Being on the Wrong Side of Internet Policy at Work


For many years, at my company, employees were able to surf the internet at will. I was able to check my personal email online, listen to my favorite streaming sports talk show or, God forbid, check the lottery numbers from the night before. But, after being acquired by a large conglomerate, a few changes were initiated in my working and internet world. A strict internet policy was enforced. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were prohibited. Quickly viewing my personal internet email was also forbidden. And my precious streaming radio was heartlessly taken away. My internet world at work was now a privilege of the past.

I know most large companies have an internet usage policy. They don’t want their employees to be lured from their tasks at hand into a den of iniquity such as Grudge, CNN, Twitter, Facebook, or any such blog you could reel off. I know it is probably for my own good but I still don’t like it. So how have I felt the effects?

Streaming Radio

I used to love being able to listen to my favorite sports talk show online without any static whatsoever. This was the hardest for me because I would listen to my sports talk all day long. I would get to know the personalities as well as the regular callers. My solution was to get a transistor radio and find a local sports talk show that is on FM. The AM station that I listened to online has no reception within my cubicle. So I had to settle for second best. It may not seem like a lot to you but they took something pleasurable away from my day. It made my working life less enjoyable. But, I understand, it was for the common good.

Social Media

I have a Twitter account. A lot of people don’t really understand the value of Twitter. The lay person thinks that it simply is a way for a fan to see what Lebron James had for breakfast or to tell your followers what store you’re in at the mall. No, Twitter is a way for people to exchange ideas. To link to interesting articles or blog posts that may be of interest to your world. It is also used to exchange ideas at conferences you may attend. A way, if you will, to extend the discussion over the Twitter waves. If used properly, it is quite remarkable. But, I’m now cut off; at least in my working world. Of course, I could buy an iPhone or a Droid, and pay for the service. But those items are not currently in my budget. My daughter’s college loans and the grocery and utility bills tend to take precedence for some reason. So, what once was a break from my working world that I used to enjoy at lunchtime is gone. But I understand, it really must be for my own good.

Personal Email

Years ago at my work we were told to use our personal email for any personal correspondence. Now, I cannot access my personal email from my office computer due to the internet policy at work. What used to take me roughly 30 seconds to check my personal email, now takes a number of minutes using my cell phone, which is just a basic phone with rudimentary internet access. So I sit at my desk or in the men’s room, with phone in hand, waiting for it to sign into my personal email account and bring up my email. Wait, wait, and wait some more. Finally, I can see my email which mostly contains links that I cannot access on my crappy phone. So, for any personal email that is important, I end up manually forwarding it to my work email account. Then I open up the email from my work email account and click on the link, which, more often than not, is blocked! So, as a result of the internet lockdown, I now spend a whole lot more time accessing my personal email. At least I’m now doing it in the name of progress. I know it must be for my own good.

Blog Reading

I am a lover of blogs. I have my own and I write for others. It is a refreshing break for me to be able to visit a blog that I enjoy. I’ve met a lot of people from reading their blogs and commenting on them. It is a community of people with common interests; the main one being the love of writing. Now I am blocked from reading most of my favorite blogs. I don’t get that break that I used to get from my technical work during my lunch hour. It was something that I really looked forward to. It was a much-needed respite in the middle of the day. But, I must be better off without it.

As I mentioned earlier, I know that I simply could go out and spend some big bucks on a fancy iPhone, iTouch, Droid, iPad, or laptop, and pay the connection fees. But I simply can’t afford it. So, I’ll simply turn back the clock and listen to my transistor radio, take a walk in the fresh air, or read a hard-cover book in lieu of an ebook. When you get used to accessing technology, it’s hard to go without it.

So maybe I am better off without technology during those 60 minutes of free time that we call lunch. Maybe turning back the clock isn’t so bad for me. Maybe the powers-that-be just might know what they are doing. Maybe they really know what is for my own good.

What do you think?


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I am a fellow cubicle dweller and have been working as a software professional for over 20 years. I have a passion site devoted to making your workspace a more organized, efficient, and happier place at Cubicle Bliss. You can check out my latest e-book which identifies some exceptional cubicle accessories which will help you upgrade your small work space to get it as organized and productive as possible!

Discussion

  1. welshstew on the 8th September

    We have a similar policy at work, and for the majority of employees it totally makes sense.

    Ask yourself, as the owner would you want a secretary looking at facebook / twitter when she is greeting a client? Personally I don’t think that gives the right impression of a professional company.

    On the flip side to that, I believe that policies that are too stringent demotivates employees. As you mention, with the advent of the mobile internet, you can’t really stop people accessing sites at work. Your employers also need to keep in mind that certain aspects of the internet are essential for research and keeping your skillset up to date.

    I think a balance needs to be struck, maybe introducing an in house internet cafe, or providing people with 1 hours of free time on the internet is the way to achieve that balance.

    • Bob Bessette on the 8th September

      Hi,
      I tend to agree with you on most points. I think you can put some trust in your employees to do their jobs but not lock down sites. Oftentimes, with this new policy, technical blogs are blocked which makes my job tougher. I like your idea about an in-house internet cafe. Great suggestion.

      Best,
      Bob

  2. BIll on the 8th September

    The thought of not having a free internet connection to work with is frankly depressing. What does your job entail? I simply couldn’t work without a free internet connection. My whole career has been based on learning code via blogs, articles, twitter and the rest.

    • Bob Bessette on the 8th September

      Hi Bill,
      We have an internet connection but the sites have been limited. The blog issue where some of them are blocked has made my work life tougher. Twitter is now a no-no, as is Facebook and any social marketing sites.

      Thanks,
      Bob

    • BIll on the 8th September

      Bummer Bob! It’s crippling as a web designer/developer to have limited access to the net. My boss is amazingly liberal and it has paid-off for us as we will all put in the extra mile for him and the business. Having said that, it’s much easier to manage internet usage and worker efficiency in a small company than it would be in a large organisation. All the best

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi Bill,
      The thing is, I work for a small company but we are owned by a much larger corporation. That corporation has enforced its will on us to have this internet policy. Believe me, if it was up to our management staff they would not be doing this.

      Thanks,
      Bob

  3. George on the 8th September

    I feel you my friend. I too went through a similar situation some time back. I was able to take most of it: no-facebook, no-email, no-blogs, no-games. But when I wasn’t allowed to listen to music, ipod or the radio (not even through a single earplug) I knew I had to put my foot down and look for another job. There is only so much one can put up with. A job should be enjoyable; after all, we spend most of our lives at work.

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi George,
      I agree. The streaming radio for me was the killer! I love Sports Radio and now I have to listen to an FM station that doesn’t measure up to the AM sports shows(they also stream) I usually listen to. I cannot get AM radio at my work so I have no choice. But, getting another job is not in the cards for me at this point.

      Thanks,
      Bob

  4. Nocturnal on the 8th September

    I bought an iPhone 4 to take care of Twitter, Facebook and general web browsing + personal email. I forward every single email account I have to my main GMail which pushes it all to my iPhone 4 in real time status.

    I know you said you can’t purchase one right now but I think it’s a worthy investment if you plan on staying at that job for an indefinite amount of time.

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi,
      I hear you about the purchase. I just can’t justify it at this point of my life. Too many other monetary priorities. I’m going to wait until my work will pay for the service.

      Thanks,
      Bob

  5. Andy Palmer on the 8th September

    Internet usage policy is one of my key indicators of trust within an organization.
    In many places that I coach, the internet policy is quite strict.

    Often, the justification for this is that people spend time on Facebook or whatever instead of doing their work. I guess that they assume that people spend all day on Facebook instead of doing any work. In this case, the answer is not to filter internet access, it’s to find ways to motivate or remove the people who don’t do their work. I’m perfectly capable of wasting time without the internet, just as I’m perfectly capable of having a Facebook or IM window open in the background and refer to it occasionally (perhaps while waiting for a mandatory software update to install…)

    In software development, a lot of the new ideas come from blogs, but these frequently get categorized as “Personal”.
    This means that the internet policy is actively inhibiting us from doing our best work.

    My feeling is that internet policies do far more harm than good, and that people should be judged by the results that they produce and not what they spend their time on.

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi Andy,
      You’re speaking my language. I just feel that “Big Brother” is watching and treating us like kids. Judge us on our productivity.

      Thanks,
      Bob

  6. JP on the 8th September

    I am the administrator of the web filter at work. I have 2 differing views on the subject. Streaming audio/video can cause serious bandwidth concerns. I get at least one call/week regarding severe network latency at one of our locations. Upon investigation a couple of streaming users are utilizing 99% of the circuit causing negative real-world business impact. We still allow some streaming sites, but the really popular ones such as Pandora are blocked.

    The other view I have is on sites like facebook/twitter and other “productivity loss” sites. I feel that it is the responsibility of the immediate supervisor or manager to gauge the productivity of the employee. If you have to block these sites because they are being abused by employees, perhaps those aren’t the employees you want to keep employed. Being able to go to those type of sites is a morale boost for employees and when not abused, I feel, that they can make workers more productive. Happy employees are productive employees.

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi JP,
      I like your views. I hear you about Pandora. If it is affecting network bandwidth, then I tend to agree with blocking it. Happy employees are productive employees. I can see blocking Twitter and Facebook but personal email and streaming radio (if not affecting bandwidth) go a little bit too far.

      Thanks,
      Bob

  7. Justin Germino on the 8th September

    Of course I work for a major company with restrictive autoproxy rules and firewalls that block gmail, yahoo, facebook and so much more. However, I think there can be too much extremism in restriction and employees have a right to breaks/lunches where they should have some ability to unwind with some internet time.

    Also some social media sites are beneficial for networking with peers in the industry.

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi Justin,
      Maybe if they could open up certain sites say during the noon hour would be a good compromise. The problem comes with different time zones so that might not be too easy. I agree that some social media sites are beneficial for networking. Thanks for your contribution.

      Best,
      Bob

  8. Jessica Bosari on the 8th September

    What do I think? I think you need to break away from the tyranny of a j-o-b. Writers can always make a living, and spend the entire time their doing it online. Go out on your own on the side. Start building a portfolio, pick up a few clients, start saving a nest egg to sustain you while you build a full client base. Once you’ve got enough saved to get you through 6 to 12 months, tell them to take their internet policy and shove it. That’s what I think.

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi Jessica,
      I hear what you are saying. With a child in college, one in high school, and a wife at home, it would be very difficult to do all that you suggest. If I was a single person with no dependents I can see where that would be a distinct possibility. But I like your suggestion. Maybe, in time, this could be a reality for me. Thanks for your comment.

      Best,
      Bob

    • Jessica Bosari on the 9th September

      Thanks for replying Bob! I too have kids, although not in college. It’s really a matter of what bugs you more…for me it was not just the restrictive policies, but also the nearly 2 – 3 hours a day I was wasting in my car or on a non-productive lunch hour. That was time I wanted to spend with my kids. I’ll trade a one hour lunch for 15 minutes to get 45 with my kids any day.

      Having the financial back up plan let me take risks without risking everything. And there was a lot of spousal pressure the first year to go back to a regular job. But as I began showing him positive client feedback, explained the earnings potential and picked up some regular clients, he came around.

      I find that the Internet is ever present and there are so many opportunities available, it makes no sense for Internet workers not to set their own terms in life. We are at the center of the one thing that most defines our times. Shouldn’t we take advantage of that?

    • Bob Bessette on the 11th September

      Hi Jessica,
      You said “And there was a lot of spousal pressure the first year to go back to a regular job. ” Does this mean that your husband was employed full-time as well? I do not have that luxury as I am the sole bread winner. I agree that we should take advantage of being able to freelance, etc but it’s getting that started without a sufficient amount of funds to get it off the ground.

      Thanks,
      Bob

  9. bloo on the 8th September

    like most, webmail and social media sites are prohibited from my workplace yet i can access most of these through netvibes. lol

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi Bloo,
      I’ll have to check out netvibes. Haven’t heard of it.

      Thanks,
      Bob

  10. AirWeb on the 8th September

    Just an FYI, Virgin Mobile currently has a $40 for 1200 min talk time + Unlimited Internet pay as you go plan. The LG Rumor Touch is a good phone. They have a cheaper plan for less talk time. So maybe you can afford to have an internet phone…

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi AirWeb,
      Thanks for that information. I’m sure prices will be cheaper the longer I wait to take the plunge.

      Best,
      Bob

  11. Gargi on the 9th September

    You could be writing about me! I face the same issue as you and apply the same workarounds too. Google Reader has helped with reading blogs, because for some reason that is not blocked. But yes, if I feel inspired to comment, I have to (for most blogs) save my brilliant quips for a later time when I can go home and click over to the blog to post my comment.

    • Bob Bessette on the 9th September

      Hi Gargi,
      Good point on Google Reader. That is a good idea. That’s what I do now. I comment when I get home, if I have the time.

      Best,
      Bob

  12. Esteban Carpio on the 9th September

    I think that an Internet Policy must be established clearly and logically in order to work, for example, I used to work in a TNC with a clearly defined Internet use policy: you could use Internet shortly to check personal e-mail, surf tech or even personal blogs, and even facebook (they kept blocking and unblocking it due to a large confrontation between the IT and MKT departments). All other social services (tweeter, etc…), streaming, IM (MSN messenger, skype) were blocked, and everyone was confortable with that. Now, I’m working at a quite smaller company compared to the previous one, and they don’t make any sense: facebook is off, youtube is on, they removed windows theme services and uninstalled sound drivers so you can’t listen anything… It makes no sense at all… and I’m not happy about it

    • Bob Bessette on the 11th September

      Hi Esteban,
      I can certainly understand why you aren’t happy about it, especially at a smaller company. It doesn’t seem like there is a certain rhyme or reason. As I mentioned in the post I now check my personal email using my crappy phone and it takes forever just to sign in. I am actually a lot less productive as a result. And them blocking the lottery numbers is crazy. I check them in about 30 seconds and then get out. It’s not like I’m hanging around the lottery site.
      Thanks for your contribution.
      Best,
      Bob

  13. Pablo Valerio on the 9th September

    I believe for most people with demanding jobs those restrictions are not necessary. If you are able to do your job properly and just use the internet a few minutes a day for your private needs there is no need of blocking access to sites.
    However, for certain jobs, specially in customer service, receptionists, government, etc. the use of social media sites and chat has become a real problem. They really NEED to limit access. Also the use of cell phones is a problem.
    The Internet cafe is a good idea, do your private browsing on your break.

    • Bob Bessette on the 11th September

      Hi Pablo,
      I also like the idea of the internet cafe. At least then, you are in clear view and your boss knows where you are and what you are doing. That is typically when I like to get on the internet, during my breaks. Of course, being a developer, I am always searching for solutions on the internet and oftentimes I try to go to blocked sites. It is unnerving. It’s strange, I know of some employees who sit in their cubicle and are texting all the time. How do you limit that?

      Best,
      Bob

  14. Nic on the 9th September

    I hate the “big brother” aspect of this kind of stuff. There has been talk of these kind of things at my job, and we have been addressed as a group about the likes of blogs and facebook. A warning if you will, but not singling out any particular abusers.
    I am one that likes to have things open in the background while I work, and then check sites while I’m waiting for something like an image to download. I work for a creative agency, so I feel that we NEED to be up to date on the trends, skills and tools that the internet can provide. Take twitter for instance. I’m not big on tweeting myself, but I follow a slew of different people who tweet creative resources, articles and so on. So is that a “time waster?” I think not. I believe as long as I am getting my work done right, and on time, then there is no need to micromanage me and breath down my virtual neck. Unfortunately, our creative agency is run by a nose-to-the-grindstone business man who really doesn’t understand the creative process.

    I use iGoogle, so then I have a facebook feed, twitter, gmail, CNN, BBC news ect. all in one place and I can see everything at a glance. I do need to set up google reader still.

  15. JP on the 9th September

    With regard to personal email and chat being blocked, the percentage of Virus’s that get into the network via personal email and chat is very high compared to other methods. It just takes one user out of thousands to click that attachment in their hotmail account or click that link that their friend sent them on MSN to start a major catastophe. Corporate cost with Virus cleanup can me incredibly high. The cleanup effort typically takes 2x-3x the amount of hours that the typical IT staff would work that week. What if that virus propagates to critical servers? Is it worth it to the business to allow users to get to personal email when doing so has the potential to cause thousands, if not millions of dollars of data loss, data theft or downtime? AV doesn’t always stop/detect zero-day threats. If you have ever been on an IT staff and had to deal with a major virus virus outbreak you know how difficult and time intensive it can be as well as how damaging it can be to the enterprise network.

  16. Bryan Thompson on the 9th September

    Bob, we have a strict internet policy as well, though primarily it’s social networking that’s blocked. After looking at your bio, however, it deeply concerns me that you work for a software company that blocks any identity-building websites. I work in the real estate industry – about as technology-backwards an industry as you can get – and all of our conferences are talking about the business/brand-building power of Twitter and Facebook. You’d think a software company would be all the more progressive on their internet standards.

    As the business paradigm changes, personal and business become intertwined – you’re a blogger so you know this. If you haven’t read Timothy Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Work Week,” he recommends making appeals to your boss to “demo” the process of using internet and social media to see how it can lead to better results IN business. Ferriss recommends asking for a trial run (2 weeks or so) to see if this relaxes the standards. Maybe this is something you could do.

    But no sports radio, huh? Dude, that bites. :(

    • Bob Bessette on the 11th September

      Hi Bryan,
      You make some interesting points here. Our basic problem is that my company (about 300 employees) is under a much, much larger corporation after being purchased about three years ago. Trying to pitch to the bosses the virtues of social media would have to be done at a much higher level than the bosses at my company. Actually I work in the manufacturing industry and develop software and reporting solutions that accompany the hardware we sell.
      Yes, the sports radio blockage really hurt. Fortunately there is an FM sports show in my area that is a decent second option and I have reception on my office radio. I’ve had the “Four hour workweek” sitting on my shelf for about a year and it’s the next book I am going to read.
      Best,
      Bob

  17. Paul on the 11th September

    I hear you. The company I work for has locked down web mail, social networking sites, all manner of web-based rss aggregators (including Google Reader), pretty much all Blogger- and wordpress.com-hosted blogs, and more. Every once in a while I’ll come across another site I can’t get to; sometimes Google’s cached page won’t even get through. The up side of this is that we could browse most of these sites between 12:30-1:30, the standard lunch hour.

    All this is pretty standard fare for us devleopers, since it’s been this way for a while, but the latest site we were working on needed to have some Facebook and Twitter integration. But they didn’t unblock it for us; we had to sacrifice personal browsing time in order to get the project done. Imagine only being able to spend an hour a day working on an important feature for a major website! Not fun.

  18. ktl on the 11th September

    I think in part the problem is that some people have a restricted view on how to use technology as a tool. Those who restrict access to certain things like twitter, or a large number of blogs do so on the grounds that they don’t need/want them so why should anyone else?

    For myself, I think that can be quite short sighted.

    • Bob Bessette on the 13th September

      Hi,
      I think you make a lot of sense ktl. I think there is a bit of ignorance on how these social media platforms can be utilized. I can also understand their concern about how allowing all social media sites could lead to a loss of productivity. In the long run we have to adhere to their policies even thought they may be short sighted.

      Best,
      Bob

  19. Anne Madison on the 23rd September

    I’m taking online classes for professional advancement. Assignments are posted on the class discussion boards, but the nanny-filter considers them blogs, so they’re blocked. We e-mail assignments to classmates and instructors. Can’t do that at work; personal e-mail is blocked. A lot of the research material I need is online, but a good third of the sites are blocked because the filter saw a word it didn’t like. So even though I have permission to spend an hour each day on this education, in fact I can’t. Arrgh!

    • Bob Bessette on the 13th October

      Hi Anne,
      I feel your pain. We also are given an hour a day to work on our homework if we are in a degree program. Have you tried speaking to the IT folk and given them a list of sites that you need access to for doing your schoolwork? They may help you out. And I would use your work email if need be for assignments.

      Best,
      Bob

  20. quicksilver on the 27th September

    Whether an application is blocked or not, self-control comes from within

    Ive been using http://bit.ly/bJwmma .
    It uses a better procedure than blocking social media sites because it only monitors sites like Twitter during

    production hours. People/Employees still have the option to use it for a breather or during breaks .
    Sometimes they use it for work too in helping reach decisions. For me its really unnecessary to block Twitter.

    • Bob Bessette on the 13th October

      Hi quicksilver,
      Actually Twitter can be used as a very educational application. At seminars, for example, Twitter is being used to communicate with others at the conference. So the discussion gets extended into the twitosphere. I just would like to think that a company can trust their employees and if they are not productive then they can start looking at the sites that they are visiting.

      Best,
      Bob

  21. Blake on the 9th February

    Hey Bob,

    I couldn’t help but find this article interesting when i stumbled upon it. I work at an office that recently put up some pretty stringent filters on the Internet. As I’m not working on a face to face basis with customers it strikes me as overkill. What I’ve found to be useful (and fair in my opinion!) is an add-on for internet explorer called Cocoon. I think it’s getcocoon.com and it’s really nice as it lets me get around that bothersome firewall without causing any harm to anyone or alerting our nosy IT guy.

    Blake

  22. Alex on the 13th February

    Not 10 years ago, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube were not present in our work environments. Now, people stretch out to produce justifications, to prove that they are essential to what they do. I believe that you should have the tools to do your job and beyond that is, from one side self-entitlement, and privilege from the other. Trust goes hand in hand with privilege.

    Internet radio should not be available in the workplace. If one person can have it, then they all should – and suddenly the company has their connectivity comprimised by something that can be fixed by a $10 transistor radio. I have no problem with my staff listening to music while they work, provided that they either use headphones or tune to a mutually acceptable radio station.

    Alex, IT Manager

    • Iliana Snow on the 2nd August

      “The times they are a-changing”. Writers like me, in particular, find Twitter, Facebook, and blogs a great source of information. They give me a “heads up” on what’s happening and some much-needed inspiration. You can’t tell women not to use tampons or sanitary napkins, just because their grandmothers survived fine without them. Here’s a nice article you may want to check out: “Would millennials leave a company that blocked social media?” http://healthcarecommunication.com/Main/Articles/Would_millennials_leave_a_company_that_blocked_soc_7751.aspx

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