One of the issues I keep encountering in my work (and personal life) is the surprising gap between the use of social media technology outside the workplace and inside corporate firewalls. More specifically, many organizations continue to try to keep out the waves of disruptive technology through every means possible – including firewalls and restrictive company policies – while consumers of every age and region become more technologically agile and demanding. In some organizations, it’s as if you enter a time-warp where innovation is taboo and technology is used to restrict the flow of information, rather than fuel it.

I’ve argued that this corporate resistance is misguided and a recipe for strategic stagnation and market irrelevance – not to mention a serious drawback on recruitment and employee engagement. (Who wants to give up their smart phones and online tools when they go to work?) Well, a recent report by Forrester – which was presented during SXSW – suggests that despite their best efforts, these reticent companies may be losing the battle. [FYI – The study was available for free only for SXSW participants.]

A recent Forrester survey of U.S. information workers found that:

  • 8% of workers use their own smart phone for work
  • 12% download and use outside applications on a work computer
  • 27% use unsanctioned login-required sites for work

Clearly, as the line between personal and professional blurs an increasing number of workers are using their personal communication tools and platforms for work purposes – and why wouldn’t they? New technologies – such as cloud computing, smart phones and social networks – foster lightning-quick information sharing, conversations and collaboration.

The study also confirms there is still stubborn resistance in corporate America, however. While 20% of respondents identified themselves as “HEROs” (the most resourceful and empowered) and 13% as “rogues” (using the technology without permission), 34% were defined as fully “locked down” and 34% as “disenfranchised” (feeling least resourceful and empowered). In the Forrester context the “HEROs” are the ones who know and understand customer needs and use technology to better serve those empowered customers.

The study argues that the smart response to this rogue trend is to empower workers to serve empowered customers. In fact, the study (and a related book) shares a number of examples of employees who used new social technologies to help the business, and ultimately benefit the customer experience. Hopefully this type of report will help dispel the favored argument of resistant executives that staff will use technology for frivolous pursuits. (Defining what is frivolous and what is productive is a topic for another post.)

Of course, there are many positive reasons why companies should introduce social media in the enterprise and provide their staff with the latest technology – notably to help them collaborate more efficiently and enable them as customer advocates – but now it appears the best reason is it’s going to happen anyway.