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?