by Timothy Lee
Thu, Mar 6th 2008 8:15am
We've been saying for years that the notion that employee web surfing at work constitutes "lost profits" is nonsense. There is an infinite number of ways employees can waste time at work, from chatting with coworkers, reading magazines, or even taking a nap. Monitoring and restricting web surfing isn't likely to make employees procrastinate less, it'll just make them procrastinate in ways that are harder to monitor, and annoy them in the process. The Wall Street Journal has the latest example of surfing-at-work hysteria. Apparently the latest crisis is the time-wasting potential of Internet video sites. The funny thing about the article is that it inadvertently does a pretty good job of illustrating why blocking web-based video isn't a very good plan. One employee actually looked at clients' videos as part of his job, so he had to waste his own and the IT department's time seeking an exception every time he had a video he needed to watch in order to do his job. In an even more ridiculous case, an office had a mass shooting occur in a nearby mall, and all of the employees in the office apparently spent time complaining to the boss for permission to watch the news about it. Here, it was clear that the employees were already sitting around reading stories about the shooting, so they obviously weren't getting much work done. Yet for some reason the boss still seems proud of himself for preventing his employees from watching videos of the event. The article also cites bandwidth limitations as a reason for blocking online videos, but that seems like overkill. If upgrading bandwidth isn't an option (and bandwidth is getting cheaper every year) it seems like a much more straightforward approach would be to simply monitor total bandwidth consumption and warn the heaviest users to keep their consumption down. That would keep the network humming without treating employees like they're children.
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