Are work web blockers a waste of time?

The World Cup and Wimbledon may be long gone, but there are plenty of other online distractions to keep employees from actually doing some work. Facebook, Twitter, the BBC iPlayer, personal email, web-based games and general browsing continue to tempt staff and torment employers.

Are work web blockers a waste of time?

A survey by casual games developer PopCap found that 65% of Brits admit to actively engaging in non-work activity during business hours, with the average Brit reclaiming an hour of their working day for themselves online.

65% of Brits admit to actively engaging in non-work activity during business hours

Depending on which side of the business fence you sit, you could either argue that it does no harm to cut the workers a little internet slack, or that those internet slackers are costing your business money in terms of lost productivity and wasted bandwidth. But is there evidence to suggest expensively acquired web-filtering tools actually do any good, for either the business or the increasingly harassed employee? Could they even backfire on both?

What are you looking at?

On the face of it, employers seem to have justification for attempting to curb the online excesses of their staff. Bosses are probably relieved that the World Cup comes around only once every four years, especially when you listen to John Adey, chief operating officer at connectivity provider Star, which monitored network traffic from its 3,500 business customers during the 2010 event.

During the opening match, Star logged an 18% increase in network traffic, which is mainly attributable to employees watching games live on sites such as the BBC iPlayer, where a streamed match on a single computer can consume around 750MB. What’s more, it’s been estimated that of the five million adults watching matches online, some 2.6 million of them did so in the workplace. For corporate Britain, it’s probably just as well the England team tumbled out as pathetically early as it did.

But it isn’t only football that gives cause for concern. “During the Olympic Games in 2008, we could directly correlate network surges when British athletes such as swimmer Rebecca Adlington and cyclist Chris Hoy were competing,” Adey said. “The peaks of traffic for these gold-medal contests were more than 30% above the norm.”

Similarly, Star spotted a network spike of 22% the day after the General Election this year, when “workers were watching as the electoral results from around the country were rolling in”.

Social networking

Then there’s social networking. The latest Sophos Threat Report showed that almost half of companies allow unfettered access to Facebook for all staff, which amounts to a 13% rise from last year. Earlier this year, Palo Alto Networks published its Application Usage and Risk Report, based on network traffic from more than 300 large enterprises worldwide.

Find out more

How slackers are snared

This revealed that the use of social networking apps was prolific globally, with Facebook being used on 93% of corporate networks in Europe. Then there’s the social networking companies simply can’t measure. Graham Fern, technical director of managed solutions company axon IT, told us “most users know that their internet usage is monitored, so why would they risk getting caught using Facebook on company PCs when their iPhone is sitting on their desk?”

Let’s not forget email either, with 69% of workers with a personal email account admitting to accessing them at work, according to recent research by email provider GMX. The same survey also saw 54% confess that keeping up-to-date with a personal inbox was a bigger task than their work email.

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