facebook-logo_web.jpgFARGO, N.D. (AP) — Jeff DeLoss, a business analyst at Noridian Administrative Services in Fargo, can’t log on to Facebook at his work computer. Company policy does not allow access to social networking sites on company time.

“I guess I don’t mind it,” he said about the policy, “because I can see room for a lot of misuse on company time.”

But at the bottom of work e-mails DeLoss receives from human resources staff, there is a link to “Find us on Facebook,” intended for external recipients. When DeLoss tries to click on it from his work computer, he gets a message that access to the site is restricted.

This is just one example of the tough spot businesses find themselves in when it comes to social networking sites in the workplace.

These websites, which include Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn, can be powerful tools for marketing, recruiting and hiring. At the same time, they can be a big time waster for employees.

Companies that allow access to Facebook lose an average of 1.5 percent in total employee productivity, according to results of a study by Nucleus Research Inc., which provides investigative information technology research.

Of those accessing the site at work, 87 percent could not define a clear business reason to do so. The 2009 study also found that some employees used Facebook up to two hours a day at work.

In many ways, though, social networking sites are no different than the break room, water cooler or desk phone: potential
distractions that need to be managed.

Darrin Tonsfeldt, director of the Village Business Institute in Fargo, understands the concern about wasted employee time. He also can imagine other problems social networking sites could contribute to: cyber bullying, privacy and security concerns and a rift between technology savvy and clueless employees.

But Tonsfeldt increasingly believes employers need to find ways to use social media to their advantage.

“I think it's like trying to hold back tidal water. You’re not going to hold it back,” he said.

Some Red River Valley employers already have policies for social networking sites.

SEI, a call center services company in Grand Forks and Fargo, has never allowed access, said Michele Thiel, human resources manager for SEI and Ygomi, its parent company.

The rules are pretty loose at Fargo’s Microsoft campus, said Katie Hasbargen, communications manager. Access is not blocked because it can be difficult to separate personal and business use of social ­­media accounts.

“The basic overriding policy is: Be smart,” Hasbargen said. “Make sure it’s clear you’re representing your own views and not the company’s when making comments. Be mindful of what’s proprietary and confidential.”

Sara McGrane, a Minneapolis attorney originally from Fargo, recently gave a presentation to local human resources staff titled “Googling My Facebook Makes Me Twitter.” Part of her presentation offered a sample policy that local companies could enact.

“In the last 18 months, we have had a dramatic increase in the number of questions we’ve gotten about social media,” said McGrane, whose specialty is employment law.

Another place where social media and the workplace intersect is its role in hiring, firing and discipline, McGrane said.

Employers often look at Facebook profiles and other social media sites when they consider a job applicant. This can be a great reference check, McGrane said.

But employers have to be careful not to make decisions based on information the employee set as private, she said.

“Be careful who your friends are,”

McGrane said. “If you’re going to be friends with your boss, be aware they can use that information. As long as you didn’t voluntarily give that person access, you’re fine.”