Skip to comments.Many companies limit Web use, monitor workers
Posted on 01/10/2004 5:56:49 AM PST by Holly_P
The Internet is a phenomenal corporate resource, a mega-library on the desk of every worker that enables them to know anything and everything around the clock. Used correctly, it supplies the tools to put businesses on the fast track and give them the competitive edge they need in order to stay ahead of the competition.
Or perhaps it is the ultimate distraction, the 800-pound gorilla that sits between people and productivity. Come to work in the morning, and there is a choice:
Either log on to your competitor's site, assess its strategy and plan a counterattack.
Or enter the world of pornography, downloading infinite salacious images. Shop until you drop. Download music. Investigate sports and gossip sites. And then collect your paycheck.
While this seems like extreme behavior for anyone with an ounce of work ethic, it has become a common problem for corporations in an area where personal and work technologies easily converge: People who have unfettered access to the Internet on the job aren't getting their work done.
So companies are installing software that tracks exactly how much time each employee spends on which site and flat-out blocks access to inappropriate destinations.
"The people who use company resources inappropriately don't have the same perception of right and wrong as many other people in the work force that is, 'When I am at work I should be making money for the boss,' " said corporate trainer Dave Murphy, president of Itrain in Elkridge, Md.
Brian Burke, an analyst with market researcher IDC in Framingham, Mass., said that's just the way some people are. "If someone really isn't into doing their work, they will be at the water cooler or in someone else's office goofing around," Burke said.
Added Murphy: "They can't wait for what they want; it's a quest for instant gratification. People don't stop to think what they are doing. And they don't realize that their boss can track everything they do."
The solution should be simple: Employers need to set policies on the use of the Internet by employees during work hours. And employees need to follow these rules if they want to keep their jobs.
Some people even think employees should know instinctively that it is wrong to collect a paycheck and spend most of the workday goofing off, while others find that particular attitude quaint.
Burke said there are four reasons a company needs to control employee access to the Internet: virus prevention, potential legal liability (such as cases where employees visit porn or hate sites at work and forward information to others), loss of employee productivity, and loss of bandwidth.
If one person is constantly downloading MP3s from a music site, that can endanger another's ability to transfer large spreadsheets or presentations. If the files violate copyright, it could open up the company to legal action.
"Most companies don't want to do the Big Brother thing," said Frances Schlosstein, vice president for business development at WebWasher, a German Internet-filtering company with U.S. offices in New York and Santa Clara, Calif.
"But many of them are already filtering out porn sites, hate sites and gambling. If the employees aren't going to self-regulate, the company needs to do something to protect itself."
Added Murphy: "I will trust my employees unless the monitoring software gives me some reason not to."
Murphy has a hard and fast rule for his own employees: No recreational Internet use during work, unless you make a specific request. He notes that he has never turned down such a request. But this strategy will work only in a small company, and no one is likely to ask permission to spend half the day in search of underage porn.
Battle over privacy
Employees who aren't egregious offenders may feel offended by heavy-handed Big Brother tactics, but they have little recourse. They can only follow the rules and wonder if the offenders were the same ones whose misbehavior spoiled it for everyone in elementary school.
From an employee's viewpoint, online activity becomes a battle over privacy. One would feel invaded if the boss were to listen in on phone calls to a spouse or a bookie. Such communication is personal, and it's allowed as long as it does not interfere with your job.
"If someone spends two hours out of a 12-hour day online with personal stuff, that may be OK, while the same amount of time during an eight-hour day would not," Schlosstein said.
Employers can configure software to determine exactly how much time employees are spending on what sites. Burke explained how some employers have not only screened out certain sites but also allowed unfettered access only at certain times.
"There's nothing wrong with paying bills or checking sports scores during lunch," he said. Such software can grant access to different individuals at specific times.
Still, some employees think monitoring online activity is a privacy violation, like listening in on phone calls. So for every WebWasher there is an "anti-WebWasher," software intended to thwart monitoring efforts. One example is Cleansweep, a $39.95 utility that erases temporary files and wipes out the wake left from online surfing.
It's hard to picture someone bringing such software to work and loading it on a PC. An employee who seeks to use Cleansweep in order to dodge the boss's eye will certainly attract attention just by installing the software. And any employee who attempts to defend the right to goof off probably won't be around for long.
Even so, some misleading marketing material plays to that audience. Spam that links to Cleansweep's Web site states: "Surfing Porn at Work? Do you want to get fired? It's a Known Fact: Over SEVENTY PERCENT of all businesses admit they record and review their workers' communications and activities on the job. Cleansweeper is the privacy protection you need!"
Even if it's impractical to install Cleansweep on the corporate network, this marketing effort is aimed at a narrow segment: people who feel it is their right to download porn at work and are looking for a way to protect that activity.
Murphy thinks the line between right and wrong is generational, drawn at around age 35. People who are older feel a responsibility to the company, to give it a day's work for a day's pay. But younger workers may not be so committed. "There is a constant quid pro quo," he said. "Like 'If I do this, you will pay me that.' "
Gender, race and economic background have little impact on this attitude divide, Murphy says, and he concedes that the pattern isn't absolute even when it comes to age. But he says the same generational difference shows up in unauthorized music downloading.
"The people who will download music they don't own and keep it may have a similar attitude to their company's resources," he said.
Internet rules, at-work version
While online at work, there are a few tips that will help you stay out of trouble. 1. Don't log on to sites that have nothing to do with your job, unless it is permitted by your company's written Internet policy. Know that your boss is figuratively reading over your shoulder as you go online.
2. Don't ever allow anything remotely pornographic to occupy your screen. If it pops up, report it to the information-technology department.
3. Don't use e-mail for personal messages unless it is permitted by your company's Internet policy and you don't care if the whole world reads the correspondence. Know that everything you write is company property.
4. Don't even think about installing blocker software on the work machine. Report it to your superior should mail advertising such a product arrive in your inbox.
5. If you are an employer, spell out every detail of how you want people to behave online.
6. If you are an employee, follow these rules.
7. Earn your paycheck. Do your job.
I see it everyday and it really gets me to shakin' my head in amazement.
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Kinda like Pete Townsend, huh?
I'd like to know if there is any software that would limit access to only an approved list of sites. Trying to block sites only supposes that you can guess ahead of time how people will misuse the net.