their feet need mobile tools, and Facebook Groups works well for them, as they feel reasonably safe (from the public) and everyone knows how to use it. I spoke to a professional about their use of Facebook.

“We use Facebook for everything – I’m ‘friends’ with the colleagues I want to use Messenger with, but otherwise we have a Facebook Group where everyone can leave messages and comment on things. It’s a private group, so we feel safe – we don’t want the public, or journalists, to see how we arrange stuff.

“Our Facebook Group is managed by a senior sister. It takes a while for people who have left the ward to be removed.

“Facebook is used to highlight issues on the ward (for example, if the sharps bins haven’t been emptied) – photos are often posted along with a telling off!

“We never discuss patients; email is always used for such sensitive matters. Even a private Facebook Group is not considered secure enough for confidential issues.

“Facebook in general is often brought up in meetings and via email, with regard to appropriate behaviour on our personal accounts, and disciplinary action is threatened to those not conforming (for example, we can’t use those apps that add animal ears and noses to our photos if we’re shown in uniform).

“Staff have been criticised for being visible on Facebook while off sick. A colleague was criticised for playing games on Facebook while off sick – they were told they ‘couldn’t have been feeling very ill’ if they were playing games…

“We have never been offered any alternative to Facebook.”

anonymous health care professional within the NHS

Clearly, nurses need a mobile app for team communication, and the NHS doesn’t give them one. I understand Bupa uses Jive.

Nurses aren’t the only people to use the consumer Facebook platform for professional communication. Think of staff at a large hotel, lorry drivers, retail workers, builders, and shift workers of all kinds.

Do knowledge workers use Facebook Groups for team comms as well? I don’t know – tell me in the comments section below.

The use of Facebook Groups, and other consumer apps, demonstrates the use casethe need. Staff have a requirement to get little things sorted all the time, and it seems the enterprise platforms offered to them just don’t work well enough. There’s no point expecting shift workers or retail staff to message colleagues about an urgent shift swap request using the departmental collaboration site on the intranet, on a desktop. Not at 8pm; not when they need an answer within half an hour; not when everyone is on their feet or on the bus.

The need is real; it’s personal and it’s business. People reach for Facebook because they know how it works, and they know who their team is made up of. The Facebook Groups app makes immediate sense for everyday conversation and checking in with colleagues.

Yet, Facebook Groups is completely outside of your organisation’s control, or influence. You can’t commission or decommission Groups with any strategy, you can’t monitor what’s being shared, and you probably don’t know anything about the many work-related Groups that exist. They are invisible to you and your governance policies.

Shadow IT examples like this can be regarded as a threat. But a more constructive viewpoint is to see the use of consumer apps as like a free test phase, a pilot. Consumer tools are risky, from an access and information management stance, but their use can help clarify requirements as you look for the enterprise-grade equivalent.

Isn’t it irksome to be using consumer Facebook, when ‘professional Facebook’ (Workplace) exists?

This is why Dropbox offers ‘Dropbox for Business’; why OneDrive comes in personal and business flavours; and why Facebook launched ‘Workplace’ for business use.

Workplace by Facebook

See the need, serve the need

The business case to procure and deploy internal-focused employee apps should be clear from the use of Facebook Groups and other consumer apps. People’s behaviour isn’t wrong, we just want to switch them from using consumer apps and on to using company approved apps.

When staff use consumer software (shadow IT), it proves the need! It’s like inadvertently running a pilot; you know there’s a requirement and a working solution, so there’s no need for a long business case, just swap out the unapproved app for an enterprise solution.

Options exist, and while many people say that consumer software is always easier to use, many employee apps have great UIs and good UX.

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

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