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Banning Non-Work Related Content: One of the Biggest Mistakes Your Company Can Make!

Posted by on November 8, 2012

Oftentimes the topic of non work related content comes up when discussing internal collaboration.  Specifically, managers want to know how they can make it so that non-work related content stays to a minimum while employees stay laser focused on work related tasks.  You can’t do this and more importantly, you shouldn’t.  Think about how many times non work related emails are sent back forth or how many in person conversations are had that don’t relate to work.  You might as well start installing cameras and microphones everywhere and start reading the email of all of your employees.

Why would you want to put blinders on your employees like this and only force them to focus on work related issues?  This is creating a zombie workforce.  People are social creatures not animals.  I actually encourage organizations to allow and even support non work related content.

When employees are able to connect on any level (professional or not), they start to build relationships, through these relationships they start to build trust, and you know what happens when employees start to trust each other and build relationships?  They start to share ideas, innovate, create, collaborate, and communicate.  So let your employees have a chess  group, a racquetball group, or a dog owner’s group.  Let them build relationships and create trust with one another.  Many companies or innovative ideas happen not when we are staring at our computers working but when we are engaging with people while talking about our passions and interests; these are the things that spark creativity and innovation.

We aren’t batteries that can be plugged into something for 8-9 hours a day, go home to recharge and go to work again for another 8-9 hours and repeat that cycle over and over and over again, we just can’t, nor should we.  Allowing employees to build relationships through non work related content should not only be encouraged it should be seen as vital to the success of collaboration.  Keep in mind that people don’t really communicate or collaborate with people they don’t trust.

So what, you will come across non-work related content who cares!?  Is the value of having a hundred non-work related conversations worth having one work-related conversation that can make or save your company money?  Keep in mind that collaboration is always supported not just by technology but also by a strategy and the 12 principles of collaboration, I’m not talking about abandoning everything and just letting everyone run wild.

I recently spoke at a conference and afterwards someone came up to me from the oil and gas industry who had this exact scenario at his company and management started to get very concerned.  Employees were having too many non work related discussions and sharing too much non work related content.  This was a problem until one day people out in the field who were drilling kept noticing that their drill trips would melt when they were digging near certain regions, and keep in mind we’re talking about some pretty massive drills here.  They didn’t know how to fix the problem.  Thankfully since employees started to trust each other, build relationships, and share things openly, an employee came up with a solution to the problem.  This was a BILLION dollar solution.  So this person who came up to me after my talk told me that the way he presented this to management was, “are ten non work related conversations worth a billion dollars?  What about a hundred?  What about a thousand?  Are having non work related conversations worth a billion dollars?”

Since then, employees sharing non work related content has not been an issue.