I was wandering around the outer bounds of the Interop show floor this afternoon and stopped by a booth from a company called SpectorSoft, which sells Internet monitoring software for small businesses and home use. Never having tried their software, I can't comment on it; from the short demo that I saw, it looked like it could be quite effective. It was the booth that made me feel a bit uneasy.The back wall featured photos of what were obviously supposed to be the faces of typical employees (or, at least, employees from the eyes up). A large headline explained, "Find Out Everything They Do Online!" What do these three do online? "I hog bandwidth with unauthorized applications." "I pass company secrets via the Web." "I shop online after closing my office door."
It's the employee as enemy. All those people you're paying good money for aren't actually working. They're taking advantage of your time and your network to endanger your organization and steal your payroll by playing rather than working (or worse).
Now, I'm a realist -- and I'm also someone who's been in the business world for quite a number of years. I'm quite aware there are people who do try to accomplish as little on company time as possible -- and who use their computers to help. This isn't something that started with technology; when I was in college, and worked as a temporary secretary, I met a lot of people who would spend most of their time doing crossword puzzles, talking to friends on the phone, or adjusting their hair. The Internet just provides a wider spectrum of time-wasting activities.
However, I've also worked at offices in which the basic assumption was that no employee would use the Internet judiciously unless watched constantly. The result was a poisonous atmosphere which any reasonable employer would want to avoid. In one company, for example, we were told that we weren't allowed to visit any non-business-related Web sites, or check our personal e-mail, at any time (including lunch) using company computers. No exceptions. You wanted to check tomorrow's weather? Sorry. You wanted to find out whether your kid had e-mailed from her high school trip? Wait until you get home. At one point, when I mistakenly clicked to a football fan site (a sport in which I have little interest), I was called into the manager's office and grilled. Few employees stayed longer than they had to.
It is important to make sure that the people in your company are not abusing their Internet privileges, stealing secrets, or using sites that might create legal problems for your company (like porn or hate sites). Used well, software created by companies like SpectorSoft can make sure that nothing untoward is going on -- but perhaps they won't make the automatic assumption that an occasional trip to Amazon.com is a major sin.