April 8, 2011


I HAVE seen it with my own eyes - workers surfing the Internet for pure entertainment. And I've been in meetings where policymakers discussed restricting access to sites like YouTube, Amazon and Facebook. I'll admit, I always wondered how much productive time was lost to web surfing. At the same time , however, I never wanted to implement a formal tracking policy coming down more on the side of individual privacy and the firm belief that most people will use good judgment.

The New Yorker magazine (which is the newest app on my brand new iPad 2) has an interesting article titled "In Praise of Distraction" which discusses the proliferation of at-the-office Internet distraction and asks whether they pose a significant problem/cost for business. (The same is obviously true in the public sector).

The piece, by James Surowiecki, points out that a widely cited survey from way back in 2005 in which people said that the Net was their favorite way to waste time at work. That fact caused businesses to respond by trying various strategies to restrict access.

Now there is new research that suggests "forcing Internet-addicted employees to go cold turkey may make them less productive, not more."

What should government and business do?

One option is to remove access to lots of Web sites.

The author contends that this approach would help create a tyrannical work environment, and, he correctly points out that now everyone has a smartphone. Shut down one - workers switch to the other device.

A more interesting solution would be to create "Internet breaks," allowing workers to periodically spend a few minutes online. In the past, workers have enjoyed sitting around drinking coffee on "coffee breaks;" and workers still go outside the building for a "smoke break;" and in some places there are even "massage breaks."

Maybe the basic idea is to take a break from the drudgery of the task at hand and come back refreshed, inspired and more productive than ever.

At least that's the hope.

This Just In > A new report shows that 46% of federal workers are allowed access to social media sites while at work. This is a huge jump from the 20% who reported social media access in a similar survey conducted in 2010.

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