19

Our (small to medium-sized) company is going to start enforcing an internet policy which everyone, including the team of 4 senior developers, will be subject to.

Amongst other things, this means that developers will not be able to access:

  • web based e-mail (Hotmail, Yahoo, Googlemail)
  • instant messaging accounts (MSN Messenger)
  • social networking sites (Facebook)
  • streaming media (internet radio)

At the moment, we don't have any restrictions on our internet use, so I really want to find out what the effect on the team will be.

Please let me know your thoughts. What effect do you think this will have on the team (positive or negative).

93

Being treated like a child. That can't have any bad effects, can it?

50 accepted

You might want to block online job-search sites too, because they're probably going to start using them as soon as you block the other ones. I know I would.

Australian Study Says Web Surfing Boosts Office Productivity

14

You're solving the 'slackers' problem the wrong way.

If you want to know the effect ask your staff. Tell them the 'problem' that needs solving (time wastage, bandwidth costs, etc) and the proposed solution. I'm sure they can do self governance better than IT.

Failing that, you're really just admitting that your management team can't manage problems and you have to use accountant like 'rules' to solve people problems.

This action will reflect badly on you (the management), and induces low morale to your staff as you're telling them you have no people skills or clue.

11

IM can be useful for development work. I frequently ask other developers things via IM and they also ask me. Facebook, internet radio and the like are useful for short 1-2 minute breaks, and such short breaks usually improve productivity.

7

I've worked at a company that decided to ban anything with 'blog' in it (apparently "blogs are bad.... mmmmkay?"), which was a pretty ridiculous stance for development. They would add appropriate ones on a case by case basis but that just wasn't practical.

It's at this job that I discovered SSH tunnelling where I created my own proxy back to my home machine to get a clean feed of the internet. There's not a lot you can do to stop that either.

Someone else also quoted Workplace web bludging 'good for productivity':

"People who do surf the internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20 per cent of their total time in the office - are more productive by about nine per cent than those who don't,"

Curious language. 9% more productive overall or 9% more productive for the remaining 80% of the time? Also, cause isn't necessarily established. It may just be incidental to other factors.

Anyway, I've seen plenty of cases where people spend all day on some sites. Biggest offenders are:

  • Facebook (by far the #1);
  • MySpace;
  • Ebay;
  • Sports sites;
  • Messenger sites (Google/Yahoo/Live/etc);
  • Youtube.

Of those I think only Youtube has potential work-related use (lots of people post video tutorials and so forth).

I found the attitude (here and IRL) from some people to be somewhat bizarre with regards to this. I personally have no problem with blocking the first five from that list. You're there to do a job, not check or update the profile of you or your friends. The idea that you should be paid to sit on Facebook for 2 hours (20% from above) a day I find patently ridiculous. Do it on your own time.

In my office there's an issue of a magazine called Nett that has this on the front cover:

"Why aren't I the boss yet?" Generation Y enters the workforce

I think this is a pithy way of characterising this issue and I think it is particularly a Gen-Y thing: that sense of entitlement that colours this issue (and many others). The expectation of a fair day's work for a fair day's pay and the realization that you aren't doing anyone any favours by showing up to work to spend half the day on Facebook will hold you in better stead than demanding Facebook access or somehow thinking it justifies changing jobs if you don't get it.

7

I've worked in places which restrict internet access, and some that haven't. Here are some of my experiences. (Note, I've never had anything to do with such decisions, I've just had to live under them)

When you first turn on the restrictions, you'll get a HUGE backlash. While it's not as bad as making everyone take a paycut, it is still a very effective morale killer.

Once things have been around for a while and people are used to things, it won't have a big impact as long as you are sensible in what you block. For example, nobody cares that facebook or ebay are blocked, as everyone feels kind of guilty spending time on facebook at work anyway. I found that having had things like this blocked seemed to be beneficial as far as productivity goes.

If you take it too far and block sites or things that people find useful, then it gets really annoying, and people will start to invent workarounds and often make things worse. One company had a policy of blocking all .zip and .exe files from the internet - so people just downloaded things at home and brought them in on USB sticks (along with god knows what other things). This also made it incredibly hard for people to do their jobs (try download anything software related that's not in a zip file), which leads to massive amounts of time wasting as people try to find a non-zip-file form of downloading the software.

Basically, I'd make a very small list of sites that you'd consider to be totally worthless (ebay, facebook, maaaaybe youtube, and not much more), and just block those. Going any further is going to cause you more pain than it's worth, and you're not going to gain anything back in "productivity"

6

Agreeing with everyone below, trust and honesty will get your farther then silly attempts to restrict. Anyone who really wants to subvert these restrictions can use open proxies and all sorts of fun tricks.

You're just making it annoying to work. If you have to restrict web access to make sure your employees are working, you've got larger cultural and work ethic problems to address. You are also unfairly punishing good employees. If you have specific problems with specific people deal with them on an individual basis.

3

Developers aren't monkeys, and neither are your other employees. If you need to monitor, fine, but taking away any form of distracting internet browsing is just going to make your team members spend more time finding ways around it (and they will) than they might "waste", and they'll resent you.

Edit:

I'm "baffled" by the fact that so many people don't seem to grasp that internet access can be -- and, I would venture to say, often is -- considered to be part of compensation. A developer (or any employee) has just as much of a right to expect unfettered internet access as a business owner or manager has to deny it. It's no different from any other amenity in this regard; if I have a prospective (or current) employer who offers me full access and one that doesn't but is otherwise equivalent, I'm going to go with the one who offers it, just as I'd go with one that offers me other bonuses like a gym, sponsorship deals, or better health insurance rates. The beauty of the capitalist system allows the wisdom of a particular business decision to be borne out in the aggregate success (or lack thereof) of the people and businesses that make it.

You can view it as a sense of entitlement if that fits your "them darn kids" sensibilities, but a sense of entitlement is what runs the business model. Workers feel they're entitled to their compensation, businesses feel they're entitled to the employee's work. They come to the mutual agreement that they'll trade one for the other. Internet access isn't any different.

And so, if you're providing them with full access now and plan to limit that, then expect the same reaction you'd get from limiting any other benefit.

3

I don't quite like the idea... In the company I work for they disabled all web pages that contained blog in the url, and we had to make requests to get access to a couple of boost proposed libraries that are held in such servers.

Me and a couple other colleagues have snippets, instructions, comments from other developers in our personal email accounts on common servers.

I can see and understand streaming media and social networks, but the problem is that when you start you must set the line at one point or another and getting the right point is probably not easy.

Also this kind of moves discourage the workers, it removes part of the feeling of belonging as it turns the company into an opponent. The company can be seen as the external entity you fight against. The company does not belong to you, you no longer belong to the company.

3

If I was part of your company, I'd QUIT!

For one, you will have to block ALL of the internet because otherwise they will just use Proxies to access their mail and any other black-listed sites. But if you do that, then how will your programmers use the internet professionally to conduct researches using Google or ask technical questions on StackOverflow?

If you see a few programmers watching some videos on YouTube, why do you even care if at the end of the day they deliver? If they are late on their projects (most software companies are), then do they have valid explanations?

Sometimes where I work, I won't feel like working for hours during the day and I'll browse a bit or do a bit of research by reading on the net. But then at night somewhere around 22:00 and midnight, where I'm more productive (and my boss doesn't see me), I'll get done what I missed out during the day and usually a lot more! My point is that my bosses aren't on my back for when its done and where it gets done. They just care that it does actually get done by the due date!

Update:

But where do we draw the line on unproductive habits? For example, I'm NOT a smoker, but when I walk by the hall I will always see the same group of people smoking. During a meeting once, which took a whole day, I could see outside and saw who smoked, so I counted how many times I saw people and tracked the average "smoke break". [I'm not a boss by the way]. Some people will go out and smoke as often as 6 or more times per day, while the average time was about 10 minutes. This is an entire hour wasted due to smoking... should we ban smoking at work also?

I would agree that productivity loss due to the internet should be controlled by possibly banning the top 'social networks'. But anything else is pure control by the employer because not everyone will abuse the system. Don't punish everyone because of a few bad apples. Handle each abusive employee case by case and the example will be set for everyone.

2

If it's a small company I think that the team leaders/managers should know what's going on and provide discipline when required.

Blocking of sites should only be required if the working culture within the company is poor.

2

The only logical reason for blocking sites is to preserve bandwidth if you're billed by the usage. Other than that, monitor and fire the abusers. I know it echos what's already been said, but having come from a few large companies that tried several variations on the theme, blocking internet usage never has the intended effect - never.

2

I've always said to my friends that we developers are lucky. Unless there is a HUGE library in the building where we work and an equally big codebase at our fingertips, we NEED Internet access. IM'ing with fellow developers might be a point of debate, but basic Web access for simple research is usually not.

I think there's a question on ethics in all this. What's the difference between talking on the phone and e-mailing/IM'ing friends at work? What's the difference between taking a smoke/coffee break and watching a few short video clips? True, the temptation for doing the latter ones might be higher when you're spending most of the day in front of computers, but that is a problem we must solve as a whole race.

I dare say the slackers will find a way to slack off, with or without Facebook.

2

I have worked for companies on both ends of the spectrum.

Usually the use of internet is a reflection of the overall culture of the company.

For example, where internet access was unmonitored, professionals were treated as such. In a culture where internet access is restricted, policies that most people take for granted (flexible hours, breaks as needed, etc) are restricted as well.

That said, there are often reasons WHY the company evolved into a more restrictive enviroment.

2

If one can't be trusted to do their work, they shouldn't have been hired and if they are, they should be fired.

All developers work differently and when you're stuck on a problem it's sometimes best to take a break for a few minutes. That make be going for a 10 minute walk or checking the news or your facebook page.

Also, in our office a huge amount of communication is over IM. In fact, it use to be required we were signed in on MSN and Skype. It's much quicker then email and usually quicker than walking over to someone else's office.

1

I'd be out of commission: I live on railscasts.com, etc.

If you're going to go nazi, why not just watch what is being done as it is now and try to curtail abuses? Hitting everyone with this right out of the gate assumes that everyone is an abuser and your morale dive will reflect this. I don't support doing the Big Brother on your employees, but if you're going to go down the evil empire road, you might as well do yourself a favor and not alienate your entire employee base.

Either way, you'll regret the decision. Deal with problem employees as problem employees. Don't treat everyone as guilty from the get-go.

1

What's the point? Even if i go check my mails, visit dating sites etc. it only provides me with brief scenery changes, refreshes me and adds a little joy in a boring routine day.

I check gmail all the time. In fact on many days the page is constantly open. I don't want to be cut out from the rest of my life.

Instant messaging could be a distraction. But we use Skype as a standard way of communication between colleagues.

Social networking sites? Being not a user of those cannot say.

Streaming media? I constantly listen to my favourite radio with classic music. It give me a great boost in productivity.

Don't see what you wish to achieve? You'll just irritate people, they will get depressed and their productivity will drop. Someone maybe will go somewhere else.

1

My question would be how much of these kinds of sites are being visited now? While we can speculate on its effects and describe what would happen if we had to live with it, there isn't any data to analyse what is currently going on. Perhaps those developers don't visit those kinds of sites at work and thus the effect is nothing is one possibility with an unknown probability.

1

When I lived in Romania, if one person in the apartment building didn't pay their hot water bill, they shut it off for the whole building.

Where are your bosses from?

1

I think the effect will be simple -

You'll have an immediate, large negative impact on morale.

You'll probably lose many of your better people, since they'd rather work in a company where they'll be treated with respect.

Depending on the current culture, you will likely reduce productivity, overall.

If your company faced with employees abusing internet usage, I'd look into dealing with the individual problems, not trying to impose a wide-scale blanket solution that will make everybody unhappy.

1

This is pretty standard from the recent jobs I've had.

I agree with @cletus: do it on your own time, you're not paid to play. Most employees won't have the know-how to bypass the security, so it will work.

Not only is it about time-wasting, but it's also about security. Doing this helps stop the spread of viruses on the company's internal network.

1

Humm...

No Online Music = No work will get done

No Online Music = No inspiration for designs

No Online Music = No patience for bugs

No Google = A shit-ton of books you are going to have to buy me.

No Google = Many wasted hours on small well documented bugs (external software...)

No Internet = Outdated technologies

No Internet = No use of open source code

No Internet = Screw it I would have quit by now.

0

Why will you be doing this? Have you had problems with it in the past? It seems to me like premature optimization. If someone doesn't get his work done, fire him. Simple as that.

0

If you really really have to then restrict Facebook, YouTube and so on, leave access to sites and forums about developing. I would leave some internal messaging system between them so they can complain about it and make a plan to start they own company, buy yours and fire all the bosses...which means all that will most probably have negative effect.

0

All those things beside WORK is call Life. If you have no life, good for you. I use all those "side" tools to get things done, get information, link with others.

Those restrictions, as somebody else said, can be bypassed pretty easily by a 10 year old kid. Free web proxies are available anywhere on the net. Schools use protection to prevent kids from getting on porn sites, and they access them anyway!

So you should tell people the problem in a big meeting and ask them for a solution. Sometimes they will find a solution which is harder on them than you could have proposed yourself. Things will almost stop for the next week, but the next and other weeks will become better and better.

Keep an eye on your employees, as you would for stealing stuff - stealing time is the same thing. Give warnings to abusers, and let the others live !

0

It may not be work related, but the fact is if I'm at work 50+ hours a week, I will use personal email to coordinate my life outside of work. If you block gmail most people will just send their personal email from their work address.

When I was at a company that blocked gmail and wouldn't let me change my reply-to address, I just wrote myself a simple email program that sent email that appeared to be from my gmail address.

I think blocking any site is misguided, but blocking web mail is really dumb.

0

One thing that I haven't seen noted yet: all the MSDN and TechNet forums have "social" in their URLs: http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/, and http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/.

As for me, I'd be right out of a company that did this. I wouldn't be doing this only because I'd be getting treated as a child; I'd be doing it because it would be a clear indication of stupidity on the part of Management. Why stay with a company whose Management are actually stupid?

0

As a developer(not a manager) I fully appreciate the need for the occasional break or distraction in order to start back fresh and allowing access to sites and tools that help your team(developers or other) be more productive is smart business. I also think in today's environment allowing "reasonable" access in order to handle personal business during your off time(ie lunch) shouldn't be unexpected.

However the idea that your employer somehow owes you unhindered internet access is quite hilarious I think. And expecting free reign as if it were part of your "compensation" is quite naive. It is a tool that, in the work environment at least, is there to help you to do of all things....your work...not to entertain you! Would you expect your employer to supply you with a TV at your desk for those times you don't feel like working or just need a break? I think not.

0

Any restriction adds the company a minus.. How many minuses do you want? How many minuses you can add before people will start quitting? I don't know but you should try to find out the answers! ROFL

0

Be prepared to also scout every port on every machine for OpenVPN, SSH and other such circumvention technologies. That is, for example, how I get around the Great Firewall to access all the sites the Chinese government think I shouldn't see.

-2

Effects on your team:

Only the people who cannot leave will stay.

You will be left with the least productive people.

I strongly suspect this is not a real question, but rather a troll post because it is nothing more than an inflammatory statement that is certain to rile up any technical discussion group.

-8

Are you nuts?!

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