Pros and Cons: Surfing the Web at Work

We’re all familiar with the quick-clicking that accompanies a manager walking by. Employees rush to browse away from the cupcake recipes, news stories, and sports scores that they are secretly looking at when they should be working. On the one hand, letting employees spend on-the-clock hours on-the-net can be a waste of resources. However, new research suggests that perks like browsing the internet can actually increase employee productivity. As the discussion about company culture heats up, let’s talk about the pros and cons of letting employees surf the internet.

Cons

Many employees do waste a lot of time on the internet. Several studies have shown that workers waste 1-2 hours per day on the internet. Those wasted hours can hurt a company’s bottom line, as wasted hours mean wasted money. To put a finer point on the issue, one study showed that businesses might lose $10,000 per employee every year to office distractions and poorly designed technology. Those sorts of wasted dollars make a compelling case for banning recreational internet use in your company culture.

One way to improve office productivity is to implement a web filtering tool to block recreational websites. You could also have your IT Department set up a monitoring system that keeps track of the sites visited on each company computer. Decreasing idle browsing isn’t the only perk of these programs: internet monitoring can help protect your company’s network from viruses and data loss. The ban on internet use at work could also potentially decrease your company’s liability in the event of a sexual harassment or other employee lawsuit, protecting company culture.

Pros

Surfing the internet at work might turn out to be a perk that is good for productivity. Several recent studies have shown that browsing the internet actually increases employee performance. Taking a short break—specifically internet browsing—gives the brain a quick dose of rest and relaxation, and allows it to return to work with renewed vigor after the diversion.

From another angle, some scientists have argued that temptation to use a perk like internet use drains workers’ energy and productivity. In a paper called Temptation at Work, Harvard Business School researchers showed that workers who were attempting to delay the gratification of a recreational task (online shopping, reading their favorite blogs, etc.) were more likely to make mistakes while working.

An employee who worries all day about whether or not their Amazon order got delivered is likely going to be much less productive than the employee who checks on the order first thing in the morning, and then moves on with their day.

So, while perks like internet surfing might appear to cut into your company’s bottom line, implementing a looser company culture actually increases productivity.

What do you think? How do perks like freedom to use the internet affect company culture? Start a conversation below, or send me a tweet: @ithinkther4iamb

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by juanpol