Fifty-seven percent of people communicate more with their friends online than they do in real life. Did you know that Facebook users apparently spend 700-billion minutes a month on the social network? That’s just Facebook statistics, what about Twitter, Google+ and the many other networks that consume our time online?
Unless all the users on these social networks don’t have day jobs, we’re clearly spending an lot of our time on the internet. A cursory browse of a mid-morning tweet stream will reveal hordes of links to articles, videos and pictures that range from the dead-serious to the downright-silly. So, are these people wasting their employers’ time?
New articles seem to pop up every month with ever more staggering figures about how destructive social media is to businesses. The most recent claims that social media costs the average business US$65 000 per employee. You can even calculate your own social media losses with their nifty social media cost calculator. These calculations are generally calculated by multiplying the total hours spent using Facebook by the average salary per hour. Occasionally the research also points to the bandwidth costs of employees surfing the web, which in developing countries like South Africa can be significant.
Most of these reports are coming from software vendors who conveniently offer neat packaged solutions to help block said offending behaviour during work hours. Could there be a research bias here? Perhaps. There seems to be an assumption that the time and bandwidth spent on social media is wasted. I think we should examine this a bit further…
Recently published research conducted at the National University of Singapore revealed that a bit of cyber-loafing during work hours is a great way to re-energise between concentrated bouts of work.
Another study conducted at the University of Melbourne found that freely browsing the web while at work can lead to productivity gains. Of course, the addendum here was that you shouldn’t be spending more than 20 percent of your day mooching around online.
Clearly social media use gets a worse rap at work than it deserves, but there is a downside. From what I’ve observed, many of us keep our social streams going while we’re working on other things, constantly flipping between work and leisure tasks. This, unfortunately, is probably ruinous to your productivity. Stanford researchers found that media multi-taskers pay a price in the form of reduced cognitive performance and ability to filter out irrelevant information.
So what are the take-outs from all this?
1. Keep the internet open during working hours — perhaps restrict access to certain times, and if bandwidth is too expensive limit video downloads.
2. An optimal ratio of web-surfing to working is about five minutes every half hour (you can compound this if you wish)
3. It doesn’t count if you spread those five minutes out over the whole half-hour when you’re supposed to be concentrating on a task. Do one thing at a time.
The web offers profound opportunities for learning, discovery, personal development and pure enjoyment. If your employer has been kind enough to allow you this opportunity, then your responsibility is to use it well. Now, get back to work!