UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

A Wonderful Discovery

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 2 May 2008

I’ve come across a great idea for improving the efficiency of businesses. The idea is based on the notion of what in the UK has been called ‘tea breaks’ – and it seems that businesses in the US are using a similar idea but call it a ‘coffee break’.

The idea is that the workplace pays people to have informal chats. ‘That’s crazy’ I hear the sceptics say. ‘There’s no sustainable business model’. But the research suggests that during the ‘tea breaks’ employees not only discuss the television programmes they watched the previous night and their plans for the weekend, but also work-related topics. And the informal nature of tea breaks allows people from different parts of the workplace to engage in the discussions. This provides the justification to managers who wish to ensure that any new ideas provide a return on investment. And the latest research (which is still being evaluated) suggests that staff who are particularly active keen in tea breaks have also started to participate in social activities outside office hours. Typically a social networking environment is used, which are sometimes referred to as ‘pubs’, although ‘wine bars’ are sometimes used in metropolitan areas. And managers will be pleased to learn that the discussions which take place in these social environments sometimes relates to work activities – in these cases the organisation gains benefits for zero investment! What a brilliant idea!!

OK, so we don’t quite see tea breaks and out-of-hours meetings quite in these terms. But people do ask what benefits social networks tools such as Twitter can provide. In my case, Twitter provides a similar function to the coffee break – but rather than providing a forum for a mixture of informal and work-related chats with work colleagues, it enables me to have such discussions with a wider group. This typically starts off with people I work closely with, but then extends to people I’ve met at conferences and sometimes people I may not have met but have some connection with.

A good example of this is Bryan Kennedy. I met Brian at the Museums and the Web 2007 conference a year ago. We discovered a shared interest in Twitter and have been following each other since then. This has enabled me to have a low-key insight into what Brian was doing at the Science Museum of Minnesota. And when Brian started twittering about this year’s Museums and the Web conference our informal connections through Twitter enabled us to reestablish contact at the conference more easily than people I’d met a year ago and hadn’t had the opportunity to follow what they were doing,

What’s the business case for Twitter? Look at your organisation’s business case for tea breaks, and that may help you to understand. Now I wonder if, in ther future, staff will have a legal entitlement to a social network break?

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3 Responses to “A Wonderful Discovery”

  1. ajcann said

    Yesterday one of my colleagues couldn’t attend a meeting because of illness, so they stayed at home but were not to ill to tweet (could have been tweeting on the loo for all I know). Target for the meeting was a crusty web skeptic. Remote participation in the meeting via Twitter was so successful that the crusty went away convinced of the value of the technology and vowing to change their ways. So maybe we should add sick days to tea breaks as a way to boost productivity? ;-)

  2. I comment here in the expectation that it will, as usual, be classified as spam.

    Much more solid business gets done during a communal mid-morning smoko out the back door, than gets done at tea breaks. Tea breaks are too formal.

  3. Phil Nash said

    As Roddy says above, I read somewhere that smoking breaks are the cross departmental networking opportunity and that, since the smoking ban has removed such communal areas as the smoking room, all that chat has now gone leaving businesses worse off. In the corporate world they are now considering replacing this by rolling their own social networks within an intranet in order to get people talking again. A simple tea break seems far easier and less costly though, as does allowing employees to use social networks that already exist (as long as it’s mostly for work purposes, can’t have employees on Facebook all day).

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