By Gerard Al-Fil

DUBAI, Sept. 6 (Xinhua) — At the one-day 2012 World@Work UAE Summit local and international decision makers discussed Thursday in a lively debate the pros and cons of rapid expansion of the social media and e-gadget culture at companies.

The rapid use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn has triggered a discussion in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) whether or not the e-age translates into added value or into lost profitability in the world of business.

The UAE has been on the forefront of implementing an e-governance strategy at public entities and the government encourages companies. Students at most universities in the Gulf state can review lectures online and exchange knowledge via social media and UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum was the first Arab head of a government who opened a personal account on Facebook.

“Like us, follow us”

At the 2012 World@Work UAE Summit which took place at Hult International Business School in Dubai, conference speakers agreed that the exponential use of social media and new electronic gadgets in any company can be a threat to productivity.

“We should never forget the human factor in communication, despite all advantages of e-media,” said Dr. Mahmood Al Bastaki, CEO of Dubai Trade, a firm specialized on integrated electronic services for the logistics industry. “You cannot look 16 hours per day at your smart phone or laptop and ignore your colleague sitting next to you. Otherwise the social bond is dying.”

Asked how his company keeps the balance between e-life and real life, Al Bastaki answered “At Dubai Trade we try always to get in the latest IT hard- and software, and we use social media and smart phones. But we also stress one-to-one communication and that is why every Thursday our 80 employees gather at noon for lunch in order to discuss and share face-to-face.”

Brett Minchington, Chairman and CEO of Employer Brand International, Australia, agreed, saying that “distributing Ipads to employees must never replace a career development, that is a company leader’s duty. Of course your staff must be technically up-to-date, but employees shall never have the feeling that gadgets are substitutes for an inspiring work environment.”

To invest or not to invest

This led Ibrahim Moosa Jamel, Director of Operations of the Education Cluster at TECOM Investments, the management body of Dubai’s technology and media free zones, to say that “there is so much fear of misuse. But not only Facebook can be misused, a book or a newspaper might also lead employees to spend time reading irrelevant themes at work.” Asked if the public and the private sector shall answer the threat of misuse with more control or by reducing e-governance, Jamel replied “it should be healthy mix of trust and control, but saying no to social media and smart phones and smart tablets is dangerous, as your competitor will take you over then.” While monitoring was important, any boss can measure his staff simply by looking if pre-set targets are fulfilled, rather than looking over his shoulder at a 24/7-basis.

Veronica Munroe, Head of Leadership Effectiveness at British bank Standard Chartered also recommended to embrace social media rather than to resist it. “Firstly, entrepreneurs are called entrepreneurs because firstly they do something new, rather than avoiding action,” Ms. Munroe said. “Secondly, always remember the following fictive dialogue between CFO and CEO, when the CFO asks ‘What will happen if the firm invests in people and they leave?’, while the CEO replies, ‘What if the firm does not invest in its people and they stay?’”

Jamel and Dubai Trade’s CEO Al Bastaki, both local Emirati business leaders, added that the UAE is proud of strong social bonds and its tribal culture. “This identity can never be threatened by whatever technology. Any society, not only ours, must deal with the fast pace of the electronic progress.”

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