You only need to watch a film from the 1980s that takes place in an office to know that there has been a dramatic shift in our workplace environments. Watching such a film, 1 one will likely notice that many cubicles (still a workplace staple) have unwieldy computers and an equally unwieldy office phone. 2 Looking even more closely and you might notice that computer screens provided little more than a blinking cursor and static rows of information. Within that cubicle the only form of escape was to retreat within one’s head. Today, daydreaming—whether in a cubicle or elsewhere—doesn’t even seem possible: at every moment we are tempted by the web. And nowhere is that tug more omnipresent than in an office cubicle.
Many 3 wonder, with online access readily available, how anybody even gets any work done in the first place. They would indeed be shocked to learn that having access to the Internet might actually result in heightened productivity. One should not, however, rush to the conclusion that unrestrained use of the Internet, at work no less, is compatible with any level of productivity. 4 When workers use ten minutes or so of web surfing as an incentive to complete a task. Their productivity is greater than had they not had any access to the Internet. But they have to alternate every few hours.
This phenomenon is not merely 5 what people are saying: the results have been replicated in several experiments. The common setup is researchers will divide subjects into two groups, one of which is allowed to use the Internet after finishing the task, the other of which must finish the task until completion. Another common setup allows subjects unfettered use of the Internet 6 when they try to complete the task. Not surprisingly, this last group 7 acted the worst on tests of productivity. 8 Not so surprisingly the group that used 10 minutes of web access as an incentive tended not only to finish the task sooner than the group without any web access but also 9 to work with more vigor when their Internet time was up.
Managers should, 10 nevertheless, be careful not to prohibit web surfing amongst office workers. A far better policy is regulation. Though this will not be easy to enforce, managers should inform workers about the findings of these studies and together develop a schedule allowing for little breaths of fresh Internet air every few hours.