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I hear about workplaces banning sites like Facebook, or Twitter, all in the name of productivity gain.

Has there been any studies showing any evidence that having full access to browse the web at work a potential productivity killer?

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    At what type of job? As it stands, I don't think this is generally answerable. (A personal anecdote: StackOverflow (the grandparent of this site, amongst other things) has saved me, as a programmer, from reinventing tens of wheels (oh, and then there's developers.facebook.com, etc.). I'd posit that is a potential productivity booster (note the weasel word). OTOH, if your job is of the data-entry type, I understand how open internet access might distract you. See also: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/21535/… ) – Piskvor Oct 26 '11 at 12:01
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    I Think this question borders on the line of being equal to "is the Sky really blue?" Its answerable. But I think its pretty close to common knowledge. You restrict access to avoid having to discipline people for misuse. If your job function does not involve facebook and twitter then any time spent on them during work time is non productive. – Chad Oct 26 '11 at 13:23
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    @Chad: it's not obvious, as there have been some studies showing that moderate usage of non-work related webs actually increases overall productivity. To make a parallel: Do you have coffee breaks at work? Are you a professional coffee taster? – vartec Oct 26 '11 at 14:31
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    @Chad: If you're saying that it will make them less productive, then prove it with peer reviewed study. "Common knowledge" is not an argument that is acceptable on Skeptics.SE. – vartec Oct 28 '11 at 14:48
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    @Chad: "time spent non-productively reduces productivity", so you're basically saying that people should have no breaks at all? Damn, even slaves had time to rest. – vartec Oct 30 '11 at 14:51
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+50

I found many research's papers addressing this question.

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1865124&show=abstract

The paper highlights that social networking technology can facilitate improved workplace productivity by enhancing the communication and collaboration of employees which aids knowledge transfer and consequently makes

http://www.netaddiction.com/articles/eia_new_trends.pdf

In a survey of 1439 workers by Vault.com, an online analyst firm, 37% admitted to surfing constantly at work, 32% surfed a few times a day, and 21% surfed a few times a week (Adschiew, 2000).

http://sigs.aisnet.org/sighci/icis03_wksp/hci03_program_proceedings.pdf#page=50

Several recent studies reveal much abuse of the Internet in the workplace by employees; users exchange personal emails, shop on line, check scores on sporting events, gamble on line, view pornographic material, and chat on instant messaging services. In the most recent U.S. study (Colby and Parasuraman, 2002), it is estimated that employees spend between 3.7 and 6.5 hours per work week on personal Net use. Earlier studies (Lim, 2002) revealed that between 64% and 90% of U.S. workers engaged in personal activities while at work. Financial losses from this abuse have been estimated to reach 64% of organizations, costing $378 million in 2001 (Computer Security Institute, 2001).

Internet abuses (counseling): http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2161-1920.2003.tb00859.x/abstract

A book about Internet at workplace: http://books.google.ca/books?hl=fr&lr=&id=SiOOeEBrxywC&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=internet+productivity+workplace&ots=mtr2YHMeFR&sig=Wrv5kyGJ9eN99YyndlY33ohcc2Q#v=onepage&q=internet%20productivity%20workplace&f=false

In conclusion, there is clearly no scientific consensus today. More research would need to be done. The first paper showing increase of productivity do not prove that it is always the case. It proves that in the context they used, the social media were positive on productivity. However, it could have been very different in another context.

  • I need to add that the increase in productivity of the first paper is due to the increase in social interaction between employees. In fact, many papers demonstrates that workplaces with enhanced social ties perform better. – Zonata Jun 21 '12 at 17:51
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It's not that obvious. "PopCap Break" 2008 report (original site doesn't exist anymore) suggests that:

(... personal internet use in the workplace ...) is far from distracting employees from their work, taking a 10-minute online break during the course of the working day serves to reduce stress while sharpening and refocusing the mind.

Dr Chamorro-Premuzic comments:

“The report proves that a ten minute e-break a day can have significant benefits but, despite this, many bosses are banning them in the fear that they distract employees. By factoring in a dedicated slot for an e-break bosses are fostering a more trusting working environment, boosting productivity and ultimately increasing their profit which surely makes good business sense.”

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    This does not address wether or not shutting off social media increases production. It just shows that you can increase production through alternate methods... And it relies on anecdote for proof... This does not meet Skeptics SE Standards for no original work – Chad Oct 27 '11 at 14:54
  • @Chad: wrong. it's based on research by Dr Chamorro-Permuzic: gold.ac.uk/psychology/staff/premuzic – vartec Oct 28 '11 at 8:37
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    Anecdotal research... And it still does not address the question of whether or not shutting off social media increases production. – Chad Oct 28 '11 at 12:48
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    One could argue that allowing 10 min a day is not the same as giving ad libitum access... – nico Oct 28 '11 at 16:59
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    @vartec: I say that it is highly dubious that 10 minutes is better than 30 minutes or 1 hour or ad libitum. It depends on the situation. In that specific case it worked, but I would like to see a meta-analysis of multiple studies on the matter. – nico Oct 31 '11 at 12:55

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