Gary Martin: Cyberloafing can help increase productivity

You are hard at work when you use tools to jump to to read a latest news story.

Then an email from a friend gives you a hyperlink to the weirdest cat video you’ve seen — since yesterday.

Before you know it you’ve wasted two hours.

Cyberloafing, or engaging in non-work-related screen time while logged into work, is often at the top of the list of how employees engage in the workplace.

Professor Garry Martin.
Camera iconProfessor Garry Martin. Credit: Bruno Kongawoin

It sits alongside other notorious time killers like gossiping with coworkers, taking too many breaks, making personal phone calls, and the one that leaves most bosses marinating in misery – applying for other jobs during work hours.

The emergence of remote working, greater opportunities for flexible work arrangements and access to personal electronic devices in the workplace have significantly increased the opportunities for cyberloafing. Some bosses worry about how little they think they can do to control the focus on productivity in the workplace.

Bosses have attributed cyberloafing to a declining work ethic, lack of dedication and outright laziness, sometimes even labeling those driven to distraction as attention-deficit-ridden closet cogs.

Not surprisingly, some employers have blocked certain websites and social networks or developed draconian policies for internet use. However, an emerging breed of bosses is rethinking whether cyberloafing may have been unfairly portrayed in a negative light.

More and more experts believe that a little cyberloafing can be beneficial for employees, as small breaks between tasks can give employees a new boost and even help manage stress in the workplace.

So an occasional short break from work — a psychological detachment — can help reboot workers who suffer from low energy levels.

Since employees tend to primarily visit sites they enjoy, a quick screen stint is thought to be much like a coffee break or snack by providing the employee with an enjoyable and rejuvenating experience to in turn trigger a brain reset.

As a result, an activity that bosses once considered time wasting workers may well be a productivity boost.

We all cyberloaf from time to time. But when does taking a power cut become old-fashioned slacking off?

Depending on the individual, it is believed that a period of five to fifteen minutes of cyberloafing is likely to have a refreshing effect.

Anything outside that time frame is likely to make the transition to work-related tasks more difficult.

Just because bosses are starting to see the benefits of a little cyberloafing doesn’t mean you should spend all day surfing online at work to get the best airfare for your winter retreat overseas or find the love of your life through a dating site.

But you have to forgo the guilt of spending a few minutes on Instagram when you get tired in the middle of the afternoon.

For more insights and expertise on hot topics in the workplace, visit AIM WA’s Workplace Conversations

Professor Gary Martin is chief executive at the Australian Institute of Management WA