A Facebook-Free Workplace? Curbing Cyberslacking
What do ABC’s “Lost,” the World Cup and Playboy share in common? They all have the potential to put a big dent in small businesses’ production flow these next few weeks, as each has something new to tempt employees who work online.
The TV series “Lost” ends May 23, giving viewers much to chat about on fan sites in the days leading up to and after it airs. And starting June 11, the 2010 World Cup, which takes place in Africa this year, will be live during office hours in the U.S. Sports lovers may be inclined to frequently check sports sites for score updates.
Employees at AD60 Inc. in Brooklyn, N.Y., are limited to visiting only family-friendly Web destinations.
Meanwhile, Playboy Enterprises Inc. announced earlier this month that it’s going out of its way to aide and abet cyberslackers by launching TheSmokingJacket.com, a new “safe-for-work” men’s entertainment site. A start date has yet to be announced.
Small businesses often lack the resources of larger companies to crack down on employee’s online activities through Web-tracking software or extra managerial support. And many owners, preferring informal workplaces, dislike imposing strict rules. Yet, research shows that ignoring employees’ Internet misuse—from instant messaging to playing online games—may be costly.
Consider, for example, that just last month, 57 million Americans visited social-networking sites from a work computer, spending an average of 15 minutes on them per day, reports comScore Inc., a provider of digital-marketing information in Reston, Va.
Perhaps more eyebrow-raising, 20.6 million Americans also visited an adult site from a work computer last month an average of 8.1 times, according to Nielsen Co., a New York media-information firm.
Some business-owners say they aren’t comfortable with outright bans, even when employees cross the line. For instance, Amy Stanton, owner of Stanton & Co., a four-year-old sports-marketing company in Marina del Rey, Calif., has noticed staffers uploading personal photo albums to Facebook during work hours, among other infractions.
Still, “I never want to reach the point where I have to be that controlling,” Ms. Stanton says. “We all have this blend of work and life because we work long hours.”
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Finding a happy middle ground has been tough, Ms. Stanton says, because some of her employees are responsible for managing clients’ accounts on social-media sites—and she’s friends with them on Facebook. Plus, she can’t always tell if they’re goofing off since their work involves hard-to-quantify tasks, such as pitching or assisting clients. “There aren’t a certain number of things that have to be done at the end of every day,” she explains.
One way to minimize cyberslacking without appearing overly harsh is to simply communicate to employees just how damaging it can be to a small business’s bottom line, says Rocki-Lee DeWitt, professor of management at the School of Business Administration at the University of Vermont. Bosses need to show their commitment to distraction-free productivity, too. “It helps to walk the talk,” she says.
Creating a policy that lists what sites are acceptable to visit from a work computer, for how long and when—plus the consequences of violating it—is another way to curtail Internet abuse, adds Ms. DeWitt.
At AD60 Inc., publisher of MyBankTracker.com, a personal-finance site, employees are limited to visiting only family-friendly Web destinations, says co-founder Alex Matjanec.
“What you put on your screen can’t offend anyone around you,” he says, particularly since the company’s Brooklyn, N.Y., office is an open workroom without cubicles.
Mr. Matjanec says he used to allow employees to spend as much time as they wanted cyberslacking as long as they got their work done. But he discovered that some staffers were staying late at night to keep up, prompting him to set deadlines for assignments.
“We want them to have a life,” he says. “Anytime you’re staring at a screen for 10 hours, that’s not good.”
To be sure, some business owners say investing in software that monitors employees’ activities online is worth the expense, especially because some programs also can tell if intellectual property has been copied without permission.
Worried that his 30 employees were spending too much idle time online, John R. Zayac, owner of IBG Business Services Inc., a merger-advisory firm in Greenwood Village, Colo., installed a tracking program two years ago on his company’s computers. His hunch was correct: Employees were each spending an average of 45 minutes a day using the Web for personal reasons, he says.
As a compromise, Mr. Zayac has set aside a spare office with a computer that doesn’t have the monitoring software on it for employees to engage in nonwork-related Internet activities. He says the arrangement is designed to prevent workers from developing a grudge for having to, say, use up their lunch break to find a café with a Wi-Fi connection to do some personal banking or emailing. IBG employees can still spend idle time on their assigned computers but their usage will be recorded.
“This is much more self-policing,” says Mr. Zayac, adding that productivity has since picked up significantly. “It creates a better environment for working because of the flexibility.”
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