Feb 21, 2011

Research on using internet for leisure and productivity

Visualization of the various routes through a ...Image via Wikipedia
There are tonnes of research online. Some saying things to the contrary and some (like the one linked below) supporting the theory that if workers are allowed to use the internet for leisure they are more productive.

I personally am wary of such research that draws correlation between two behaviors. I am always reminded of my Social Research Methodology professor warning us in B School "correlation does not imply causation" - meaning, just the fact that two things are happening together does not mean that one is causing the other. There may be other variables that the researcher has failed to measure or take into account.

In a case of research like this I see a gaping hole. There are at least two factors which will impact productivity: the nature of the work the employees do, and the nature of the organization itself. If you're a courier service, then giving your employees access to the internet has a different meaning than when you're a creative design house. The other factor is, how focused on "time vs output" is the organization. Most organizations cannot track output of most employees, hence get fixated on tracking their time. Such organizations are the ones who cannot give time to employees for "internet leisure" :-)
Amplify’d from uninews.unimelb.edu.au
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.

“People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t,” he says.

“Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretense that it costs millions in lost productivity, however that’s not always the case.”

According to the study of 300 workers, 70% of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB. Among the most popular WILB activities are searching for information about products, reading online news sites. Playing online games was the fifth most popular, while watching YouTube movies was seventh.

The attraction of WILB, according to Dr Coker, can be attributed to people’s imperfect concentration. “People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. 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. Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days work, and as a result, increased productivity.”
Read more at uninews.unimelb.edu.au

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