Policy alone won't curb cyber-loafing
Encouraging employees to self-manage their Internet behaviour is one of the best ways to curb cyber-loafing, says Andrew Wilson, CEO of networking solutions company, Lucidview.
"The advent of social media and rapid development of other Internet-based platforms means a huge amount of an employee's time on the Internet is spent doing something other than work. The phenomenon of surfing the Web on the company's time has become so prevalent that it's inspired its own term - cyber-loafing," he says.
Wilson explains that activities defining this trend include employees constantly checking their personal e-mails, playing online games, watching and downloading videos, searching for music, online shopping, and social media interactions, with the latter being the most prevalent.
He refers to a study by Kansas State University, which found that this trend cuts across the board, regardless of age, gender, race or standing in the organisation.
"According to this research, older people are doing things like managing their finances, while young people spend most of their time on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter."
This often leads to poor productivity and the waste of key Internet resources, he said, as well as huge costs to the company. This is especially true in SA where bandwidth costs are still quite high.
"It can also negatively impact business-critical applications by causing line saturation where important projects could be compromised," he adds.
Wilson points out, however, that besides company Internet usage policies, there are other ways of dealing with this. One of these involves adopting an open Internet stance to manage the problem, instead of a blanket ban of non-work-related Web usage in the organisation.
"This can be achieved by implementing monitoring applications that are already on the market, whose job is to provide complete visibility and thorough reporting on Internet behaviour," he says. "In this way, employees are provided with reports of their own browsing activities - which sites are visited and how often, the number of downloads as well as the amount of bandwidth used. This removes anonymity and, with it, abuse, while encouraging the employee to self-manage his/her Internet usage."
According to Wilson, an organisation can also apply a restricted Internet policy, if required, to prevent employees from visiting sites that are restricted by the organisation.
"Applications built for this purpose limit access to time-wasting sites and ensure that sites deemed inappropriate for the workplace can be completely blocked, guaranteeing that employees cannot visit them, even accidentally. This also minimises security risks to the company."
Other solutions, says Wilson, could be domain-based categorisation, where the organisation employs a domain to determine which sites are viewed. "They could also make use of a centralised management system, where Internet access can be located in one central office, as well as full audit trails.
Wilson believes the looming threat of managerial reprimand and the perceived presence of "Big Brother" could negatively affect office morale.
However, he concludes that the aim should be to treat employees like adults while ensuring employers get something out of their staff.