January 21, 2011

North Americans wasting time on Twitter, Facebook

By Charles Moffat - January 2011. (Facebook and Twitter)

ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY - According to a new study many Canadians are wasting time in the office updating their Facebook and Twitter pages, YouTube, chatting, instant messaging, checking email, checking out online personals, online gambling and file sharing movies / music. (And we can assume many Americans are doing these too.)

The modern office worker is a lazy, incompetent beast who is so utterly bored of their job they spend most of their time doing non-work-related activities.

And according to a new study of 34 large Canadian companies we can now get an idea of just exactly which activities they are wasting their time on. California-based Palo Alto Networks collected six-months worth of network data at the 34 Canadian companies with hundreds of thousands of workers across the country.

That is a huge loss to company productivity (and ultimately Canada's economy) when workers waste time on meaningless social activities they should be doing at home. It also raises privacy and security concerns over employees downloading viruses or employers looking at their employees private data.

“People who like to do nasty things on the Internet are getting better at using social media tools and applications as a way of spreading malicious software,” says Joe Compeau, an IT expert at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

In 2007, the Ontario government instituted a ban on employees using Facebook and YouTube in the workplace, calling them both time wasters. It is surprising many other companies have refused to follow suit (likely because the managers are also on Facebook and Twitter, and similarly bored with their jobs).

According to Palo Alto Networks, several government agencies were included in the pool of Canadian data, but did not give more details.

Web savvy employees are even bypassing restrictions on Facebook and similar websites. According to the data 53% of organizations believed they had Facebook blocked, but according to usage on their networks over 90% of employees were still accessing Facebook.

Palo Alto has done quite a few studies on this in the past. Their biggest involved 760 companies in 70 countries. This is the first time they've broken down the data for Canada.

According to the data Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular activities (it should be noted both could be used legitimately for social media marketing, but they are probably not being used for that). “We have not found a single enterprise in Canada where Twitter is not being used,” says René Bonvanie, vice president of worldwide marketing at Palo Alto Networks. “If it were just one or two marketing people using Twitter, the traffic would be in megabytes. The traffic is in gigabytes. It’s hundreds of people [per company].”

Facebook and YouTube were in heavy use at 31 of the Canadian companies studied. YouTube alone used 6% of the bandwidth.

Most office workers use Gmail for personal email and instant messaging. Meebo, a browser-based instant messaging platform, is apparently more popular than Facebook Chat, more so because Meebo can't be blocked.

“That tells me that Canadians are smart. People have figured out that most companies block traditional IMs but haven’t figured out how to block browser-based IMs,” says Bonvanie.

33% of office workers use Spark, an online dating application.

88% use some form of instant messaging.

91% use Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail.

75% use the file sharing program BitTorrent.

33% use XUnlei, a Chinese file sharing program notorious for spreading viruses and malware.

“Malware can install itself on the users desktop or laptop and start to send out information about the user, their data. It could potentially be a huge loss of confidential information,” Bonvanie said.

Combine this loss of work productivity and growing proof that people who work from home are more productive, and a generation from now we might be seeing a lot more companies who have switched to hiring people to work from their homes.

Academic research shows that people who work from home tend to be more creative, innovative and more productive in both the short and the longer term because they have to succeed in order to keep the company happy.

Of course there is also the opposite argument...

"If you expect me to check my work email in the evenings and on weekend, why can’t I update my dating profile at the office?"


American companies studied: 351

Percentage of American office workers who use instant messaging: 97%

Percentage of American office workers who use Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail: 100%

America's Favourite Social Network: Facebook

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