LONDON (Reuters) - Good news for workers addicted to Facebook, Bebo and MySpace -- a British think-tank says bosses should not stop their staff using social networking sites because they could actually benefit their firms.
The report by Demos said encouraging employees to use networking technologies to build relationships and closer links with colleagues and customers could help businesses rather than damage them.
Author Peter Bradwell said that while companies were using specific systems to share information, online social networking sites could also play a role, helping with productivity, innovation and democratic working.
However, he said there should be practical guidelines to limit non-work usage.
"Bans on Facebook or YouTube are in any case almost impossible to enforce; firms may as well try to put a time limit on the numbers of minutes allowed each day for gossiping," he wrote.
"The answer is not to close down staff access to social network platforms, nor is it investing blindly in collaborative platforms.
"Rather, we argue that we need to understand how, once we accept the implications of social networks, we can manage the new challenges and trade-offs."
His research concluded that trying to control the use of sites such as Facebook, which alone boasts more than 100 million users worldwide, could even harm organizations.
"Smart" businesses recognized that social networking could not easily be separated from "professional" networking, he argued.
"In today's difficult business environment, the instinctive reaction can be to batten down the hatches and return to the traditional 'command and control' techniques that enable managers to closely monitor and measure productivity," he said.
"Allowing workers to have more freedom and flexibility might seem counterintuitive, but it appears to create business more capable of maintaining stability."
Robert Ainger, Corporate Director of Orange Business which co-produced the report, said it would be wrong of businesses to ignore the importance of networking in the current economic climate.
"The report points out that the value of networking within an economic downturn is perhaps more important than ever and I believe it could mean the difference between a business collapsing or capitalizing on the tricky conditions," he said.
Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Paul Casciato