This week Leon Neyfakh wrote about web surfing restrictions at corporations and other large organizations around the city. At one Manhattan law firm, web policies are rather loosey-goosey, but if someone up top suspects that productivity is down, big brother starts watching.
We talked to this firm’s IT manager, who gave us a crash course on the way he and his team monitor employees’ Internet habits. The firm uses a product called SurfControl that blocks “inappropriate material”– mostly porn and other racy content. The block is really “just sexual in nature,” the IT manager said.
“We don’t generally go out and look to see where people are going,” he added. “Number one, we don’t have the time, and number two, everybody uses the internet all the time. Our firm policy is just… use it for ‘appropriate work.’ We don’t even define what ‘appropriate’ is.”
But that’s not to say they never look. The IT manager said higher powers in the firm sometimes asks his department to do an “investigation” if there is concern about how office time is being spent.
“If there is reason to question what they are doing during their work day or something like that, we may launch an investigation and through the investigation we can pull up reports that will show us every site the person went to, what date and time they went, how much time they spent on the site– all sorts of information,” the IT manager said.
The investigations are about finding out if time is being frittered away on non-work-related sites more than anything else. “It’s really more [about] wasting time,” he said. “It’s personal stuff. And that’s generally what we find– they were on Facebook all day, or, you know, they were buying a new car and they were on car sites.”
IT primarily judges the employee’s Internet-usage by the number of times they visit certain sites. This number of hits is compared to how many an “average person” makes.
“We use the number of hits more than the actual things that they are hitting, because we know that they are going to be blocked from anything that’s, quite frankly, inappropriate, so they are not getting to that anyway,” he said.
He described the frequency of the investigations as “cyclical.” Depending on the atmosphere of the firm there will be a bout of them and then months with nothing. The repercussions of the investigations range from chastisement to firing.
So can you get fired from this firm for spending too much time on Facebook or another similar time waster?
“It’s usually part of a bigger picture,” the IT manager said. There’s probably more to it than just that, but that’s an element.”