Businesses get militant about staff web use

More and more companies are refusing to let staff access social networking sites - or even shop online.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Social networking is the new p0rnography, according to online security firm ScanSafe: more than three-quarters of companies are now adapting their web filtering software (previously used to stop employees visiting dubious ‘adult’ sites) to block access to all kinds of fun stuff: social networking, webmail, online shopping, even sports and booze. This may seem like a bright idea for IT people worried about viruses, or line managers looking to squeeze greater productivity out of their staff – but we suspect employees will bemoan the days when their employer treated them like grown-ups…

ScanSafe has been tracking over 1bn Web requests at its client companies in recent weeks, and has noticed an increase of 20% in the number of firms blocking any kind of access to social networking sites like Facebook, presumably on the grounds that it stops staff wasting their time tweeting about what they had for breakfast. Apparently, 76% now have some kind of block in place, which means it’s considered just about the biggest no-no outside of p0rnography and other downright illegal stuff. We’d think this seemed a remarkably high number, were it not for the fact that we know of a few communications companies with anti-social media policies...

But it’s not just social networking that companies want you to avoid. More than half of employers are also now blocking sport sites, online shopping and webmail, while just under half have stopped access to online banking (even more remarkably, 75% are apparently blocking access to weapons sites, though maybe that’s a US thing – we just got onto a handgun site without any sirens going off). And to some extent we can see the argument: these sites expose the network to undesirable software (like malware and viruses), and they allow people to fritter away their working hours more easily. In these straitened times, companies will argue that they don’t have the time to waste.

However, the flipside of this is that companies are demanding a lot of their employees at the moment: in many cases, staff are being asked to work harder for no more (or possibly even less) money. So they might think it’s a bit churlish that they’re not even allowed to get online at lunchtime and order some shopping, or check their dwindling bank account, or send a message to a friend. What does it say about the levels of trust in an organisation if staff are being policed like this? Besides, in the modern, networked, knowledge-centred economy, isn't this all a bit regressive? In among those pointless tweets, online collaboration might even throw up the next big idea...


In today's bulletin:

July borrowing soars to record high as taxes dry up
Record A-level results fail to quash skill gap fears
Retail sales up as Tesco accelerates banking move
Government told to turn skilled managers away
Businesses get militant about staff web use

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