You know that person at work who you see surfing the Internet for what seems to be up to 20 percent of their work day? According to a new study, that person may be more productive than you. Yes, you can do a little dance if you are the surfer, but you should at least know why.
From the “I couldn’t wait to tell you about this study” department comes word from the University of Melbourne that surfing the net at work increases concentration levels and helps make a more productive workforce.
Dr. Brent Coker, from the Department of Management and Marketing, says that workers who engage in ‘Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing’ (WILB) are more productive than those who don’t. I love that. WILB. That must make me a WILBer.
Overall, Coker says that “people who do surf the Internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9 percent than those who don’t.”
The work day is full of tasks, he explains. “Essentially, we are given tasks that are broken up into smaller chunks of time. … At the end of each mini-task, we would like to reward ourselves. We may go get a cup of coffee… and then start the new mini-task.” We may also choose to surf the web for entertainment. “If we are not given the chance to have a break between each mini-task, our concentration slides down.”
The other caveat is that the productivity gains were not realized by the 14 percent of people in the study who are addicted to the Internet. They are satisfying an urge, and surfing for that population results in productivity losses. Coker says, “Those who are not addicted to the Internet are rewarding themselves. The net concentration over the day becomes greater.”
Need more evidence that you need to zone out to get concentration? Dr. Coker came up with an example that only an educator who has sat through one lecture too many could come up with: “Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture – after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored. It’s the same in the work place.”
I still find it amazing how many companies still block web sites like YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn and Facebook. Collectively, they spend millions of dollars annually to keep those sites blocked – and that may get in the way of the productivity they seeking to increase. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. It wasn’t that long ago when the “devil e-mail” was deemed a time waster that will kill business as we know it.
The study, which followed 300 Australian workers, said the most popular WILB activities were researching product information and reading online news sites. Games and YouTube both were in the top ten. What is interesting about these activities is that they temporarily take the workers “head” out of the office. This dovetails into other research that found “mental mini-vacations” also increases productivity.
While not part of the study, social media – whichever site(s) you prefer does the same: It takes you away from where you are and virtually puts you with others. Family, friends or peers in companies around the world – you are with them for a few short minutes.
I really don’t want to be critical of such a fun study, but with only 300 participants, the margin of error of the study is pretty hefty.
If you are the web surfer at work, go ahead – do the little “yea for me” dance. Just don’t let anyone see. Let them see you surf, but some dancing in your cube could be just plain nasty and not safe for work.