Internet users in the U.S. spent over 53 million minutes in the month of May on social networking site Facebook, says statistics company Nielsen in its latest quarterly social media report. And we're not even counting the 565,000 minutes on Twitter and 325,000 minutes on LinkedIn.
Without accompanying statistics on the most frequent times of access, the exact impact of social networks on office productivity is admittedly debatable. Yet the sheer ubiquity and accessibility of social networking services make it illogical not to conclude that at least some of these visits originate from the office.
Throttle, not ban
When confronted with persistent workplace distractions, the knee-jerk response is often to completely block access to the most popular (and disruptive) sites. But is that the right response? From my perspective as a former IT professional, my take is that blocking access to sites costs money and computer resources, lowers morale and usually doesn't work well.
A recent article I read on ReadWriteWeb discussed a different approach as opposed to an outright ban. With reference to helping school kids focus better in class, David Strom suggested slowing these sites down instead of blocking them completely. He put it this way:
You can dial down the speed to specific sites and protocols, and make it something that will take just long enough that most kids will tire of waiting for the page to reload, and move on to their legit studies.
Sounds like a good idea, and I won't doubt this approach could also work for many companies. One glaring downside, though, is that throttling requires the use of moderately sophisticated routing or proxy equipment. Viewed in this context, it is clear that throttling may not be a tenable solution for some of the smaller SMBs out there.
Time tracking as a proactive measure
In the same vein, another suggestion to increase the productivity of employees without incurring hefty network equipment expenses may be the use of time-tracking tools. One tool that I experimented with recently is a web-based service called RescueTime, of which I am a paying user.
How RescueTime works is simple: A client app runs unobtrusively in your System Tray area to collect statistics of various tasks performed at your computer. Be it drafting out a new marketing plan in Word, tidying up some numbers in Excel, responding to emails, or sending out a quick tweet or two on Twitter -- each activity is quietly captured and transmitted to your account on the RescueTime website. This information is then automatically collated into a variety of categories such as Email, Games, Business or Social Networking.
When you log onto your personal Dashboard, the system uses intuitive charts and graphs to present a detailed breakdown of how time was spent. Categorizations can be customized and tweaked -- a social marketer may opt to modify scores for visiting Facebook to show as work, for example.
The ultimate idea behind time tracking is not about playing Big Brother or having a committee decide which sites workers can or cannot visit without a throttling penalty. While banning and throttling are reactive in nature, empowering employees with the tools to monitor their personal productivity is proactive and can yield better results. With a better idea of how their time was spent, employees are more likely to be motivated to remain focused - and to knock off on unproductive time.
Have you employed a similar strategy to increase productivity in your company? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.