Blocking internet access blocks innovation and collaboration

Talking about Web 2.0 tools and techniques to fellow Constructing Excellence Collaborative Working Champions in Birmingham last month, one friend told the meeting that his employer limited employee access to the web quite tightly, this restricting his and his colleagues’ ability to try such tools. Another said his organisation blocked access to various networking sites, even those, such as Ning, which hosted work-related communities (Be2camp, for example).

I had thought that such policies were a thing of the past. But apparently, according to a Guardian news story yesterday (also reported in the Telegraph), they remain quite common. It reported findings of a Chartered Management Institute survey (see ‘cyber cynicism’ news release) of 1,000 managers aged 35 and under, revealing some stark contrasts in attitudes between junior and senior managers:

“… employers view Internet activity as a ‘massive timewaster’.  Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) monitor employee internet access and the same proportion (65 per cent) block ‘inappropriate’ websites. A significant number (18 per cent) also retain tight control over access by imposing curfews on internet usage.

“The data … reveals different usage patterns according to age group.  For example, 67 per cent of those under 25 have ‘read a forum’ in the past 3 months, compared to just 51 per cent of those aged over 30.  Two-thirds (69 per cent) of those aged 25 or under have watched videos online (work or otherwise), compared to 54 per cent of individuals aged 30 plus.  With evidence also suggesting respondents want to use business networking sites such as LinkedIn (6 per cent for both managers and students), the implication is that employers must change their attitude towards technology, or risk alienating their future managers and leaders.

“… many respondents believe their enthusiasm for web-based technology is not yet matched by employers.  Just 4 per cent claim their organisation ‘falls in love with the latest trend’ and 49 per cent say their employer only ‘takes up things once they’re tried and tested’.  Worryingly 16 per cent go as far as describing their employer as ‘dinosaurs’.

“… many UK organisations are slow to adopt new Internet (Web 2.0) technology.  Although 95 per cent use email or communicate with staff via intranets (81 per cent) only small proportions are happy to use web-based applications such as Google Docs (39 per cent), organisational message boards (19 per cent) or web-casting (9 per cent).

The risks of such attitudes are spelt out in two quotes. First, CMI’s Jo Causon says: “organisations need to harness the comfort levels these individuals have with Internet-based resources, because failure to do so will lead to frustration and the loss of top talent at best, or worse, an open door for competitors to build advantage through a better equipped and enabled workforce.”

Second, Jan Hutchinson of Research sponsor Ordnance Survey says: “the longer this situation is allowed to remain unchallenged, the greater the likelihood UK employers will fall behind their international competitors.”

Obviously, organisations need to manage their employees but I suspect that in many organisations such restrictions are harming their competitiveness by frustrating individuals’ wishes to try new technologies and to network and collaborate with professionals both inside their organisations and in related businesses, etc. Surely, they can trust their employees to be responsible adults capable of working within clearly defined internet usage policies? Backed by internal disciplinary procedures, such policies show that organisations take internet usage seriously and trust their staff not to abuse web access but during working hours to use it for work-related purposes.

However, I think employees could also lobby their managers to relax the constraints. If they can demonstrate what networks or tools they want to access and show how such access would benefit them and the organisation, surely the restrictions could be relaxed.

Update (28 January 2009): Good post by Tim at Adoption Curve Dot Net: Unblocking the blockers.

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1 comment

    • Wes Smith on 3 December 2008 at 10:10 pm

    this is pretty common, and really just smart practice to start restricted, and then lossen up.

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