Just chatting with a friend who will remain nameless. He informs me that the company he's contracting at his installed a proxy to monitor MSN and IE traffic to see how much efficiency is lost to these activities.
I have read no empirical studies on this and am basing my opinion on exactly nothing but here it is: This idea is ridiculous. To me, it screams, "we have no faith in our hiring process." It means the company believes that the people they hired are lazy and easily distracted. And that they would perform better if this dang internet thingy was limited to work and not play.
This is coming on the heels of an article I just read (equally biased) on the nature of nine to five as well as Joel Spolsky's Field Guide to Developers (which is geared toward techies but I'd like to think it applied to all fields). The first article argues (correctly) that attendance != performance. My brother is capable of zoning out so completely, he actually starts drooling. Cheap, effective, and just as non-productive as doing the daily crossword online. Sometimes, he'll murmur random words to himself, too. "hippoooo, hippooooo, hippooooooooooo" But trust me on this, he's a superstar at what he does.
And I admit freely that I spend work hours reading news and blogs, chatting on MSN and playing solitaire. Not a lot but probably enough to make some managers freak out. Sometimes I do these things at companies that I know have monitors on and advertise that fact proudly. I admit I'm doing it to pick a fight but so far no one has called me up on it.
But I'd love to have someone try to reprimand me for spending too much time on these activities. My response: "Are you dissatisfied with the quality of my work?" I like to think I'm above average productivity-wise. Which is how companies should rate your performance. Not on the amount of time you've spent on a task but whether you completed it on time, on budget and with high quality. If you didn't, time to start curtailing your privileges.
My case is somewhat different than an employee's, though, because I bill by the hour. And I don't charge for time I spend on non-work-related activities. I won't necessarily dock three minutes from my timesheet to answer a technical question from a friend but neither will I charge for the half-hour I spent shopping for man-purses. In general, if the company is good to me, I'll reciprocate. If they aren't, I'll fulfill my contractual obligations to the letter. And if anyone from my current employer is reading, I don't mind saying they are definitely in the former category.
Of course, not all contractors are as pure and holy as I am and employees have different motives. And I don't necessarily want to get into ethical dilemmas. But my feeling is: let your people surf. They have tasks and deadlines and goals. If they're meeting them, consider the internet and MSN a perk of the job. If they're not, fire their asses. Instead, we have managers treating employees like children: You can have *one* website as an afternoon snack but that's it! And it has to be a healthy one.
Besides, this is the 21st century for Jayzus' sake. I thought spying on employees went out in the 90s.