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

By Joel Shore, ITworld |  Opinion

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
wasted."

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?

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