Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Surf’s Up. . . and legal!

I read today where a judge in NYC ruled “that on-the-job Internet use is equivalent to reading a newspaper or talking on the phone”. Imagine that… surfing the web at work is now legal!

You can read the whole story here, and to me, this is a pretty amazing ruling.

There are all sorts of possible down stream repercussions to this ruling, from expansions in employment agreements, additional chapters in the “Employee Handbook”, removing internet access from all but specific personnel, to all sorts of lawsuits from folks who were unfairly treated for surfing the web while at work.

The case in question involved a governmental (education) employee, who was reprimanded for surfing the web while on the job, but between phone calls…

I don’t know if I could do my job, or be nearly as productive as I am, without the web. The instantaneous access to online help, discussion groups and research material is like working side by side with experts in every field.

On the other hand, almost I never, and I mean very, very, rarely browse for anything not directly related to my duties while I’m on the clock. Maybe it’s because I know I’m a contractor and my actions and production are being not only watched, but analyzed and evaluated weekly. Maybe it’s just the way I was raised, and the work ethic I learned when young, but to me, work is work, not ‘play time’.

(For what it’s worth, I’m tele-working today, and I’m off the clock right now!)

I know several of my regular readers stop in from work, and I know that the DoD, and other governmental visitors are not stopping in here to get answers to our national problems, so my question to you all is:

Do you surf in here from work? If not, why not? If you do, are you stopping in on you breaks, or just when you have a break in the work ‘flow’?

What’s your take on the ruling?

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Beth said...

I never listen to the news in the car, but did today. This wouldn't be bizarre if they weren't discussing what you put here. I am extremely old fashioned in my views on work being where you work. I don't think people should read the newspaper or take phone calls unless they are on break. I feel the same should be done when going online and "surfing" or chatting. People aren't getting paid for this kind of crap. Yes, I said it ... crap! Thank God I'm a SAHM. LOL

Firehawk said...


This ruling, in itself, is only an example of our views and norms struggling to keep up with a changing world.

As for myself, I do stop in while at work, but never to the detriment to something immediate and pressing. If something comes up, I can always get up and do whatever that is, coming back to write a hello or finish reading a post later. I don't feel bad about it, in this case. If I wasn't fiddling around on the net, I'd just be idle, anyway.

Really, I think the impact of surfing on workflow depends very much on the sort of job a person's doing. If they're digging ditches or putting out "work product" the whole time they're on the clock, taking time out to check email and so forth is slowing them down. If they're in a "responder" role, however, they're just paid to be ready and able, should something come up. This encompasses a lot of service positions, including my own. Keeping them from occupying their mind with something while they wait for a service call or the like is just, well, stupid.

I appreciate the old fashioned theory of work, where you go there, do a job, and do your recreation when you're off the clock. Most of my jobs have been that way, and I'm fine with that, if that's the job I'm working. The time goes fast when you're flat out. Still, sometimes, you're just "standing around". Is surfing really any worse than standing next to the water cooler or idling outside the back door, smoking a cigarette? Those were the old ways of killing time when things were quiet--let's not romanticize so much that we forget that people have never worked more than the boss man made them!

There's another thing--and this is very much dependent on what sort of surfing the person does--there may be a great deal of useful information available online. I've educated myself about a whole slew of things while I wandered around the net. I keep up with the tech news at places like Tom's Hardware, Slashdot, and I look over the normal news on Google news. Maybe it's not "core mission" stuff for work, but I think that being informed about the things going on around you isn't a bad thing.

Of course, I'm totally with you about the access to information. There's no excuse for an immediate "I don't know" to any question, no matter how obscure, when you have access to an internet-connected computer. Google, for me, has totally renovated my thinking. If I don't know, I search. You know what? I almost always FIND. I don't know that I'd be nearly so good at that process, had I not nurtured it in all my "messing around on the clock".

Well, that's my two cents (maybe more, whoops--another big comment!)

Bill said...

Beth - Chatting at work... I know folks do it... I see it everyday, but it's just another thing I've never had a job, where I had time for it!

I think, if someone is on a break, or eating lunch "in" and they want to read the news... that's cool.

It's when they 'should' be doing something else where the trouble starts.

Firehawk - You make some good points, as always.

It's obviously not an either/or issue. I've seen, and experienced both ends of the spectrum. From the controlling boss who wanted to know "why" someone wanted internet access, to a guy who got removed from a contract for surfing porn sites while on the clock as a contractor.

Google has changed my thought process too, where I once had stacks of books and manuals, and prided myself on being able to decipher indexes and cross references to find the 'piece' I needed, I know simply "create a google" to do that for me.

The internet is simply a tool, and like any other it can be used properly, or not. Stopping at the bank, with the company truck, is technically, breaking a rule in many companies, if your route happens to take you past it anyway, what's really the problem though?

Rolling up a bunch of mileage, running personal errands however, is just wrong, in most cases.

I agree, for the most part, folks only work as hard as they’re asked. Some folks though take work avoidance to an art form; others are working flat out and looking for extra work in their slack moments.

You mentioned the ‘water cooler’ and smoke breaks… I think the workplace lost something when these ‘social breaks’ vanished over the last decade. We (as a society) do struggle to adapt and keep up with our changing world. The problem, as I see it, is that it’s changing faster, not slower, and the pace is going to continue to increase.

It’s really a matter of moderation as I see it. Either end of the spectrum is not right, however as businesses struggle to keep up with increasing bandwidth needs and those costs, they’re going to start looking more closely at what’s eating up what they’re paying for.

I remain surprised though, that a court actually had to rule on this… I did a quick google on reading the paper at work and court rulings… I didn’t find any… maybe you’ll have better luck... I’m betting no one ever asked a court to rule on that. The courts did rule though, at one time, that “breaks” were required… over the last decade as we’ve moved from manufacturing, to office/services work, those morning and afternoon 15 minute breaks have all but vanished…
I can almost see the “Internet Break” in our future.

Trevor Record said...

I surf from work all the time. I am doing it as we speak. I don't think there is anything wrong with it, I don't waste nearly as much time as people who are always walking about talking to other co-workers about nothing in particular.

Bill said...

Trevor - But should those folks be walking around talking, or working?

I always wonder how those folks manage to keep their jobs... I've never had a job where there was time in the day, or money in the budget, for that type of behavior.

Maybe it's because I started out geting bonus pay for more output that built my personal, work hard and charge a lot of money philosophy....

Comfort Addict said...

Great post, Bill. I surf the net at work. 95% of the time, I do so to get technical information. The other 5% of the time, it's personal (usually directions to somewhere or to get a phone number). This has become a sensitive topic at my company lately. In particular, one of my colleagues said that "anyone who needs to be on the Internet every day to do their job is an idiot;" as you can guess, she is known for her tact.

I think that Internet access is essential for those of us in the technical professions. I also believe that personal Internet use at work is OK as long as it's not excessive.

Bill said...

CA - I use it all the time as well... I'm constantly looking for code snippets to steal (oops... "leverage") and for better approaches to whatever I'm building. I'm guilty of the occasional checking on a flight/hotel etc for personal reasons... but like you it's probably significantly less than 5% of my at work web time.

It's definitley made me far more productive in a spend far, far less time in manuals, or 'retyping' some code I found and want to try.