The workday Web

If you’ve got Web access from your desktop, the temptation stares you in the face everyday. You know that one click can suck you away from a tedious workday to a place you would rather be – a mall, a football game, a concert – thanks to the Web. Whether or not you click depends on how Web friendly your company is.

Some employers see the Web as an information resource. Others see it as a distraction, legal liability or security hole. It’s a management issue as much as it is a technology issue. E-mail sparked a similar debate. Instant messaging is also getting a hard look when it comes to productivity trade-offs. The Web, though, is becoming more intrusive than ever in the workplace. Nielsen//NetRatings, an Internet measuring company, estimates the number of workers who log on from the office (referred to as the “at-work Internet audience”) now totals 46 million, a 17 per cent increase over 2001.

In February 2002, a report by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) showed that workers who use the Internet were less likely to leave the office to run errands, talked less on the phone and read fewer books, magazines and newspapers during the work day. And 79 per cent of respondents reported that the Internet has improved their productivity. Michael Zimbalist, executive director of the OPA, said most workers view the Internet as a tool to get things done, for business and personal reasons.

Bill Gassman, a research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., has been watching the Web creep into the enterprise for five years. He said the Web is becoming more important for more employees to have. Gassman said the Web has received a bad rap as far as productivity is concerned. He said studies showing that the Web is costing businesses millions of dollars as a result of decreased productivity, often sponsored by vendors, are built on faulty formulas.

Gassman said if and when a company decides to begin blocking Web sites, the decision should involve the company’s legal team, human resources representatives, security and IT experts, and a user group. He warns that filtering could upset the culture of an organization and end up costing a company more in terms of disgruntled employees. “It’s a solution, but it shouldn’t just be thrown in,” Gassman said.

It’s hard to say how Web policies are going to change, according to Chad Robinson, senior analyst at Westport, Conn.-based Robert Frances Group Inc. Because the Internet generation is moving into the workforce, companies may have to bend a little to adjust to the work habits of their new employees, who have spent almost half of their lives symbiotically with cell phones, PDAs and the Web.