Survey: Personal use of Web at work offset at home

At many companies, employees are told not to spend time surfing the Web on personal business. But according to a new study released on Wednesday, clamping down on Web use at work may not be in a company's best interest.

Results of the National Technology Readiness Survey, conducted by the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business and Great Falls, Va.-based marketing company Rockbridge Associates Inc., suggest that U.S. workers spend more time using the Internet to do office work at home than they do for personal reasons at work.

The survey, conducted in December, looked at the Internet use of 501 people over the age of 18 and found that people who spend 3.7 hours per week surfing the Web at work spend an average of 5.9 hours per week at home using the Internet for work-related purposes.

By contrast, people who don't have Internet access at home spend spend more time at work -- 6.5 hours per week compared with 3.7 hours -- using the Internet for personal reasons.

"This shows that the line between work and personal life is blurred," said Ronald Rust, director of the Center for e-Service at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. "Totally segregating work from personal activities might result in a net decline in work performed, as well as lower workplace morale."

Susan Getgood, a spokeswoman for SurfControl PLC in Scotts, Calif., said she doesn't disagree with the results of the study. SurfControl develops Internet usage-monitoring tools that can alert companies when employees are visiting objectionable Web sites.

"Typically, Internet use policy reflects a corporation's culture -- if it's a strict culture, then the policy will be strict," said Getgood.

Getgood said that although companies may not object to workers doing some personal Web surfing at work, they certainly don't want employees logging onto X-rated Web sites. "By using Internet-filtering tools, an employer can allow employees to surf the Web, without letting abusers abuse," she said.

Max Kalehoff, a spokesman for comScore Networks Inc. a Reston, Va.-based company that tracks e-commerce, said that while his company doesn't look at Internet use at home vs. Internet use at work, he isn't sure the results of the study are accurate. "We've found that self-reported data on behavior isn't all that accurate, even if the respondents are anonymous," he said.

The study also found that while at work:

-- 18 percent of adult Internet users conducted a transaction on a federal government Web site during the previous 12 months, up from the 11 percent reported in 2001.

-- 22 percent of adult Internet users checked account information with a telephone, gas or electric company, up from 13 percent in 2001.

-- 20 percent of adult Internet users paid a credit card bill online, up from 15 percent in 2001.

-- 23 percent of adult Internet users paid a bill other than for a credit card online, up from 16 percent in 2001.

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