Web Surfing Boosts Productivity…

And Needlessly Worries Managers

I’ve been caught many times—and it’s a bad feeling. My throat tightens, my heart stops, and I begin to despair. “I’m going to get in trouble.” I think.

Then worry holds me hostage. “Maybe I’ll get fired.”

Getting caught surfing the internet at work isn’t fun, but according to a new study web browsing might not be that bad. In fact it may boost productivity.

Here’s how the study worked. Researches gave a group of people a banal job and gave them one ten minute break. Half the group was allowed to use the internet and the other half wasn’t.

When work resumed the workers who were allowed to use the internet ended up being more productive.

So the conclusion was drawn: a little Drudgereport breaks up the day and provides a bit of rest for the weary mind.

But that’s odd. Other reports suggest that web surfing costs businesses money. Your average worker with a computer spends about two hours a day using the internet for personal reasons. All that wasted time adds up and employers pay for it.

So what should a manager do? Ban the internet or let people enjoy their two hours of idle surfing?

I’d say don’t worry about it.

Banning web surfing will have technical costs—you’ll have to buy software that blocks all the fun sites. Second, when employers implicitly tell their employees to resist the temptation of browsing interesting sites and watching funny videos it distracts the mind as research shows. It creates an itch that can’t be scratched and that leads to lower productivity. Lastly, the internet saves time. By banning private internet use an employee won’t be able to buy a book on Amazon so they will be forced to visit the local bookshop. This takes up time and energy.

Unrestricted internet access isn’t the way to go either. Everyone can admit to days where a ten minute internet break turns into three hours of time wasted. Plus, the internet can become a crutch. Creative thinking is often replaced with “Googling it.” Research is often boiled down to surmising the findings of the top three sites Google produces in a search.

Managers need to trust their employees and monitor their results—not their computer habits. Everyone has different ways of breaking up the day and recharging their batteries. Banning internet breaks would be akin to prohibiting coffee runs or cigarette breaks. Sure, you’d keep people at their desks longer, but you’d only brew animosity.

Managers who spend their day sniffing around internet history logs are wasting their time. They’d be better off looking at the daily production of each employee and giving constant feedback.

Lecturing employees on internet usage will probably come off as hypocritical as well. The truth of the matter is, employees also catch their managers surfing the web.

It’s best to avoid the internet question and focus on the real results. Managers and leaders shouldn’t waste time worrying about internet habits–they should focus on monitoring real productivity and results.


Steve Martin & Internet Bullies

Steve Martin, comedian, art collector, and novelist, was interviewed at the 92nd Street Y the other week. The onstage conversation was interrupted when Martin’s interviewer was handed a note.

It read: “Discuss Steve’s career.”

The message was delivered by Y staff members who were trying to breath life into Mr. Martin’s musings that were focused squarely on his new book and the modern art world.

The paying guests got a full refund and Mr. Martin got his feelings hurt. He wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times lamenting the Y’s actions and the crowd’s impatience.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Y’s actions were largely inspired by the torrent of angry comments dispensed by people who were watching the show online. As we all know, people will write the first thing that comes into their heads when they click into anonymous comment boxes. They won’t edit themselves and they certainly won’t bother with manners. Apparently, the people at the Y didn’t know this.

Steve expressed his shock succinctly: “What I didn’t expect was that the Y would take the temperature of…e-mailed reactions, and then respond to them by sending a staff member onstage, mid-conversation, with a note.”

Mr. Martin’s windy, yawn-inducing, conversation wasn’t cut short by the audience members–it was cut short by online hecklers who were bored when they didn’t hear a celebrity inspired joke every other minute. Why Y staff members bent to the tyrannical will of an online mob is an another question completely.

Mr. Martin learned that people on the internet are bullies in a very public and very embarrassing way.

Companies and leaders who conduct business online should take note. People on the Internet can be mean and often forget basic manners. Social media isn’t always a fun and entertaining way to generate consumer interest. Sometimes it’s just a sounding board for loud-mouths who are simply seeking entertainment.

Similarly, companies conducting online events should ensure they aren’t easily swayed by the bored, fast-typing, masses.

Picture Credit: djwudi


Doing Social Media Right

internetHarperCollins’ editorial board is letting you, me, and the internet community at large do their job., created by HarperCollins, allows amateur authors to display their writing to the world. Every month the top 5 most popular stories make their way to the editorial desk where they are given a chance to be published.

It’s a great example of a company using the internet and the popularity of social media to its advantage. HarperCollins not only gets the chance to discover promising writers, but they also have the opportunity to endorse their own writers and products through a detailed resources page. Young writers benefit as well. They get the chance to present their work on a professional platform as well as have it read and critiqued by a large group of dedicated readers. It’s a everyone-wins website that has long-term potential.

BLG Leadership Insights

The Myth of Information Overload & The Myth of Sisyphus

Have you ever heard of someone complaining about ‘Information Overload’? Too much information, they argue, is causing them to work less, think less, and do less. It sounds like college students suggesting that studying too much will inevitably lead to lower grades.

How can people, natural seekers of information and entertainment, now complain about overwhelming RSS feeds, exploding inboxes, and multi-tasking smart phones? Especially after they invested so much money and time in all these products and services? Well, it’s happened. And personally I think people’s fears and worries are misplaced…

BLG Leadership Insights

Social Media Exposure: How Much do You Show?

We live in a world of social media. Today, we can achieve greater exposure using Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and blog-publishing applications like WordPress. While individuals and smaller companies have known this for awhile, bigger, more established, businesses are just starting to catch on with mixed results. In a world of social media, organizational leaders have to ask themselves how much exposure do they want to give their companies.  There is a thin line between living in a fortress with the curtains drawn and living in a glass house. To what degree do we want people to look into our organizations? The question is a genuine challenge. Because all to often once you invite them in you can’t get rid of them.

Social media is not a formalistic auditing device, it’s not a confessional, nor is it a guarantee of transparency. More often it is used to share the mundane, the instant, the everyday. Social media allows individuals and organizations to involve others in their own self-reflecting process. It allows you to bring others into the immediate moment. This is a long way from the static use of the Internet or the asynchronistic design of a web page. Social media allows for a world of spontaneous and ongoing dialogue. Social media exposure has the power to create long-term bonds between your business and your customers and between managers and employees. It also means, in cases, the abolition of privacy. So how far do you really want to draw the curtain?

Social media allows for a world of “friends” and “fans” instead of “clients” and “potential customers.” Instead of static websites and impersonal emails, new business owners send and share photos of themselves, their cat, and the office party they had last week. Originally the Internet was used for feedback and to share material now it’s to share life. The question is how much of our life, organizational or otherwise, do we want to share?

Companies are starting to realize that inviting people in helps them meet new customers and establish friendships that can be beneficial. Leaders who use social media sites will find that they not only connect with potential clients but they will also bond with their employees to create a sense of an external or internal community as we mentioned earlier.

But there are challenges to social media. First, for the use of social media to be successful it has to be constant and attractive. The language that we use in our corporate daily life is not the short-handed language that we see on Twitter. The language that’s most successful on blogs is not one made up of bureaucratic details that we often become obsessed with in the workplace. The exposure we achieve on Facebook is different than the exposure we achieve on a static website. For social media to be successful it has to be continuous. Blogs and social media profiles demand constant attention. They can become “feed-me Seymour” terrors of our daily lives demanding more and more time. So before considering using social media ask yourself whether you are willing to engage in the short-handed dramaturgical language that this modality demands and whether you are willing to constantly update your social media profiles.

You should also keep in mind that once you invite people in, like The Man Who Came to Dinner, they’ll hang around and there is no easy way to ask them to leave. I’m reminded of a friend of mine who once invited a group of us to dinner and as we got more and more into the discussion, he simply retreated to his bedroom upstairs having dimmed the lights in the living and dining rooms and asking his guests to let themselves out. Social media requires that you entertain and engage your guests.

The bottom line is social media has created a new (and free) way for people and businesses to become transparent. Social media exposure can create bonds between customers and within your organization but you may also forfeit aspects of your privacy and put your company’s reputation at stake. In other words, social media is a new, easy, way to find friends but like in real life, friendships require time, understanding, honesty, and the occasional birthday card.  You have to ask yourself if the investment is worth the new friends. Leaders in organizations must ask themselves to what degree they want to use the new social media to invite people in. The challenge for many leaders in today’s world is how much social media exposure do they want for their organization.