harmonielogosmall.pngSocial collaboration in the enterprise was intended to facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing and productivity. According to a new report commissioned by Harmon.ie and conducted by online market research firm uSamp (United Sample), social collaboration tools may be having the reverse effect.

Social Interruptions

The report, which surveyed 500 employees in U.S. businesses of all sizes, found that nearly 60% of work interruptions now involve either using tools such as email, social networks, text messaging and IM, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications. Additionally, 45% of employees work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted, and 53% “waste” at least one hour a day due to all types of distractions.

While traditional activities such as phone calls, talking with coworkers, and ad hoc meetings account for 43% of work interruptions today, the report found that most distractions are now electronically based. Respondents reported getting sidetracked in email processing (23%), switching windows to complete tasks (10%), personal online activities such as Facebook (9%), instant messaging (6%), text messaging (5%) and Web search (3%).

Multiple devices on the desktop also contributed to the problem, with 65% of respondents reporting that they use up to three additional monitors and/or mobile devices simultaneously with their main computer screen as they work.

Social Implications

While the survey links distraction to wasted dollars, the implications are quite clear -- social media causes fractured work. But is it necessarily a bad thing? Of course, when you add up the potential dollars of times spent presumably “wasted,” it sounds bad, but what about ideas, insight and inspiration gained from being “distracted” by a tweet, clicking on a link and reading an article about a relevant work topic? I doubt there’s a measurable value for that.

And what about mobile workers? Successful mobile workers don’t see things like emails, social media or multiple devices as distractions; rather they view them as opportunities for connections, conversations and collaboration.

The Lack of Information Management is Distracting

There is another part of the survey that does hold some weight. The amount of time users spent looking for documents is significant. Users spend an average of 2 1/2 hours per week trying to find the documents they need in multiple local, corporate and cloud repositories. Such activity adds up to 16 work days annually, costing businesses $3,900 per $30/hour employee per year to subsidize inefficient document management.

Not surprisingly, email is the culprit, as most users use email as an archive of attachments, conversations and other necessary information. Only 9% look to cloud storage for documents.

The Cost of Worry About Social Media Disruption

The thing about social media, networking and collaboration that often goes overlooked is that it’s all about transparency. The more open and honest you are about it, the less intrusive these behaviors become. A lot of efforts goes into sneaking around to check Facebook, Twitter and other social collaboration tools when it’s not integrated into a company’s culture. Having access to social collaboration tools doesn’t inherently make you more productive. Having the freedom to experiment, explore and discover does.

Alas, social media has posited itself as a chicken-and-egg theory, allowing us to “waste” most of our days worrying if it has caused disruption or that its disruption is merely the result of companies that have yet to fully invest in it.