Most businesses plan to monitor or limit employee access to social networking sites, as concern grows over their impact on productivity at work, research by ComputerWeekly.com has revealed.
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The survey of 361 UK IT decision makers found that 77% of businesses that allow access to sites such as Facebook and MySpace plan to monitor or limit staff access to them. Eleven per cent plan to ban access at work completely in the next six months.
The survey revealed that firms are more worried about employees wasting company time and lost productivity (50%) than security (17%) or damage to reputation (3%).
IT managers estimated that employees spend an average of 50 minutes on social networking sites per day. This rose to 56 minutes among those companies allowing unlimited access, and 62 minutes among London-based companies.
One IT manager, who asked to remain anonymous, said his company had fired an employee after discovering he had spent six hours a day acting as an unofficial moderator for one popular social networking site.
Alim Ozcan, head of IM&T customer services at the London Ambulance Service, said he had banned the use of Facebook and other social networking sites even though access to webmail is allowed.
"Sites like Facebook are more interactive and can engulf the time an employee should be working. Web e-mail is more static and something I have no problem with," he said.
Forty five per cent of IT managers said workloads have increased as a result of policing social networking sites. And 35% said e-mail servers were under increased pressure from incoming e-mails from these sources.
Ian Campbell, IT director at British Energy, said he was not against social networking sites in principle, because they can allow staff to network and collaborate. But he said firms had to introduce mandatory "reasonable use" policies.
Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said businesses allowing unrestricted access (37%) must be aware of potential security and reputation threats, and advised companies to develop strong acceptable-use polices.
"Unsanctioned employee use opens up a Pandora's box of security risks, including customer data being leaked outside the firewall," he said. Koplowitz advised businesses to audit unofficial use of social networking sites and educate users in how to use them without exposing the company to security threats.
Stuart King's analysis of the survey results >>