To block or not to block? Is that the question?

So you walk into a client site, check out the network traffic and

discover that half of all Web traffic is non-work related. What do you

do? What do you do?

Last week, I happened to be in a car with some other solution

integrators, people who look into such matters. Not only could they not

agree on anything, the debate got pretty lively; heated enough to

warrant pulling over at the next highway services plaza for a breather.

To one debater, blocking is a no-brainer. "Look, if people are spending

work time paying bills, doing the crossword puzzle, surfing porn,

downloading MP3 files, selling stuff on ebay, or checking their personal

e-mail, they should be blocked from doing so," he said. "Why? Because

the employer is paying a lot of money for employees who aren't

producing. And they're paying for a lot of bandwidth that's being


True, said another integrator, who agrees that porn should be blocked to

protect the employer from litigation brought by offended employees. But

that's as far as he was willing to go.

"Block access to everything on the Web, and you'll wind up with a bunch

of angry, disgruntled employees whose productivity is bound to sink even

lower," he argues. "Companies ask a lot of their employees, they have to

work late, meet deadlines, and take work home. What's the big deal?

Besides, bandwidth is getting cheaper all the time."

Said a third integrator, "What I've seen is businesses that let their

employees surf then hit them with a report when they're up for a

performance review. After that, you won't need to block, these people

will smarten up and lay off."

This discussion escalated for more than hour without resolution. Three

very different points of view. Three valid points of view -- depending

on your point of view. Of course, with employee Internet management and

monitoring products, it's possible to block Web sites by category. That

may -- or may not be -- a decent middle ground.

The companies at which I've recently worked for never blocked access,

but these were publishing companies whose editorial employees scream

about the First Amendment, and their need to have full access so they

can report the complete story. However, I can see a bank, insurance

company, law firm, or other corporation playing the security card.

Perhaps a bank will want to block employees' access to other banks' Web

sites. Certainly, I can see blocking job-search sites.

My company is small enough that blocking isn't an issue. I pay bills

during lunch. I might just do the local newspaper's crossword puzzle

while I munch on a sandwich. Porn sites are not blocked; we're simply

smart enough to stay away from them.

Initially, I was on the side of extensive site blocking, but now I'm not

so sure. Is it better to have a happy employee waste an hour per day, or

to have a dissatisfied employee lose an hour of productivity daily due

to low morale? It seems to me the former is best for the company in the

long run, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

What I learned is that opinions vary widely. And what you've learned is

that discussing this issue with your customers is, yet again, one of

those business opportunities we've probably all missed.

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