Entries from October 2007 ↓

Personal wireless devices: How employees route around obstacles

I missed this USA Today report from October 17 on issues surrounding employees who view pornography in the workplace.  The article raises some intriguing issues, including a focus on lawsuits stemming from employees who felt harrassed by colleagues’ viewing of porn. On the other hand, the article points out that only 6% of men and 5% of women surveyed acknowledged that they deliberately looked at online porn at work. Doesn’t it seem excessive to block everybody based on the behavior of 5% of the population? What does that do to trust and engagement? Surely this can be handled as a management issue instead of taking the technology approach.

More interesting to me, however, is the fact that employees are easily accessing this content even when their companies have blocked access. They’re doing it over their cell phones and their wirelessly-connected laptops — personal gear brought to work over which the company has no control.

You knew this was inevitable, right? As the use of personal wireless devices at work increases (for uses other than porn), companies may just have to face up to the fact that technical solutions are the wrong approach and that training, communication, and a slavish commitment to following through on consequences for those who violate policies will have a much greater effect.

Finns raise the bar

Let’s hear it for those Finns.

I stumbled across an article published on October 20 in the Metro section of the Finnish publication “Helsingin Sanomat” titled, “Surfing at work not seen as a problem in Finnish offices.” The lede sums up the Finnish attitude toward time spent online at work:

From one year to the next, Finns spend more and more time surfing the Net, but surfing in the workplace is not regarded as having an adverse impact on productivity behind the desk.

Even more impressive is the fact that the open-access mentality pervades city government. Hannu Tulensalo, HR Director for the City of Helsinki, says employees understand that Net connectivity is for work-related purposes, but that a certain amount of personal surfing is acceptable “so long as it does not interfere with doing the job.” The same is true in other large cities in Finland.

Part of the rationale is based on employee privacy laws, which prevent employers from engaging in the kind of monitoring that has become pervasive in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and elsewhere, although one expert interviewed for the article suggested Finnish employers start from a position of greater trust in employees than American businesses have.  That expert,  Petteri Järvinen, also echoed one of my own favorite themes:

These days an employee is just as likely to be picking up and responding to work-related email at home, or taking a work laptop home with him or her to work in the evenings. And if the employee is flexible in this way, then the employer must be equally willing to bend a little.

Because Finnish business leaders are not spending time and effort on employees’ online habits, they are able to focus on more serious business issues, like the impact of overworking on productivity. Smart.

Give staff Facebook or risk losing them.

Thanks to Tony Molloy for pointing me to a post by Ross Dawson pointing out an article in Australia’s Daily Telegraph headlined, “Give staff Facebook or risk losing them.” Here’s a taste of the article (and huge kudos to John Holland for recognizing the anti-access hype for what it is, correcting a mistake, and recognizing some of the value the accrues from open access):

John Holland, which employs approximately 4000 people nationwide, recently locked out its employers from Facebook, but after several weeks decided to restore access.

“It got closed down because there was this fear in the market that it was going to destroy the whole world,” Mr Stewart said.

“Yet, they let people talk on their phones, and let them go out and have a cigarette and talk on their mobile phones, but they closed down what is a fundamental communication tool to probably more than half of our workforce.”

Mr Stewart said issues such as internet access and monitoring were crucial when it comes to attracting employees.

A tale of Internet blockage

Bryan Person sends along a link to “Jobacle,” a blog by “Andrew G.R.” The blog is subtitled, “Make Work Better,” and the post is Andrew’s tale of being blocked from much of the Net — “any file sharing in iTunes, turned off IMing, and made it impossible to download any podcasts” — despite the fact that he works for a production company where the Net is an integral part of the job:

We produce promos, commercials, television shows, print ads, and just about any other creative task one could think of in the media realm. Sites like MySpace (this I could care less about) and YouTube have been blocked completely. This has drastically change our productivity and has obviously put a major damper on moral; especially since there was no abuse of the Internet privilege. Furthermore, it has slowed workflow, caused more headaches, and wasted more time and effort than it seems worth. We work primarily with outside clients that are all using these tools- yes tools- to get their job done. Just this afternoon I had to shrug my shoulders while an irate producer watched me NOT retrieve the voice over reads (as I sat on the phone with the voice talent in Toronto try to come up with a work around) all because I couldn’t hop onto his FTP site and download the audio files I needed to continue my job. Needless to say we all had to jump through several hoops to complete the task.

Patently ridiculous, yet it has become the rule, it seems, instead of the exception.

Malware on Facebook? Guess again

The irrational urge to block employee access to online content often results from a kind of mass hysteria: Somebody makes a claim and others blindly accept is as fact — especially if it was reported in the mainstream press.

Such is the case with one of the most oft-cited reasons for companies to block access to Facebook. No, not worries about lost productivity (which still ranks as most frequently cited rationale), but worries about the risk Facebook poses for infecting a company’s servers. It was reported that Facebook’s open API is leading to the development of apps that contain malware.
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Well…not exactly. It’s actually “scareware.” And it’s not coming from any of the third-party apps, but from Facebook’s own “Facebook Flyers” application. As noted in a piece from Mashable:

These ads that show up on your Facebook pages in a similar manner to content-specific Google Ads has been found to be scamming folks left and right. Some of the discovered ads are posing as a dating service, redirecting you to a site that says “Your machine could be infected” and then onto a site for a product called Malware Alarm.

The people behind such marketing are still scum, but let’s be clear: This is a far cry from downloading a virus, yet that’s exactly the reason cited for blocking employee access to Facebook.

It would be nice if the IT powers that be would check their facts before falling in lockstep behind these ethically-challenged marketers.

Nearly half of companies block Facebook access

An article in SearchCIO.com asserts that the hoopla over companies banning Facebook access may be overblown. Citing a study by the InfoTech Research Group in Canada, the article by Shamus McGillicuddy contends, “Despite security and bandwidth worries, fewer than half of IT managers recently polled ban employee use of consumer-oriented social networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.”

While it’s great to hear that 54% of companies aren’t blocking, the fact that nearly half are restricting access should cause jaws to drop. Nearly half of employees are kept from these services, resulting in lost business  opportunities and reduced employee engagement. It’s also hardly reassuring to learn that the main reason companies aren’t blocking is because they have other priorities and not out of a recognition that the benefits of providing access outweigh the risks.

The article also cites an American Management Association study that finds:

65% of U.S. businesses block connections to inappropriate Web sites, such as pornographic or sports gambling sites, a practice called URL filtering.The chief reason businesses block access to Web sites is to prevent the spread of spyware and other forms of malware, said Lawrence Orans, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. He estimates that about 20% of commercial organizations block social networking sites.

Hmm. Malware and spyware are of greater concern than the Human Resources issues that could arise from such behaviors. But again, such filtering often inadvertently blocks inoffensive and useful content. Keeping employees away from porn and gambling — and malware and spyware — should be a management issue, not a technical one. (I don’t block anything from myself at home and my reasonably priced anti-spyware and anti-virus packages have kept my computer from becoming infected. )

Some may take comfort from these numbers. I find them alarming.

BusinessWeek on blocking

Stephen Baker — one of the BusinessWeek writers who authored the turning-point article on blogging back in 2005 — has a post on the Blogspotting blog he shares with Heather Green about a discussion on the BW site about whether companies should prevent employees from recreational surfing. The key sentence:

For me, the question boils down to this: Does a company evaluate workers by their performance? If so, it shouldn’t need to monitor their behavior.

The debate is taking place here.