Whether it's checking out a funny video recommended by a Facebook friend or reading an interesting blog post tweeted by one of your followers, social media offers a brief escape that can replenish a workers' energy and give their mind a rest before they return to the rigors of the job.
A study published two years ago by Australian scientists at the University of Melbourne concluded that the mental relief provided to workers from judicious use of social media sites, blogs and YouTube during office hours increased productivity by 9 percent.
4. Helps build teamwork, cohesiveness
This is especially true of companies in which employees are working from different locations. In-house tools such as private social network Yammer and wikis can allow groups working on specific projects to keep teammates updated in a more efficient fashion than email or the telephone (does anyone use those things anymore?).
Watching a project come together bit by bit through a workplace social network in and of itself can fuel commitment, enthusiasm and a collective sense of purpose and achievement. It also can keep people accountable, which is never a bad thing.
The rather unfortunate flip side
But there's another side to the social media coin, one that many of the self-proclaimed SM "experts," "gurus" and "ninjas" don't like to talk about all that much: Social media can be -- in fact, has proven to be in many cases -- a productivity drain.
A March survey by social email software vendor harmon.ie, conducted by market research firm uSamp, concludes that the "proliferation of collaboration and social tools designed to increase productivity is actually costing businesses millions of dollars per year in lost productivity."
Specifically, harmon.ie says, here's why:
1. Workus interruptus
Social media is a source of constant work interruptions. The harmon.ie survey of 515 email users working at U.S. companies reveals that "nearly 60 percent of work interruptions now involve either using tools like email, social networks, text messaging and IM, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications. In fact, 45 percent of employees work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted, and 53 percent waste at least one hour a day due to all types of distractions."
So while working at home may spare you the maddening bother of a chatty cubicle neighbor, escaping the social media time-suck is more difficult.
2. Tempting the weak
Having your focus disrupted is one thing, but even worse, some employees will stop working by choice to delve into their social networks because...well, because they can.
According to the harmon.ie survey, two out of three respondents said they "will interrupt a group meeting to communicate with someone else digitally, either by answering email (48 percent), answering a mobile phone (35 percent), chatting via IM (28 percent), updating their status on a social network (12 percent) or tweeting (9 percent)."
And that's during a group meeting! Those numbers undoubtedly rise when the employees are left to their own devices at their desks. Why do you think there are so many well-tended farms on FarmVille?
3. Shallow Al
Constant interruptions -- either initiated or suffered -- not only rob employees of time on the job, they also have a negative impact on the quality of a worker's thoughts.