Steelcase Study Shows Businesses Not Harnessing the Power of Social Networking

October, 22, 2008 – Grand Rapids, MI – Nearly three quarters of American office workers believe that social networking is a growing trend in the workplace, illustrating a significant opportunity for workspaces to embrace collaboration as never before. As organizations learn how best to bridge communications between the Millennial and Boomer generations working together, a recent Workplace Index Survey on the nature of work – commissioned by Steelcase, a global office environments manufacturer –digs deeper into how this might be achieved.

Through a survey of nearly 300 office workers in the United States, 71 percent of respondents foresee social networking sites playing a larger role at work in the future, with the majority of those using social networking tools under the age of 34. Only 28 percent of office workers report having a profile on one or more of these sites, 68 percent of 18-24 year olds, and 48 percent of 25-34 year olds. This data shows a significant trend – networks are now living both in and outside of the workplace – and workspaces need to accommodate this increased interconnectivity.

“Social networks, at their core, are simply trust relationships that exist between people,” said Chris Congdon, Manager of Corporate Marketing for Steelcase. “To that end, social networks in the workplace are not new, but with the advent of the Internet, their reach now extends beyond the hours of the workday. These networks often exert more influence on an organization’s success than the traditional hierarchy, and companies would do well to translate that popularity into the daily lives of their workers.”

The idea has legs. Though the study shows that just 37 percent of workers currently utilize social networking Web sites for professional purposes, 66 percent see value in using these sites to network with other professionals. Beyond networking, workers of all ages also consider the sites useful in marketing their company (59 percent) and recruiting talent (58 percent).

The problem lies in that this view is not always shared among key decision makers. While many workers appreciate the potential of social networking sites within the workplace, there are still challenges facing widespread use of them within an office setting. More than half of those surveyed believe that these sites compromise productivity, even though less than a third of workers with a social networking profile report using the sites at least once a day. Additionally, most white collar workers say that their workplace discourages or restricts the use of these sites (59 percent), and of those employers who discourage social networking sites, 37 percent have a policy that restricts or blocks employee access at work.

“What this demonstrates is a need for companies to think out-of-the-box and ask themselves if rather than blocking these sites, what their takeaways can be. Employees are communicating with co-workers inside and outside of the workplace, so how can companies create environments that encourage and foster that communication?” asks Congdon. “The workplace is as much virtual as it is physical and organizations that embrace this new reality will reap its rewards.”

Additional survey findings include:

  • The most popular social networking sites among white collar workers include: MySpace (66 percent), Facebook (46 percent) and LinkedIn (22 percent).
  • 73 percent of workers who have a social networking profile report that they are “friends” with their colleagues.
  • 65 percent of workers have not signed onto social networking to maintain personal privacy, although of those who do have profiles, 56 percent of workers do nothing to maintain the personal privacy. A quarter of workers use privacy controls to partially or completely block co-workers from viewing the full content of their profiles.
  • The majority of respondents sign onto social networking sites to reconnect with family or friends (82 percent) or because family or friends are users (76 percent)
  • Those workers who do not have a social networking profile cite a variety of reasons for not using the sites including general disinterest (75 percent), lack of time (54 percent) or the fact that they are too much of a distraction (38 percent).

The Steelcase Workplace Index Surveys address pertinent issues in today’s work environment. This continual workforce feedback is essential to the development of Steelcase’s knowledge of the workplace and to the company’s product development and corporate ventures aimed to increase worker effectiveness and productivity.

Results of additional parts in the Nature of Work in 2008 series examine telecommuting, naps in the office and romance at work. Past surveys have covered office gossip, fitness and workplace and a multi-generational workforce. Further information on workplace issues is available in the knowledge center on Steelcase’s Web site at

About Steelcase Inc.
Steelcase, the global leader in the office furniture industry, helps people have a better work experience by providing products, services and insights into the ways people work. The company designs and manufactures architecture, furniture and technology products. Founded in 1912 and headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase (NYSE:SCS) serves customers through a network of over 600 independent dealers and approximately 13,000 employees worldwide. Fiscal 2007 revenue was $3.1 billion.

Jeanine Holquist