Younger Employees Teaching Companies That Personal Surfing Isn't Evil

from the about-time dept

For years we’ve pointed out how silly it is for companies to use filters and other tools to try (and fail) to block “personal surfing” at work. It’s based on the faulty notion that every second you’re at work should be focused on work. But offices provide water coolers for a reason, and people take breaks for a reason. Nearly a decade ago, studies started showing that allowing personal surfing at work made employees happier and more productive. A couple years after that a study showed that thanks to modern connectivity at home, those who did personal surfing at work more than made up for it by working at home. And, just a couple months ago a study showed that those who access social networking sites at work tend to be more productive.

It’s not hard to figure out why, really. First, allowing for a good balance between the two allows workers to take short mental breaks which allows them to be more fully focused on work when needed. On top of that, they don’t have to worry about personal things while at work, but can take care of issues quickly and easily. Finally, and most importantly, many start using social networking and other online tools to help them work. After all, despite what naysayers say, these tools can be very useful in many different jobs.

And yet, more and more companies keep installing filters and trying to block out personal surfing at work, insisting that it must be a bad thing. But it appears that as a younger generation who grew up on this stuff enters the workforce, they’re starting to convince companies to change their ways. Younger employees who have to battle internet filters, and even start working from the local coffee shop to avoid corporate filters, and teaching companies that blocking access to useful tools doesn’t help things. And, yes, there will always be some people who abuse it, and workplaces can monitor for that. But they can do so by seeing who is not getting their work done, rather than by simply blocking all access to anyone. In the early days of the telephone, some offices banned them, fearing that they would be used for frivolous purposes, rather than work. These days, that’s silly. In the future, the idea that we should ban all social networking sites will be seen as equally silly.

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Comments on “Younger Employees Teaching Companies That Personal Surfing Isn't Evil”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: While I agree...

Precisely… the managers want to be less productive by forcing their underlings to be less productive too, hence the draconian concept of blocking out all else while at work. Newsflash, noone is capable of accomplishing that while doing technical work (the subconscious mind controls you, not the other way around).

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:


“Finally, and most importantly, many start using social networking and other online tools to help them work.”

If anyone takes a second to think about it, this makes perfect sense. If I have a question about why an Xperson would submit something that looks like Y, and I know another Xperson, I’d immediately consult with them. We’d have better communication than even asking the original Xperson, since we’re likely on the same page (and my Xperson might be able to call BS on the original Xperson’s submission.)

JAy. says:

Internet Access vs. Telephone Access

My wife was in HR for a very large company (single digit Fortune list), and when they first started rolling out internet access to individuals, they had a policy for it (to no one’s suprise). Interestly, a collegue of my wife’s had the original telephone use policy from when the company had started allowing desktop telephones (way back when).

If you took the telephone policy and replaced the word “telephone” with “internet”, it was almost verbatim the “new” internet policy!

Scott Horvath (user link) says:

Wasting Time

If social media sites are going to be blocked then the same organizations might as well block eating lunch, socializing with fellow coworkers, using the phone, and going to the bathroom. I can guarantee that people waste more time doing non-work things using those “services” then they do social media sites.

How many times have you seen someone take a 2 hour lunch break and log it as 30 minutes? Have many times during the day do you see people idly chatting for 15 or 20 minutes about non-work related events? How many times have you taken, or done, personal calls on your phone?

There’s more time-wasting potential available in allowing internet access to Google, CNN, and other sites…not just social media. The argument that social media sites increase time wasting is absurd.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: PCI baby!

Yeah PCI sucks…. Because of PCI we MUST block damn near everything. Of course I am the guy in charge of the web filter (websense in this case) so I created an AD group called web-executive and put all the IT Architecture team (my team), officers, managers and directors in it. Thus we have almost 0 filtering with drugs, gambling, and porn pretty much being the only filterd categories. For some reason the PCI auditors bought it and haven’t said a word about it. As long as the average user is in the web-standard group (which has almost the same restrictions with the added social networking block) we’re cool.

I know… makes no sense, but what are you gonna do. Thanks Enron for PCI and Sox.

Bradley Stewart (profile) says:

In Search Of Excellence

Many years ago I read a book by this title. It dealt with creative practices that large company’s employed in relating to it employey’s. One story told the story of the author asking the head of the company where the time clocks are?The head of the company said we don’t have any time clocks. The auther asked how do you know if people are on time or not? The company’s head said everyone comes in on time all the time but if they don’t we speak with them. I think if everyone is doing their jobs well a little down time is ok. I must say though I was involved in businesses for almost four decades there are always people that will abuse the privlidges that they are given. When this would happen we would speak with them about this. Usually we were able to work it out.

TJ says:

Depends on what's filtered

You always trot out the most easily defended categories when discussing filtering. As someone else touched on, many places that filter do so to block known malicious sites, hacking sites, porn, p2p sharing sites, and other categories with serious security, legal, and/or other liability issues. Many managers are open to reasonable policies, and few places I’ve seen have draconian, silly levels of filtering. Those that do are usually for specific legal compliance. On the other hand, I recently learned of a company that uses its Websense filter to block access to online mapping sites from company-owned Blackberries, something there was no apparent reason for. So am sure there are some real dummies out there too.

Chris H says:

They used to block youtube and social networking where I work. One day, youtube just started working. Since I had a friend in on hte IT team, I asked why. He said it was because they now had the bandwidth to support it, so like other people have said, not all decisions are based on a company thinking that people will screw around. Same reason why they unblocked facebook and myspace. They created a company social networking site to foster collabertion and openness, and thought it only fair that we should be able to do the same outside the intranet.

Matt says:

You're forgetting the security factor

I’m all for giving the employees an inch, but you cannot deny the security risks posed by the social networking sites. Malware creators aren’t stupid, and they know where the easy pickings are. It takes a fairly sophisticated security approach to keep your users (and ultimately your corporate network) safe from the shit that is being drive-by installed from the ads on social networking sites.

matt (user link) says:

Web is only part of the challenge..

Full disclosure here: I work for Palo Alto Networks – a security vendor.

One of the things we see is that exerting some level of policy over the use of the web is only part of the picture. Think about the non-work applications that are client server-based. File sharing, media, instant messaging, even some email applications – all of which may not fall into the approved list of applications.

Our customers are constantly amazed at the wide variety of applications that are traversing the network. Some have tried to lock down the network but the user backlash was so great, they upped the pipe and rewrote the application usage policy. The policy blocked bad applications like P2P, external proxies – and allowed IM, Social networking, etc but it was scanned for threats. It is a win-win scenario.

Companies are rapidly realizing that users will find a way to use their favorite apps. Applications are not threats. They do however pose risks. Better to, as the article above says, figure out a way to embrace it but in a secure manner – to the benefit of all employees.

Don’t take my word for it. Hear from one of our customers.


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