Companies use Internet monitoring to stop employees from ‘goofing off’

Ever get that eerie feeling that you’re being watched?

With Internet monitoring software that allows companies to record employees’ online activities throughout the workday, there’s a good chance you are. And a recent survey on workplace productivity has given companies 759 billion reasons to adopt such technology.

More than 44 per cent of American workers surveyed as part of a new study by Salary.com and America Online cited Web surfing as the top workplace distraction.

According to the study, employees spend an average of two hours in an eight-hour workday – not counting lunch and break times – squandering company time. It lists Internet surfing as one of the big time wasters. Overall, the study says, the American workforce costs companies US $759 billion a year in wasted salaries. …the American workforce costs companies US $759 billion a year in wasted salaries. Text That’s a reality employee surveillance software vendor SpectorSoft Corp. hopes to change for the better…better from the employer’s perspective, that is.

So what do companies deploying surveillance software seek to accomplish?

They hope to motivate their staff to spend less time “goofing off” on the Internet, and more time working, according to Doug Fowler, president, Vero Beach, Fl-based SpectorSoft.

Before any motivating can be done, however, employers need to get a spapshot of how employees are currently spending their time.

SpectorSoft technology provides companies with that snapshot.

The company’s Spector CNE software is installed on the network to capture and record employees’ Internet sessions – e-mail, instant messaging and surfing.

“Companies recognize they have a company-wide productivity problem but don’t want to get rid of the Internet because they see it as a valuable tool. So they get this (monitoring) tool because they know it will serve as a deterrent,” Fowler said.

In the late 90s, SpectorSoft’s products were mainly used as instruments for parents to keep track of their kids’ Internet activities. Later, they were enhanced to enable business customers perform network-wide installations.

The software automatically captures e-mails sent and received, chat sessions, files downloaded, Web sites visited, applications launched and keystrokes typed, as well as takes screen snapshots every few seconds. Employers can view these recordings at a later time from the network, without having to sneak into an employee’s desktop.

Spector CNE’s e-mail recording covers Outlook, Exchange, AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo and SMTP/POP3-based architecture.

Using the Spector CNE software, Chicago-based Illinois Wholesale Cash Register Corp., a supplier of point-of-sale terminals, discovered that employees wasted between 40 and 50 hours a week on Internet surfing by employees.

“When the word about monitoring got out, and that each employee would be held responsible, non-work activities went down about 98 to 99 per cent,” said Keith Becker, the point-of-sale terminal supplier’s network administrator.

With Internet surfing down and productivity expected to increase, the company has projected annual savings of US$50,000, Becker said.

While some business customers would choose not to inform employees about the network’s monitoring capability, Fowler said it is a good idea to let the workers know. “Not only do we think it’s the right thing to do, (but) from a business perspective, it’s the better thing to do because we think you are going to get more value out of the software when you let (employees) know…one of the things you are trying to do is keep them on task doing the job…and not spend a lot of their day goofing off.”The goal in vast majority of cases should not be to catch an employee doing something they should not be doing at work, but rather to deter unwanted behaviour before it starts.Jason Young>Text A Toronto legal expert, on the other hand, believes workplace surveillance, in general, is “rarely efficient” and does not foster workplace morale.

Jason Young, a lawyer at Toronto-based law firm Deeth Williams Wall, said it is always good business practice to be upfront and transparent about company policies as it provides a benchmark for employees on their privacy expectations.

“The goal in vast majority of cases should not be to catch an employee doing something they should not be doing at work, but rather to deter unwanted behaviour before it starts. In this respect, notice is both more cost effective and efficient than actual surveillance,” said Young.

While interception of private communications is an offence under the Criminal Code, there is ambiguity when it pertains to e-mails sent and received through an employer’s system, said Young.

But the federal government is currently considering expanding this prohibition to more broadly apply to the content of communication rather than its form, he said.

The Canadian Labour Congress declined to comment on the issue, saying it is not aware of any labour grievance related to Internet monitoring at work.

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