Balancing Productivity And Connectivity In The Enterprise

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IT must balance security policies against workers’ use of the Internet and mobile technologies that blur working and personal time

The desire to boost employee productivity during a long-term recession, coupled with the preventive management of real and dangerous threats, has forced some companies to restrict, monitor and block specific websites. Beyond incendiary tactics like drive-by downloads, SQL-injection attacks and other malware strategies employed by hackers and criminal organisations, the latest viral YouTube video, a fantasy football draft and online shopping at work can be bandwidth hogs that eat into network costs and sap productivity.

Yet, workers are taking on more work from home, working on the weekends and working on vacations. What’s a knowledge worker to do?

Data shows about four in 10 workers expect less oversight and more freedom of use on the web while on the job. Forty-one percent of 1,400 CIOs polled in a Robert Half Technology survey said workers are willing to voice their unhappiness with company security policies.

“There will always be employees who feel IT security policies are too restrictive,” said John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a 26 August statement. “But in most situations, robust information security measures are necessary to protect sensitive data and an organisation’s network integrity from increasingly sophisticated threats.”

Keeping schtum

However, the data also shows 29 percent of technology leaders don’t hear a peep from employees on the matter — and another 29 percent find it somewhat uncommon to hear complaints. That is nearly 60 percent of employees who mostly or always keep their mouths shut and surf the web with complete freedom at home or on their smartphones.

While you can’t please everyone, the majority of workers seem to understand the reasons for company security policies, even if a smaller group thinks the practices are unfair.

What is known is that companies do reap the benefits of web use. While there are some wasted hours from web use, the adoption of communication technologies like email, enabling a mobile work force with smartphones and cell phone use for work are all major contributing factors for people to accomplish their work, communicate with team members and stay abreast of fast-changing projects.

Increased expectations

A 2008 study from the Pew Research Center on Internet use found expectations for productive workers to go up as these web-enabling technologies are being utilised. From the Pew report “Networked Workers”:

“When asked how much, if at all, technologies such as the Internet, email, cell phones, and instant messaging have increased demands that they work more hours, 46 percent of all Wired and Ready Workers say they feel those demands have intensified, with 16% saying they have increased ‘a lot.’ Among those who work in professional and managerial positions, 59% say these demands have increased, as do 56% of those who work more than 40 hours per week.”

Enterprises looking to balance the human resource issues with security policies are advised to listen to employees and see if there may be some alternative solutions that would not threaten a company network. Robert Half Technology suggests, “If you have a strong business case to relax a particular IT restriction, but your IT security team thinks the risk is still too great, be ready to ask if there is a suitable compromise.”