IT is NOT your mother. We're not here to look over your shoulder while your doing your work, or scold you if you've done something wrong. Unfortunately, many companies want to use IT in this role. Managers and supervisors have many "mothering" duties. Sometimes these include watching closely what you do, sometimes they are that of a stern disciplinarian, sometimes it is being an encourager and teacher and sometimes it is as proud parent reveling in the accomplishments of their "child". Technology is now often being used in lieu of a manager/supervisor performing their oversight role and leaving it to IT perform this unpleasant task. Sad to say but often IT willingly accepts this role.
Specifically, I'm talking about the Internet. Make no mistake, the Internet is a wondrous thing. It can be a valuable tool for finding information, collaborating with others and for conducting business. However, like most tools it can be abused. Employees can use improperly by downloading inappropriate material some of which can be a security issue. The Internet can be a productivity enhancer by providing us access to more and better information quickly. At the same time it can have a negative effect on productivity as people surf the web mindlessly going from sports sites to news sites to getting the latest scoop on Britney Spears.
Companies obviously want all the positive benefits from the Internet with out the negative factors. Technology has provided tools that can help in this regard but in my opinion we place to much reliance on these tools. We are using these tools instead of doing our jobs as managers and supervisors to know what are people are doing, direct them in their tasks and to achieve goals.
Through our network controls we can determine who visited what site, when and for how long. We can also block certain sites and limit access. Seeing a need companies such as SurfControl, Websense and Secure Computing offer packages to make this easier for IT to implement. All 3 offer case studies showing how their product made their customer's networks more secure, more efficient and prevented inappropriate use of the Internet. I think these tools are great ways to prevent access such sites as porn, hate, gambling, hacking where they present a real potential for contributing to an offensive work environment not to mention the related legal exposure. They can also provide a means to control downloading priorities to protect bandwidth and storage from large non-work related downloads. I believe a company not only has the right to use these types of products but should use them. It is part of their fiduciary responsibility to protect the corporate assets and to use them wisely.
The problem comes when we take the use of these methods too far. Managers and even sometimes the "technology puritans" in IT will want to completely block any non-business use of the Internet and want to block categories of sites such as:
- Food & Drink
Blocking sites like this that are merely non-business is wrong for a number of reasons.
- Technology should help supervision not replace it. Supervision involves interaction with your employees. The question isn't why didn't IT alert us to abuse but rather why didn't the supervisor notice a fall off in employee performance and look into the cause.
- People act in the same manner that we treat them. I believe that people will act in the same manner that we treat them. If we treat them like children they will act childishly. If we trust them and treat them like adults most people will act responsibly.
- These really may be business related after all. We in IT don't know everything about what people do in their business related activities. Although at first blush categories like I've mentioned may appear to clearly be non-business related but yet I've seen actual true business needs for each of these categories (and I'm talking about a typical manufacturing company not a sports franchise, car dealer, theater, restaurant or church). Un-necessarily blocking these sites can inhibit employee productivity, just the opposite of what we intended.
The bottom line is we should treat people like adults and trust them until we have evidence to the contrary. We as supervisors and managers need to fulfill all of our supervisory duties and use technology as a tool not as a substitute. Don't punish/inhibit the many for the sins of a few.
What do you think about this?
In the next 2 posts I'll discuss some related topics:
- Practical tips on writing email and Internet usage policies
- Practical tips on Internet monitoring
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