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Oct 31, 2011

The Policed, the Police and the Policy Makers

By Tami Deedrick

It seems to be an ongoing debate at companies about employee usage of Internet access. IT departments are often tasked with policing employees by blocking Internet access to blacklisted sites, like Facebook or Twitter, or allowing them but tracking employees’ time logged on them. Businesses say they’re trying to protect proprietary information, limit potential security breaches or keep employees productive. Employees say they need those sites—especially social networking or chat clients—to better do their jobs. And they definitely don’t want to be controlled or watched; it makes them feel mistrusted.

As a media entity that covers everything from baseball to travel to fashion to Norwegian recipes, our parent company knows Internet access is vital. It’s a means to not only find information but to communicate our messages as well. Our surfing abilities are pretty uninhibited. I’ve worked other places that blocked seemingly everything, and I can tell you that the free access definitely saves me time and the frustration of not being able to view something I need to see for work.

I’ve even seen some recent studies say that employees who surf the Internet are actually more productive than those who don’t. It has a rejuvenating effect on employees’ brains. It may not make workers more productive, though, if they have to find elaborate workarounds or take more frequent breaks to check their mobile devices.

And if forcing (encouraging?) workers to bend the rules to get what they want or need wasn’t enough, let’s also throw in the psychological “damage” your employees might feel if they are denied their social networking fix. Depressed workers aren’t productive either.

But for every “increased productivity” study, there’s one saying surfing is an incredible time suck—or even stealing. Again, in my own experience, I find some social networking to be time consuming but I also learn a lot by being on them. How do you measure increased knowledge vs. time “wasted” reading a Twitter feed?

I don’t know if IT departments are the strategists in determining the risk and reward of open Internet policies or if they are generally just the ones who carry out the policy that comes from on high. Either way, it’s either a tough decision or a tough position.

So what’s the answer? Are you the policy makers, the police or the policed at your company? Do you face a similar dilemma? Have you found some solutions that work for you?

I find myself coming down on the side of openness with personal responsibility. You have to give employees the freedom to have a life but they need to be fair about the time and effort they give their employers. Can that be policed?






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The IT department at my work is getting ridiculous policing us. Part of what gets me through my work day is being able to listen to music....but not too long ago, they blocked Pandora. They also block social networking sites and personal email sites. The list just goes on and on.

How can they know what surfing is work related or not?
I go on IBM or Microsoft, stackoverflow, etc. but some useful sites are blogs.
In todays world, getting the information you need is key.

And what is the difference if some employees banter and gab alot, i,e, not productive per se, and others surf their favorite sites?

Especially as we computer people tend to be introverted socially.

Yes - its a hard one. We are blocked from social networking sites, but now part of my job is posting on these very same sites - pretty difficult when you can't access them!

My company has a great way of dealing with the issue. As long as you remain productive and contributing significantly to success, they don't care how you do it. I spend a lot of time finding information that saves myself, and my company, large amounts of time. I'm free to listen to whatever I want and even watch an occasional soccer game so long as I don't impact business. This implies a lot of responsibility on my part that I take very seriously. I don't leave my desk with streams running and if I see things starting to slow down, I stop whatever may be contributing to the problem because I want the company to succeed.

I love that answer, Mike. I think that's how it should be but it seems few companies are as logical as yours. Maybe because fewer people act responsibly?

The only sites blocked at my company are those that use a lot of bandwidth--streaming video, music (like Pandora, which I stream on my phone, hooked up to an extra set of computer speakers), etc. Those are resource issues, not personnel or productivity issues.

My boss is pretty comfortable with allowing occasional checking of social sites, and internet use is sometimes required for finding answers to iSeries questions. As long as we get our work done...

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