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How much surveillance is too much?

From the article:

"EVERYONE does it. Millions of people use their office internet access to check out cheap flights, home shopping or celebrity gossip.

Sending e-mails and jokes to friends has become a common ritual in the working day, but now there’s a new term for personal use of the corporate web server - cyberslacking.

However, the fun could soon be coming to end thanks to a Glasgow technology firm.

Experts at Iomart have devised a new "Big Brother" software system, called NetIntelligence, which will show managers just how much time employees spend surfing the net rather than doing the job they are paid to do.


Mouse movements and keyboard strokes are all recorded, letting managers see what employees are watching on the net, who they are e-mailing and which sites they have logged on to."

What do you think about this?  My first thought is that if the company feels they have to install something like this to get their employees to actually work then the software isn't going to fix the management problems that got them to where they're currently at.  Whereas if a company installs this because they feel robbed by an employee spending 5 minutes checking plane ticket prices for an upcoming vacation, then their corporate culture is already so dysfunctional and fear based that it would amaze me if anything gets done.

John Wilson
Sunday, June 29, 2003

Go read all the "can we measure productivity by counting lines of code" threads - the same concepts apply.

Employee productivity should be measured by tasks assigned and completed. This works at any level. If John works his butt off and produces 25 widgets a day, but Jane can produce 30 widgets a day while surfing the net for 30 minutes, should management really be chastising Jane for not being productive enough? [net result: Jane takes her efficiency to a competitor and makes 30 widgets a day for *them* and instead of 55 widgets a day you're getting 25]

Tasks assigned, tasks completed. HOW they're completed is none of your business.

BTW, there's also a really good Dilbert about this - the Boss is beating him up about spending ten minutes doing online banking. Dilbert agrees and says next time he'll take the hour and a half it takes to actually go to the bank.


Sunday, June 29, 2003

One other thought to sum it up:
Are you paying your employees to accomplish tasks or are you paying them to sit in a chair?


Sunday, June 29, 2003

Not only is it dysfunctional, but it's missing the point.  Software development is not typing, it's creative thought.  What you're essentially measuring is not "slacking" with these tools, but time not spent typing emails or in an IDE.

I think this may work fine for certain environments where there is a cheeseburger-factory-style work process, and that's acceptable.  For knowledge work, it's probably a great way to destroy productivity.

The furrowed-brow, "work is not play" types may enter their myriad complaints now--I know what I'm saying doesn't jive with the boardroom politic.  But even so, there's probably a basic inequity here, namely:

Who would be watching the managers?  How about the CEO?  Does this anti-"cyberslacking" initiaive reciprocate?  Would we have "Productivity Departments" to independently measure cyberslacking up and down the corporation?  Who would measure them?

I maintain that people, at least in knowledge professions, should be judged based on their output, not on their process.  If cyberslacking is so bad, surely it will show up in performance.  And if the sole purpose of this is to incentivize people to work harder, then one wonders why a company hires "slackers" to begin with...

Sunday, June 29, 2003

By the way, I think it was Joel that pointed out - let your employees be happy in the office and they'll spend more time their. Make their lives oppressive and miserable and you will get exactly 480 minutes a day out of them and not a drop more.


Sunday, June 29, 2003

That was Greenspun who said that if you make the office nicer than the home they will stay at work longer:

"Your business success will depend on the extent to which programmers essentially live at your office. For this to be a common choice, your office had better be nicer than the average programmer's home. There are two ways to achieve this result. One is to hire programmers who live in extremely shabby apartments. The other is to create a nice office. Microsoft understands this. In the early 1990s they did radio spots with John Cleese as a spokesman. One of the main points of the ad was to ridicule the cheap open-plan offices in which programmers were traditionally housed and promote the fact that at Microsoft each developer gets a plush personal office"

(Great Article by the way)

Matthew Lock
Sunday, June 29, 2003

The flipside of Greenspun's advice though is that many managers tend to just grab on to fad ideas and not try to understand the logic behind them. This can result in situations where you have a nice office environment and many employees who stick around for 10-12 hour days (doing things like non-work web surfing and playing games mixed in with their work) and then people who just want to go in for their 8 hours and get home to their families, friends, or whatever else are seen as slackers, even if they are as productive or more so than the 12 hour workers.

In the end, what you really need more than any specific business idea fad is managers with some common sense, which (as I'm sure many of you are aware) is frightfully uncommon.

Mister Fancypants
Sunday, June 29, 2003

Incidentally, there's another use for this kind of software...

I've done quite a lot of investigation of these over the years (the concept is not exactly new) because they can be very handy for
a) tracking what you are doing all day (so that timetracking stuff for billing, for example, becomes automatic)
b) keeping a testing record on a machine for debugging purposes.  (Very handy for those intermittent and obscure bugs for which you have no idea what you did to cause it.  If you have keylogging and screen capture software installed - you can go back and see.

I've never really come across software of this type that I like, however.  It usually has one or more of the following drawbacks: a pain to use, has incomplete tracking, is hard to report on or impacts performance.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Funny thing is what a friend of mine does. The first thing that he does when he gets to a place with net connection is to plug his notebook and check emails and news, etc. But, he owns a little business, that doesn't have net connection for his employees. Smart guy :-)

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Iago: ".. But, he owns a little business, that doesn't have net connection for his employees. Smart guy :-)  .."

How smart? There are things that I just cannot accomplish without the Internet. Those tasks have an unnerving one to one mapping with 'Fix really hard bug'.

With Internet: 'I will see if anyone else has the same issues, or what workarounds they have found (hello google)'

Without Internet: 'Can't fix it, don't have enough information (cue lots of meetings)'

Monday, June 30, 2003

So stick an iMac in the corner with a dial up connection.

From a completely practical standpoint, "too much surveillance" is surveillance that the employees are aware of if it reduces their producitivity.

From a moral standpoint, any surveillance is too much. Perhaps just a bit to ensure they're not conducting illegal activity. Often, though, it's hard for a manager to know whose carrying the team, so they'll fall back on something like this to help them see who's working and who's slacking.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Yes, if your offices are nice, people will be happier to work longer, however, the nicest office won't keep people there longer if the work itself sucks.  We've all been there, both on projects that were so interesting that we'd look up and realize it's 10:30 at night, and feel like we didn't miss anything.  Other projects where staying until 5 is a chore. 

Another way to keep people productive is to stop wasting their time.  I was reminded of this again today as I walked into a 9:30 meeting, only to wait 1/2 hour before everyone else, in 2 locations, was together.

Wednesday, July 2, 2003

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