Can Play, Productivity Co-Exist?

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I get together with a group of pals for dinner once a month. Despite our best intentions to stick with the scheduled date, time and restaurant, life usually intervenes in the month between when an outing is planned and when we actually go. This invariably leads to a flurry of e-mail-facilitated rescheduling in the week or so leading up to dinner. Always trying to eliminate e-mail from my inbox, I suggested forming a Facebook group for dinner-related communications. Problem: Two members of the group cannot access Facebook at work.


This rarely occurs to me, as I've never had a job in which my Internet activity was restricted in any way. Sure, I know companies block Facebook and other social networks, due to concerns about their impact on security and productivity. And some companies monitor every keystroke. I think the latter approach is a bad idea, as overly oppressive Internet policies over time tend to hurt employee morale. Instead, I believe employees should be allowed to devote a reasonable amount of time to non-work Internet pursuits.


This opinion was reinforced when University of Melbourne researchers found earlier this year that people who used the Internet for personal purposes at work were more productive than those who did not. Of course, there's a caveat: The productivity boost occurred in workers who spent less than 20 percent of their office time on non-work Internet use. "Those who behave with Internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without," said one of the researchers. (As if we needed a study to tell us that.)


For employees whose companies resist this kind of Internet usage, there are options like the CantYouSeeImBusy.com Web site, which offers games disguised as business applications like spreadsheets so folks can discreetly get their game on. (I like the one called Cost Cutter.)


At the other end of the spectrum are companies like those mentioned in this PCWorld article that allow their employees to take videogaming breaks.


I wonder if there isn't a middle ground, maybe like some of the companies I wrote about earlier this year that encourage their employees to play games that reinforce other corporate training objectives.