Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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12/27/2005
09:00 PM
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Why IT Execs Should Turn A Blind Eye Toward TV Shows Streamed To Desktops

Now that Yahoo has begun streaming whole, commercial-free CBS sitcoms, it's worth a moment to pause and consider the impact of the growing influx of video--not to mention podcasts and multimedia blogs--on the workplace. My guess is, there's a surprisingly large number of people who spend large chunks of their work days squeezing in every possible minute of entertainment they can. And that can mean only one th

Now that Yahoo has begun streaming whole, commercial-free CBS sitcoms, it's worth a moment to pause and consider the impact of the growing influx of video--not to mention podcasts and multimedia blogs--on the workplace. My guess is, there's a surprisingly large number of people who spend large chunks of their work days squeezing in every possible minute of entertainment they can. And that can mean only one thing: executives and senior managers trying to figure out how to combat the growing drain on productivity. Well, here's what I think they should do: absolutely nothing.I found myself in a conversation recently about this very topic, and the general theme was the admission that we all are willfully--even gleefully--consuming more media at work, and it made me recall the days when companies made big stinks about personal calls in the workplace. If you're older than 30, you probably remember sitting in meetings, listening to managers say things like, "on another note, I want to remind everyone that personal calls should be held to a minimum during work hours--this is a place of business, not your Aunt Betty's kitchen."

Just as those managers had it wrong then, any corporate decision makers thinking about blocking access to online TV should think twice before doing so today. Think about how workplace phone use has evolved. Yes, personal calls at work were a bigger problem years ago, mostly because employers could only expect you to be productive during a predetermined portion of the day. But mobile technology has changed all that. Thanks to our cell phones and laptops and PDAs, most information professionals are frequently available outside of normal work hours. We take calls in the morning from home, from our cars as we commute to and fro, during lunch with a friend, even at our kids' soccer games. We interrupt quality time with loved ones to answer calls from clients. We answer email at all hours, from just about anywhere. We let work wedge its way into our vacations.

Part of the reason workers have accepted this blending of work and leisure is the knowlege that it works both ways. Our cell phones sit next to us at work, allowing us to make and receive calls independent of our employers' phone systems. Our instant messaging buddy lists are typically a combination of work and personal contacts, and let's be honest--most of us respond more quickly, and with more enthusiasm, to E-mails and IMs from our friends and family members. Employers have accepted this intrusion of our personal lives into the work environment because they know what they're getting in return: round-the-clock access to employees, and thus more flexibility and responsiveness as businesses.

If you think about it, the long-ago wrangling over personal calls at work represented a renegotiation of the implied employer-worker contract. And it's my belief that access to video and other multimedia forms on the Web is a natural extension of the same contract. (Quick disclaimer: when the topic is child porn, all bets are off, as no contract should ever excuse such a loathsome interest.) Down the line, businesses will enjoy the benefits as workers populate their lives with more advanced media-consumption devices and find themselves using video technologies to attend staff meetings, meet with customers, or even attend training sessions, from any location, and on any occasion, night or day.

Which leads me to back to my point: If companies want us workers to be available 24-by-seven, then they have to get comfortable with the workplace becoming more of an extension of our lives. Otherwise, they risk creating a lot of bad morale among a workforce that gets less and less time disconnected from work. They shouldn't freak out about personal calls, or a little online gaming, or the morning checks of fantasy football standings. They'd be wise not to overreact to reports that Cyber Monday has turned online holiday shopping into a workplace phenomenon. And they definitely shouldn't waste their time blocking the latest stream of "Two and a Half Men." (And if you've ever seen this show, then you know there are few things in life, creatively speaking, that are more deserving of being blocked.)

But most importantly, companies must not take for granted the fact that modern life has so seamlessly blended work and leisure. Because more often that not, it's working in their favor.

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