Guest column: Should you watch them on the web?

Mark Oldman, Cofounder, Vault.com, New york city, NO.

According to a Vault.com survey of internet use, 90.3 percent of employees admit to surfing non-work-related sites at some point during the average workday, and 83.6 percent of employees say they send personal e-mails from their office computers. Managers should be scrambling to scrutinise server logs to prevent this epidemic of goofing off, right?

Wrong. Eighty-two percent of employers allow their employees to spend a reasonable amount of time surfing the web and sending personal e-mails. That's because most employers recognise that using the internet for errands or short personal breaks has become part of the fabric of normal human behaviour. And as employees spend more time in the office, they turn to the web to handle the details of their personal and professional life.

Some employers think personal web use has made their employees more efficient. One manager surveyed prefers personal e-mail to phone calls because e-mail is much less distracting to other employees.

There will always be some employees who will use the web to surf excessively, just as there will always be some employees who take half-hour cigarette breaks on a regular basis, or conveniently get "sick" every Friday. But the answer is not to monitor the web use of employees-a so-called solution that breeds resentment and distrust among employees, and wastes time, money and valuable IT resources to catch a small number of truly abusive web surfers.

Managers should do what they've always done: monitor the productivity of employees and deal with underperformers accordingly. Employers who respect the personal time of their employees and trust them to use the web responsibly will reap the benefits of a content and web-savvy workforce.

The internet has created new opportunities and risks for companies, including productivity problems, bandwidth concerns and legal issues. Controlling employee internet usage protects both companies and employees.

If monitoring employees sounds invasive, ask yourself this: Is it fair to fire an employee for visiting an inappropriate website, or is it better for the company to keep the misuse from happening in the first place?

The internet has given workers access to new information at their desktops. This recreational surfing can cost companies millions of dollars in lost productivity. With most employees having slow modem connections at home, more and more workers are using their companies' connections for their leisure surfing.

Employees who misuse the internet to access pornography, hate groups or other controversial sites can land a company in hot water. Viewed by an offended coworker, such access could bring lawsuits upon a company. Nearly two out of three companies nationwide have disciplined employees, and nearly one out of three have fired employees for internet misuse in the workplace, according to a recent survey from Websense and the Center for Internet Studies.

Companies need to have an enforceable internet-usage policy that clearly outlines what is acceptable and what isn't, and they need tools to enforce that policy. Tools exist that let companies customise internet monitoring and filtering, allowing them to set a policy that protects the company but still recognises that non-work-related internet usage might be allowable in some instances. For example, companies can set a limit on how many non-work-related sites can be visited, or specify that shopping and banking sites can be viewed only after hours.

Most companies have clear policies regarding use of the phone and other company-owned materials. Why wouldn't companies choose to implement an internet-usage policy and enforce it to curb abuses before they happen?

James Underwood, Senior network systems analyst, Canon Information systems, Irvine, California. YES.

The internet has created new opportunities and risks for companies, including productivity problems, bandwidth concerns and legal issues. Controlling employee internet usage protects both companies and employees.

If monitoring employees sounds invasive, ask yourself this: Is it fair to fire an employee for visiting an inappropriate website, or is it better for the company to keep the misuse from happening in the first place?

The internet has given workers access to new information at their desktops. This recreational surfing can cost companies millions of dollars in lost productivity. With most employees having slow modem connections at home, more and more workers are using their companies' connections for their leisure surfing.

Employees who misuse the internet to access pornography, hate groups or other controversial sites can land a company in hot water. Viewed by an offended coworker, such access could bring lawsuits upon a company. Nearly two out of three companies nationwide have disciplined employees, and nearly one out of three have fired employees for internet misuse in the workplace, according to a recent survey from Websense and the Center for Internet Studies.

Companies need to have an enforceable internet-usage policy that clearly outlines what is acceptable and what isn't, and they need tools to enforce that policy. Tools exist that let companies customise internet monitoring and filtering, allowing them to set a policy that protects the company but still recognises that non-work-related internet usage might be allowable in some instances. For example, companies can set a limit on how many non-work-related sites can be visited, or specify that shopping and banking sites can be viewed only after hours.

Most companies have clear policies regarding use of the phone and other company-owned materials. Why wouldn't companies choose to implement an internet-usage policy and enforce it to curb abuses before they happen?

Which side of the debate are you on? Visit comment.cio.com and make your thoughts known. Send column ideas to faceoff@cio.com.

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