Wasting Time or Making Hay on the Internet

I tripped across this report of the top 10 time wasters in the Internet from InternetSafety.com. I’m taking it at face value, (rather then spend time checking out the methodology) because my point relates to the concept not the actual data points themselves.

But first, here is the list, no particular order:
* Social Networking Sites — Recent statistics show that over 170 million people are active users of the two most popular two social networking sites, Facebook.com and MySpace.com.
* Online Videos — The YouTube phenomenon continues to spill over into the workplace. Well over 100 million YouTube videos are watched each day.
* Adult Sites — Even though most companies have policies in place prohibiting viewing of sexually-explicit content at work.
* Shopping — According to one study, 70 percent of all online purchases occur between the hours of 9AM and 5PM.
* Vacation Planning — Whether simply as a stress reliever or because of job dissatisfaction, planning vacations remains a top pastime at work.
* Job Searches — As counter-intuitive (and indiscreet, given that they’re at work) as it may seem, most people look for a new job during working hours, using their current employer’s computer resources and email accounts.
* News and Blogs — Harris Interactive found that 15% of men and 6% of women spend time each day on blog sites.
* Online Auctions — Among the top shopping sites are the auction services such as eBay, uBid, and auctions.yahoo.com.
* Online Games — As if Solitaire wasn’t enough, games.yahoo.com, congregate.com, popcap.com, images.google.com/imagelabeler, and forumwarz.com are all popular.
* Gambling Sites — The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that 60% of all U.S. adults have gambled in the past year; two million U.S. adults meet the criteria for problem gambling.

Here at Bare Feet Studios we like to focus on solutions not just complaining, and we believe in holding up standards within our industry and peers. In that light, how can you as a company come to grips with this kind of data?

Many companies would (and have) simply shut down access to many of these sites and even to internet in general. This is the wrong response IMO. First it simply creates demand for that which can’t be had – basic human psychology that even us smartie pants in the internet business cannot change over night.

Secondly, it deprives you of using these tools to your advantage. What these surveys don’t ask, is, “What business tips or benefits did you acquire while surfing the web for personal reasons at work?” You see, there is gold in them there personal surf expeditions.

Why Would a Company Allow or Even Encourage Personal Web Surfing?
* Employees might discover sites that can help grow the business, suggest new market trends, uncover bad PR, etc. You want them to be able to share that without fear of repercussions.
* Employees can learn new skills in how to use the “social web.” Being able to participate in online discussions, comment on appropriate blogs, and use the tools are very valuable to a company.
* Being proactive is almost always more effective than being reactive.
* We know people watch our Beach Walks with Rox videos at work. In fact, many report it is a daily habit, as “it puts my head on straight” or “drains off stress”. That is worth real money to a company! How else do you help people re-orient and stay calm?

Most larger companies understand that you really don’t get 8 productive hours a day out of employees. (You hire experts like us if you want high hourly-based productivity.) So what if you were to have an Internet Use Policy like this:

We know you have internet access at your desk and it makes sense to use our high speed connection. We are happy to make this available to you, with the following conditions:
* Your personal surfing is limited to no more than one hour a day (taken on breaks and previously approved personal time);
* You can assure us this does not impair your work, and may even enhance it.
* You completely avoid the following sites, which pose unacceptable liability risks and/or are bandwidth hogs: all adult sites, matchmaking sites, gambling and gaming sites, and online auctions;
* You are allowed to watch clean videos, do some personal shopping and travel planning, research heath, parenting, and lifestyle questions;
* If you really want to search for a new job, we hope you will come to us first to discuss how your job can be more rewarding for you;
* Please be aware we do have tracking software in place and violations of this policy will be addressed on a case by case basis. Our flexibility on allowing certain activities for certain amounts of time is balanced by our intolerance for violations.

You see, I view the internet much more as a resource than a expense. Like all resources, it takes a grounded grown-up to manage them wisely. Treating your employees as adults encourages them to respond accordingly. Why not develop a capture system that solicits tips from employees, learned while being online, to share with others? (Interested? I have ideas for you on this. Contact me)

Do you think this is doable in your company? If not, why not? Or the managers more scared or the employees less trustworthy? Whose responsibility is it to improve the situation?