[IMGCAP(1)] What happens when your firm freaks out and prevents access to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook? Generational expert Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting has a few ideas. Those who think networking online is the root of all evil may want to sit down.

Hi, Rebecca,

I read the question about using iPods at work. Our firm allows iPods, but now something else has come up: putting up firewalls and forebidding us from accessing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. What’s up? Our younger employees (I happen to be one) think this is ridiculous. But the guys in charge recently announced that social media sites keep us from being billable, and open us up to lawsuits.

WHAT? It seems like we’re having a generational face-off. What do you recommend?

Signed,

Firewalled from Facebook (Chicago, Ill.)

Dear Firewalled,

Did this firewall nonsense start after the Inside Public Accounting interview with Nancy Flynn, in the March issue? She scared the bejeezus out of readers saying that (a) Firms have the right to ban any sites they want, and (b) Firms are opening themselves up to breaches of privacy if social media sites are available.

Nancy is an “e-policy expert,” and from what I read in the interview, she seems to have been born on the “Employees-are-harmful-toxins-that-must-be-hermetically-controlled-or-they-will-ruin-your-firm” island.

She does have a point: if your firm hires stupid people who don’t know how to act, talk, or tweet professionally, then policies like Nancy’s probably make sense.(Firewalled, if you work in a firm like this, please start polishing your resume and networking immediately, because your firm won’t last very long.Of course, you’ll have to do it from home, because you probably can’t access LinkedIn from work.)

I have a totally different take on how to get the best from people, and limiting their access to their friend feed is not it. From our research with over 40,000 employees, trust at work is the most important predictor of productivity. Or, as Jason Fried wrote in his new book, Rework, “When you treat people like children, you get children’s work.”

So the real issue is not about firewalling. It is, "What kind of firm are we trying to build and maintain, one that needs layers and layers of policies and policing, or one with high standards for trusting, professional relationships?"

PS: If your firm does enact this firewall business, I suggest all the employees counter with their own "Firewall policy" like, "I will not take your calls or emails after 6 p.m., because that's my personal time."