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The Employer Conundrum: Monitoring Employee Internet Activity

With the introduction of the Internet to the workplace came a new level of access to the outside world available to individuals at all levels of a company. As the Internet has become more important in the day-to-day operation of any business, there has been an increasing trend toward monitoring of employee activity on the Internet. The issue of monitoring employee activity has become a controversial sticking point on which individuals and companies frequently have highly polarized opinions. Regardless of where one stands on the issues, for the time being monitoring employee activity on the Internet is not a Best Practices requirement. This may, and probably will, change in the near future, but for the time being the decision to monitor user activity (and to what degree it is appropriate) is the responsibility of the individual company.

What is the cost of Internet abuse in the workplace? Put simply the real cost of Internet abuse is lost productivity, which translates to money lost by the company. An article on Salary.com estimates that employers nationwide spend approximately $759 billion annually on payroll for productivity lost to wasteful Internet habits. Below is a table showing how salary.com broke down time-wasting activities according to their survey results:

 

For those companies that make the decision to monitor how users are utilizing network and Internet resources there are some distinct benefits. Foremost is getting a true sense of resource utilization. In other words, by monitoring how users are allocating system resources managers and supervisors can get a clear understanding of how productively their employees are using company time. “We never want to say the Internet is bad for business,” says Tony Safoian, president and CEO of SADA Systems Inc. “The Internet isn’t bad for business, it’s good for business.” Monitoring user activity on the Internet shouldn’t be looked as a strictly disciplinary activity. More and more websites are no longer static pages with text written strictly for entertainment. Many newer websites provide visitors with resources that may be valuable to conducting day-to-day business. Through a system of monitoring user activity a company may discover that one user repeatedly accesses an Internet resource as part of doing his or her job effectively. If this resource has a positive impact on one user’s productivity, it stands to reason that the rest of the users within the company could benefit from it as well. In this way, monitoring of user activity on the Internet benefits the entire company.

A company’s major consideration when looking at monitoring Internet usage is bandwidth utilization. Regardless of the connection used (DSL, satellite, T1, and so forth) companies are restricted to a certain number of bits per second. Online services such as streaming radio and video use a significant amount of bandwidth, and can have a deleterious on the amount of bandwidth available for a company to stay productive. “Companies also need a way to filter inappropriate content, as this is a major liability issue,” says Safoian. This is especially important as a number of websites that provide potentially offensive content also represent a serious risk for virus or spyware infection. Employers can do some simple things to ensure that the majority of their available bandwidth stays available, and users stay away from offensive material.

  • Installation of a firewall is a must for any company not only will a firewall help keep intruders out, but by closing off certain ports a company can deny access to streaming video, radio, and to chat clients such as those provided by Yahoo, Google, and AOL.
  • Websites offering offensive content can easily be blocked and blacklisted.
  • Websites with important resources can be white-listed allowing all users access to useful content.
  • Clamp down the Internet entirely and dole out access on an as-needed basis. If the majority of a company’s information workers (those who spend half their day or more at a computer) don’t need access to the Internet, there’s no reason for them to have it as an option. This has been cited by companies as a very effective solution. Users don’t miss what they’ve never had in the first place.

“It is the responsibility of IT workers and departments to remove as much temptation as possible,” Safoian says about the function of internal information technology departments, as well as IT contractors such as SADA. In the absence of temptation IT and Internet violations can easily be kept to a minimum. SADA will be adding offensive content filtering to its list of best practices. Once added, offensive content filtering will be included in every network infrastructure implemented by SADA.

For employers and companies it is important to note that monitoring user activity on the Internet is not about spying. Nor should monitoring of activity be about disciplinary action. Monitoring employee activity is about helping employees to be more productive and effective in the workplace. By implementing a clear technology policy and exercising discretion in monitoring employee activity, employers can avoid the “Big Brother trap” while still maintaining the highest possible levels of productivity and security.

“The business place is not a private environment,” says Safoian about workplace monitoring. Internet and email scrutiny in the office is no different that monitoring and recording phone calls in a call center. Both are intended to ensure that customers are getting the best service possible. To avoid problems at work the best solution is to exercise common sense and discretion with Internet browsing habits. If you’re not supposed to be somewhere, don’t go there. In email never say anything you wouldn’t say in a postcard. Email is by no means confidential, and certain Federal regulations actually require employers to archive email correspondence for a certain number of years. In certain industries these regulations also stipulate that a certain percentage of email has to be read to ensure business confidentiality. This has nothing to do with ‘policing’ the individual. It’s about protecting the company.

For companies interested in a complete picture of how their Internet resources are being used SADA Systems offers monitoring services in partnership with BeAware. BeAware allows a user to monitor exactly what is appearing on designated screens at an interval set by the software user. The software lets a user save chat sessions, view emails, and take screen-shots of another user’s activity. For more information about this product visit the website by clicking here: Be Aware.

By exercising common sense and utilizing tools such as BeAware companies and employees alike can avoid disciplinary action from careless Internet usage, while maximizing the Internet as a tool for business.

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