Q. I'm trying to figure out the right balance for rules about using Facebook, etc., at work. I tend to see quite a lot of it going on, but on the other hand, people seem to be productive. What are your suggestions?

A. Before you have a problem, think through your stance on acceptable use as well as problems that could arise and how you'd want to resolve them.

Is it really a problem?

In one sense, it really doesn't seem as if you have an issue in terms of anything except perception. So, start by looking at your feelings about Facebook-types of activities at work. Pay attention to your inner reactions when you walk by someone's desk and see the Internet open. You may tense up, feel worried, or get angry.

Compare these responses to your reactions to other non-work activities. Are you concerned if people have personal phone calls? Schedule appointments with contractors, delivery people or doctors?

As you think about this, how much reflects your feelings about Facebook or other social media, and how much is real concern about productivity?

Analyze your work environment, as well, particularly in terms of the day-to-day pressure and the opportunity to take breaks. This can be challenging for people who are generally deskbound and working on a computer all day, so observe whether your team members are getting away from their desks or if they may be taking "online breaks."

About the issue of productivity: How do you assess whether you have an issue with a particular individual? If someone isn't pulling their weight, it shouldn't really matter whether it's because they're burning up hours chatting with a co-worker or wasting time online.

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How to react

Given your thoughts from the inner game, decide how you want to address the situation before you have a problem. Your options range from complete restriction from using these sites to a completely laissez-faire approach. You'll likely be most successful if you seek some middle ground.

This might look something like this: Team members are allowed to use online sites with some sensible limitations. Obviously, for example, X-rated sites would not be allowed; check with your HR department about other restrictions or limitations.

You would also want to let people know that, if you feel that they are online so much that it's interfering with productivity, you're going to address it on a case-by-case basis. In addition, you may want to ask for cooperation for a "no-online" zone if, say, clients will be in the office.

As far as ensuring that people are getting the respite from work that they need during the day, encourage some movement away from their desks. However, acknowledge to them that online time may be providing the mental break that they need.

A common issue

With the growth in popularity of social media, this is a common issue in the workplace. Develop standards that focus on ensuring that your team's work gets done, and gets done well, and concentrate on correcting exceptions when they occur rather than limiting everyone's online activity.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

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