I was reminded this morning of a study from 2009 that tried to assess the productivity impact of Facebook.
It’s conclusion was this:
Nearly half of office employees access Facebook during work. Nucleus found companies effectively lose an average of 1.5 percent of total office productivity when employees can access Facebook during the work day.
I’ve heard this 1.5% impact repeated a number of times since that time even though it’s nor nearly 2 years old and a lot of things have changed since then. I’ve also heard the same statistic apply to social network sites in general and that’s definitely a stretch of the research.
If you look into the details of the research it’s done on the basis of interviewing 237 office workers and for 2009 is, in many ways, revealing an opinion for the time which still lives on today. That opinion being – while people are on Facebook they aren’t doing the work that they should, and would be doing.
My personal view is that it’s not that simple.
The first point to acknowledge is that I think for a number of people Facebook, and many other web sites for that matter, is a problem. It’s attention grabbing, it’s interesting, it’s a whole set of things that mean that it will be a productivity drain if we let it.
But my second, and more significant point, is that it’s very simplistic to assume that people are “productive” between 9:00 and 17:00 in the office location.
For starters, I don’t know many people who simply work from 9-to-5 these days, travel and collaboration requirements make this impossible for many people.
Then there’s the assumption that people are machines and are “productive” all of the time. They’re not, nor is it healthy for them to try to be. We provide facilities in offices because they are needed by the people who work there. But beyond that there are all sorts of times that could be measured as “unproductive”, but are actually times when it would be more accurate for them to be classed as “undefined productivity”. Most meetings, phone calls, coffee machine conversations, office chats could all be classed this way. it’s not clear what is being achieved in clear, unambiguous productivity terms – but they are all a necessary part of office life.
There are also a set of external distractions and activities that people already undertake during the working day. It would be interesting to know whether people who have access to Facebook have more, or less, distractions overall. I suspect it’s higher overall, but I would also expect there to be some level of offset.
Finally there’s the biggest productivity impact of all – morale. it would be interesting to know whether people feel a higher level of morale in companies that trust their staff to manage their time. I’m not sure whether lack of Facebook access would have an impact on my morale, but I do know that corporate blocking rules can have a negative impact overall. That’s not to say that corporate blocking rules are wrong, just that they have an impact.
To conclude, I don’t think that turning off access to Facebook in a corporate environment will get you a 1.5% productivity increase there are a lot of other factors to consider.