Office Watch

Office Watch

Big Brother may be watching. To increase employee productivity and combat online loafing in the workplace, employers are arming their companies with computer-monitoring software to track usage.

“I can see an advantage in using these tools: The assurance that the computers provided to the staff by the IT infrastructure will be appropriately used and any abuses and/or misuses will be handled,” says Warren Harrington, vice president and chief investment officer of Chicago-based Blackwell Consulting Services Inc. (No. 100 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $27.5 million in sales). Though Blackwell Consulting Services does not utilize computer-monitoring software, Harrington believes such systems are relevant to safeguard productivity.

Why are employers making this move? According to an America Online/ survey polling more than 10,000 people, employees conduct non-work related tasks on the Internet, on average, two hours each day during business hours. In fact, nearly 45% of respondents cited surfing the Internet for personal use as their primary time-wasting activity during a given workweek.

Adam Schran, CEO of Ascentive L.L.C., a Philadelphia-based computer software publisher, says computer-monitoring software can “increase productivity, eliminate wasted time, and protect computer data.” With most employees wasting about two hours a day, Schran contends it is a “pervasive” problem. “That’s basically a day and a quarter of the workweek,” he adds.

BeAware Corporate Edition 6.8, monitoring software published by Ascentive, is designed to record e-mails, chats, online surfing, and Web-based games played in real and idle computer time. It can monitor as many as 10,000 employees and reports. It allows managers to view an individual’s computer use patterns or watch his or her computer screen from a remote location. For example, one of Schran’s clients was surprised to find out one of his best people was using the Internet to search for a new job. “The software helped in retaining the person and getting him back on track,” Schran says. According to him, interest in this software has quintupled compared to last year.

A privacy time feature within the program does give managers the option of allowing employees to use the Internet during breaks. And it is recommended that employers distribute disclosure statements to their employees. “If these tools are not transparent to the vast majority of employees, it is quite possible that they could negatively affect overall morale,” says Harrington. “The old phrase, ‘Big Brother is watching,’ is not something people should be reminded of constantly, even if it is necessary and prudent for a business to perform in a behind-the-scenes fashion.”

Keeping Watch
Considering installing software to monitor your employees’ computer activity? Here are three software systems to get you started in your search for the perfect one. Prices vary depending on the size of the
Spector CNE (Corporate Network Edition) Investigator records all instant messages, chat conversations, e-mails, network bandwidth, file downloads, files copied to removable media, and keystrokes typed. It can take snapshots of a