Surreptitious employees who use Internet for personal reasons at work will be thrilled with new research suggesting that workers are actually more productive when allowed to surf the Web freely during office hours.
According to Dr. Brent Coker of the University of Melbourne, "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."
These results intrigue me but don't really surprise me. And while I'm not going to read the entire study to examine if it establishes true causality, I wonder if some other factors don't come into play here.
First, perhaps the type of person likely to be Internet-savvy and "linked in" is, also, the type of person who would be more productive at work anyway. I tend to find that my friends who are "into" the Internet are also keen on activities like time management, list-making, and just general geeky organization. It seems to me that these are qualities that make for productive work .
Second, work-life borders blur quickly online -- in many cases, in the employers' favor. I am scrupulous about limiting any non-work related online time to official breaks and lunchtime, and yet have found myself in plenty of situations where something that comes across a personal inbox turns into productive work.
Take a concrete example. I decide to forego a session of coffee-break jabber and stay quietly in my office to check my personal email instead. Imagine there's not much there except a New York Times technology alert with some interesting articles about, say, adults' increasing use of Facebook.
Hey, wouldn't this be great material for one of my classes? Quick read...it sure would...print...go to the copy machine to get my article...hmmm, which class should I use it for? Oh, and yeah, what break?
Finally, I am convinced the work-life blur goes both ways. The same wired staff members who take a few quick personal surfs at work probably do plenty of work-related Internet research and email-checking at home too, which also contributes to their productivity.
Funny how companies aren't investing in any filters to stop that...