Opinion

What should companies do about staff Internet abuse?



David Bicknell

e-business

Recent research from E-Business Review found that many traditional UK household names are still at an early point in their Web development efforts, maybe just reviewing their first Web site.

For many, the mere mention of e-business or e-commerce - and some still do not make a distinction between doing business with partners and suppliers, and offering trading over the Web - elicits fear, trembling and anxious looks.

Apparent lack of progress has almost become a corporate hang-up, more worthy of a Woody Allen film. In many companies, dealing with the Web is just having to take second place to normal business. In one company, which has gone through a merger, there are 120 things on its to-do list, and e-business is not one of them.

For some companies, however, just giving Web access to their staff could be a risky business. That's because staff abuse of the Internet has become rife. It is easily done -a few minutes surfing here, the odd Amazon purchase there.

Now, according to a recent study from Websense and the US Centre for Internet Studies, workplace Internet abuse has gone far beyond accessing adult sites. It is now as much about employees shopping, investing and watching sports online in rising numbers.

Websense, whose software automatically bars use of pornographic sites, conducted its Web@Work survey among 1,500 workers at companies across the US.

According to Andy Meyer, Websense's vice-president of marketing, companies need to be aware that employee Web abuse goes beyond the obvious. But he added, companies don't need to take hard-line stances. Many of Websense's customers, he suggested, had adopted a flexible filtering solution, allowing for some personal surfing during work hours. But, you might wonder, what is "some"? And if you allow some Web surfing, don't you open a Pandora's Box?

Some key findings from the survey include:

  • 3.24 hours a week is the average time an employee spends looking at non-work related Web sites

  • 30.3% of workers watch sports online at work

  • 68.4% feel that employees should be allowed to access non-work-related Web sites at break times, before or after work

  • 56.6% favour filtering software that allocates time for personal Internet use each day at work.

    To some, perhaps the easiest happy medium will continue to be not allowing any access at all. If you want to keep productivity up, keeping Web access away from staff will probably help. What they don't know about won't hurt them, is one attitude.

    People are naturally curious, and a few minutes Web surfing can suddenly become a half hour shopping trip, especially with Christmas looming, and the window for practical e-fulfilment already closing. Within the next few weeks, expect the number of times your staff access Amazon's site to soar, together with a string of incoming "confirmed order" e-mails.

    A happy balance has to be struck. The most advanced companies in e-business have encouraged their staff to 'digitise' their jobs. That means giving them Web courses to improve their familiarity, rather than barring Net access altogether.

    David Bicknell is managing editor of E-Business Review

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    This was first published in November 2000

     

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