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the culture of time-wasting August 11, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Unsociable Networking, Wasting Time.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I iz jus chexin mah facebuk. (CC-licensed photo by tehusagent)

I iz jus chexin mah facebuk. (CC-licensed photo by tehusagent)

A friend of mine once said that “social networking” is just a synonym for “work avoidance”. She’s absolutely right: if you don’t want to work, why not check Facebook or Twitter? Why not post to your personal blog about how bored you are? Why not peruse your favorite blogs on Google Reader or del.icio.us or catch up on the news on Fark or Digg?

Why not make your company spend money to support your goofing-off habits?

There’s plenty of research about how letting workers use Facebook or Twitter on occasion (maybe a couple of minutes an hour) to give themselves breaks in their days is beneficial for everyone and actually increases productivity. We’ve all seen stories about companies in other countries doing office-mandated naps or exercise (as with Hiro and Ando’s company in the first season of “Heroes”). Some companies have patios or exercise rooms or ping-pong tables so that employees can unwind a bit during breaks.

The problem is this: people are taking advantage. It’s easier than ever to lose the train of thought while working; it could be something as simple as checking personal e-mail or texting your spouse to say you’ll be a few minutes late tonight. Ubiquitous high-speed internet, smartphones, music players, social networking… the more options you have, the less likely you are to avoid them all.

But flatly forbidding these things is dangerous. It creates a culture of covert surfing. It pits IT guys against people who just want to see their friends’ friends’ bikini pictures on Facebook. It lowers morale and wastes more time because people are going to (a) talk about the draconian computer policy and (b) find ways around it, forcing the IT guys to work harder to block social networking sites. Or people will just sit on their smartphones, which wastes even more time because the internet connections are generally (but not always) slower.

The trick is to get employees to realize they don’t have the right to spend all day goofing around on the internet. One poster on MyLifeIsAverage.com recounted her boss’s method:

Today my boss sent all employees a facebook message to meet in the boardroom at 3 p.m. The meeting topic? It was about not using facebook at work. I felt tricked but still had to give him credit for being clever. MLIA.

I wish the poster had written a follow-up, but I get the feeling that she and her coworkers were both impressed by the ingenuity of the boss and, during the meeting, probably came to some sort of compromise.

That’s the best possible endgame in the culture of time-wasting: compromise. Compromise with management to keep them from outright forbidding social networking and other time-wasting sites. Compromise with employees to keep them from wasting too much of the company’s time and money. Compromise with the culture itself in recognizing that Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and other social sites are a vital part of most people’s lives and cutting out that part will just lower employee morale.

Which is just what we need in this economic environment, right?

This blog entry was written while I was technically supposed to be working.

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