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Productivity (again)

Business Computer Use, Productivity and Liability.

Here is a simple question. If you own a business, who do the computers at your business belong to? Who owns them? It may sound simple but in the minds of your employees they can do pretty much whatever they want with them and treat them as if the computers were their own, (home), systems.

A study, (poll), by Harris Interactive and Websense from 2004 documented that 51% of computer users in a typical business spent between 1 and 5 hours a day on the Internet for personal reasons. The firewall logs I track for customers backs that up. The Harris Interactive study came up with the following figures.

  1. Surfing for news on the Internet 84%
  2. Checking travel sites on the Internet 64%
  3. Personal E-Mail 56% (more about this on our Productivity page)
  4. Shopping site browsing 55%
  5. Personal Banking 53%

Though this was a 2004 study, the figures are still pretty much the same today except you can add searching for music, searching dating sites and some other unsavory activities to the mix. We have prepared a Microsoft Word formatted "computer use document" that you should have your employees sign. You may use this document based on a Creative Commons CC By: Copyright as follows Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. This document can substantially reduce potential legal issues, time wasted by employees and more. At least it could give you a really good reason for termination of an employee who may have cost you time or money by only working half the time. You can also refer to our page on the dangers of computer use for more issues.

In 2006 MSNBC and had similar results in a study. They determined that over 81 minutes worth of "work time" was wasted per employee, per day, in non work related Internet use.

Providing a quality, productive computer system to get and keep the work flowing and limiting what employees are able to do outside of their normal assigned duties will save time and money and ultimately make your entire operation more productive and profitable.

According to the law you have the "right" to monitor the use of "your" computers. That monitoring extends to logging all the employee usage, what they're doing and where they're going. If you don't want employees potentially spending half the day or more goofing off on the Internet you need to consider taking action. As distasteful at it may sound you need to be aware of the potential for serious legal issues especially if you don't have a policy in force on computer use.

There are hardware firewall products with content filtering that can restrict WEB use based on virtually any criteria. If an employee uses the, (your), computer for anything illegal the responsibility could be entirely on you as the owner of the business, and of the computers. At the minimum they could do something to embarrass you, at worst they can send records about your clients to a competitor. Actually there are situations I have seen that are worse. These central firewall devices are not necessarily expensive but they make for good insurance against a multitude of problems.

We have a customer so security conscience that they won't allow any of their 100+ staff to even download a JPG photo. In their business, there is no reason, so why allow it? None of this company's systems have Macromedia Flash or Shockwave installed either, for the same reason. A tight ship is an efficient ship. I must repeat that the things an employee does with their system is your liability as the owner. Even if it wasn't the law, who is someone going to sue, the employee or the person with the liability insurance?

I'll wager that most of the people reading this site have never read an EULA and may not even know what it is. It's an End User License Agreement and came with virtually every software program you, (or anyone else), installed on your system. Those few people we have met who have read it may have wished they had remained ignorant to what it says.

The main point of the EULA is to inform you that you don't own the software. WHAT, you say, you paid good money for that software! Not exactly. You paid good money for a license to use it, in most cases you don't even own the CD it came on much less the software itself. The software developer has sold you a license with the permission to use the software and because they're so nice they decided to throw in the media necessary to install it, but it's really on loan, your renting it! We have a tool that will locate the EULA agreements on your system so you can easily verify what I just said but prepare for a lot of reading. They're filled with legal jargon. If you would like the EULA tool, send us an E-Mail.

Also, They can take away the permission they sold you and they aren't obligated by law to refund any money or provide an explanation. Harsh, isn't it? Though this doesn't happen very often it is possible. That also means they have total control over how and where you use the software. That's why you can get some pretty heavy fines against your business if an employee installed some software that wasn't legal to install on your computer, even if they purchased the license. I assure you that YOU will be the one fined, not the employee. The easiest way to get a software audit is to have an ex, (possibly someone not very happy with the way they were treated, at least in their mind), employee report you, (they will likely get a little cash out of the deal too). Just another reason to have a computer usage document as part of the employment agreement when you hire them.

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