The business world is changing as organizations adopt net-based technologies. In their book Leading Digital, Westerman, Bonnet, and McAfee (2014) stress that businesses should embrace the Internet if they want to survive in today’s digital world. Organizational consultant Harold Jarche says that networks are the new companies, and networked employees are the new innovators. Employee Internet access is mainstream, and brings benefits like enhanced communication and greater access to information. It also brings challenges. Here are five reasons that a business might want to cut (and keep) the Internet connection.
1. Cyber Slacking
Cutting the Internet connection will eliminate the need to monitor and correct cyber slacking. The Internet provides an easy distraction for employees. Instead of working they might be shopping on Amazon, taking care of personal finances, booking flights to Cancun, checking out the latest baby pictures on Facebook, or watching cat videos. The results of a CareerBuilder survey indicated that 24% of respondents spent more than an hour a day on personal calls, emails, or text messages, and 21% spent at least that much time surfing the net for non-work activities.
There are always employees who never seem to be around, “long lunch” isn’t a new phrase, and the water cooler is still a popular hangout. In addition to surfing the net, the CareerBuilder survey found that gossiping, breaks, and excessive meetings also decreased worker productivity. Yet, the 2015 American Time Use Survey indicated that people spend an average of 7.6 hours working on workdays, pretty close to an 8-hour day. Chatting with coworkers can build the team, and surfing the net for a few minutes might provide a needed break that enables greater productivity. Businesses can set expectations for Internet usage. They might even follow the lead of some Swedish companies and offer a six-hour workday in exchange for spending time on task.
Not connecting to the Internet will improve security—just ask any security expert. Without an outside connection, hackers will not be able to steal precious digital data. Workers won’t click malicious e-mail attachments to find out who sent them a “LOVE-LETTER”, and it will be harder to share business secrets with other governments. IBM’s 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index reported that insiders were responsible for 60% of all attacks; 25% of these were inadvertent, but 75% (45% of total attacks) were malicious. Cutting the connection will reduce the large amount of time IT departments spend eliminating viruses and Trojans. In fact, it might allow for a reduction in the IT budget.
Email and phishing are the most common threats to security. Can your business really survive without email? Is information more secure if it is on paper? Security is always a challenge because it is based on predicting what might happen. Every organization should assess and manage security risks. Buildings have locks, employees carry ID cards, and Internet security is just another business necessity. Taking risk management seriously is probably one of the best things an organization can do to prevent attacks. Fire drills are required; why not cyber drills? Companies should use threat detection and prevention tools, install patches, establish policies, promote user awareness, enforce standards, and train workers. An anonymous hotline for reporting unethical behavior is a good idea too.
With the net, workers can connect from home, or any location with an Internet connection. However, studies show that employees working from home are easily distracted (by chores, cats on the keyboard, etc.). In 2013, CEO Marissa Mayer banned teleworking at Yahoo after internal data showed inadequate time spent working. Mayer said that collocated workers would increase communication and collaboration, and enhance the speed and quality of work. It has also been reported that teleworkers miss the social aspects of the workplace.
Research shows that teleworkers work more, not less, than their on-site colleagues. A Gallup study reported that remote workers log an average of four more hours per week than on-site workers. Teleworkers are slightly more engaged—especially those who work remotely about 20% of the time—so a combination of on-site and telework might boost productivity. There are a variety of tools to connect colleagues at different locations, bringing opportunities for conducting global business and attracting workers who may not wish to relocate. More sophisticated tools are on the way with breakthroughs in virtual and augmented reality. Sensors in the Oculus Rift can even pick up non-verbal cues, and translate language in real time.
Have you heard the one about why beer is better than women? Chevron has. The company agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle sexual harassment charges that were based, in part, on an employee e-mail that contained the offensive joke. Liability is a big concern when workers misuse the Internet on company time, with company equipment. Misuses like harassment, distributing confidential information, engaging in fraudulent activities, infringing copyrights, and gambling will keep legal counsel busy and compliance experts writing policies.
The joke that was emailed at Chevron was only a small part of the case. In fact, the most offensive materials were delivered via inter-office mail. Evidence showed that the plaintiffs were targeted for retaliation by management after filing sexual harassment complaints. The real problem was not the Internet, it was Chevron’s failure to address the serious complaints. To minimize liability, companies can take steps like adopting Internet usage policies, providing training, enforcing policies, monitoring e-mail, and installing filters. With the right tools in place activities like downloading porn or sending threats via the net can be deterred.
5. Information Overload
Cutting the connection may benefit the health of employees who are stressed out by their 24/7 connected lifestyle. The Internet enables an abundance of information and endless connections. As Weinberger (2011) stated, the “economics of deletion” have changed. Research shows that dealing with a deluge of email can spur elevations in blood pressure and cortisol levels. A report by Adobe Systems indicated that Americans check email around the clock, and use email on average 30 or more hours a week. Stressed workers are searching for email rehab tips and heading to Morocco for digital detoxes.
As much as Americans are using email and connecting to the net, they have no apparent desire to stop. And, NYU professor Clay Shirky said the real problem is not information overload, it is filter failure. Organizational behavior expert John Hovell suggests filtering information by identifying favorite sources and using filtering apps like Feedly. Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa can help, and artificial intelligence is making advances in productivity software. In the meantime, workers can find yoga classes on the net, and check their blood pressure with Apple watches. If the pressure is up a bit, watching a cat video or checking out those new baby pictures might be just the stress relief a busy worker needs.
The Future is Connected
Businesses that cut employee access to the Internet are living in the past. Weinberger (2011) points out that knowledge is in the net. Workers need to be there too. Report after report predicts that businesses will have to embrace AI, robotics and other disruptive technologies. Gen Z has skills that businesses will need in 2020, like new media literacy and social intelligence. A locked down environment will not attract the talent that businesses need to thrive in the networked age. Keep the connection. What lies ahead is amazing.
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Westerman, G., Bonnet, D., & McAfee, A. (2014). Leading digital: Turning technology into business transformation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
14 thoughts on “Five Reasons Businesses Should Cut (and Keep) the Internet Connection.”
Neat post. For the record, I am on the “keep” side … teaching online pays my bills! 🙂
One could weave several stands through your cut or keep argument. One of my hot button issues is employers that complain about cyber slacking…but then expect their employees to respond to emails after hours. You really cannot have it both ways. I lean toward the idea that “9 to 5” is no longer relevant (if it ever was)…and that we pay people to complete tasks and innovate new ones. Whether that is happening in the office or outside seems immaterial if it gets done in a reasonable time. And if I know they are working around the clock, then I am comfortable with them checking home issues while in the office. After all, their refrigerator may have just emailed them that the milk has g0ne bad!
“Employers complain about cyber slacking…but then expect their employees to respond to email after hours. You really cannot have it both ways.” I agree! For employees that never really clock out, “9 to 5” loses its meaning. And, emails from the refrigerator can bring shopping efficiencies that leave more time for work. Overall, cyber slacking is uncharacteristic of the American work culture. Americans work more and vacation less than any developed country in the world. The US is the only developed country that does not require paid vacation; about 25 percent of US workers do not receive any paid vacation or holidays. Workers in Italy average 42 paid vacation days a year, followed by France (37 days), and then Austria and Germany (35 days). The US has the lowest number, with 13 average paid vacation days per year.
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Good morning CatontheKB,
I liked the format of your post this week. Fun to read and easy to understand. As I read the first couple of “cut” the internet sections, I kept thinking “how could we possibly do that?” It speaks to how many businesses and workplaces have changed significantly and now rely on the internet to such an extent that we cannot imagine another way. We must be proactive and vigilant, however, in regards to some of the serious risks that you presented.
On the topic of cyber slacking and productivity, it is a very real threat, yet as you mentioned I believe there have always been opportunities for employees to be unproductive. I have always had the same approach with salaried employees (doesn’t work as well for the hourly folks), and it has worked well for me as a boss. I tell people that I simply don’t care what hours they work… and for the most part, I don’t. Now, this is a bit of an exaggeration, because there are required meetings to attend and tasks that must be performed at certain times of the day, week, or month. My expectation is that an employee stays on task and works as to their full capacity until the job is done and they have had “enough” for the day. Some days that will mean that you work a six hour day, and others you need to keep at the task for a ten hour day until it is complete. However, if the work is done to the best of our ability, the hours simply don’t matter to me. I have had very little abuse of this rule over the years and the employees seem to appreciate the flexibility afforded to them.
Security is another important topic as it pertains to this conversation and you put together a strong outline of the issues. I like your comparison of fire drills to cyber drills. My mind went to an activity like phishing campaigns. Email phishing scams are incredibly common today and falling for such a scam can result in your organization being exposed to viruses, ransomware (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ransomware), and other malicious activity. Some colleges and universities are taking a proactive approach to helping protect their employees against phishing scams. UC-Berkeley (https://security.berkeley.edu/resources/phishing/anti-phishing-campaign-materials) has created materials to be hung around campus and in offices telling people how to protect themselves. My own organization has informed employees that we will be conducting phishing exercises that, if employees fall for them, will direct them to an educational page on what to look for in a phishing scam. It will give the institution data on how we can develop further training exercises.
I think my point with all of this is, we have to be proactive. I’d like to think the internet isn’t going away, but that means we cannot ignore the threats to our organizations. Those threats increase and change every day and we must look to protect our employees and our data at every turn.
All the best,
The Ayes Have It
Thank you for your comments! Your task-oriented approach with salaried employees sounds excellent. I imagine the flexibility positively influences retention. Have you noticed this? As you said, this is not as simple for hourly workers, although the proposed (and delayed) new FLSA overtime regulations highlight the need to consider compensation when a work week exceeds 40 hours.
Your mention of salaried employees attending required meetings made me think of another aspect of cyber slacking. I have noticed that meetings (especially unproductive ones) seem to be a place for pseudo cyber slacking. Workers are in the meeting physically, yet using their devices for non-work activities, and at the same time contributing to the work discussion. The “what for” of information seems to be losing relevance as it becomes more inseparable.
On the topic of security, I am glad you brought up ransomware! Gartner reported that this is a real threat to businesses in 2017, as the monetary payouts make ransomware a preferred weapon of attack. Security is one of the most tempting reasons to cut the Internet connection, but the UC-Berkeley materials you shared are a great example of how organizations can deal with security risks. Your institution sounds very proactive in its phishing exercises. The benefits of keeping the connection might outweigh the advantages of cutting it. As you said, though, we must be vigilant!
I like the format and lots of data you provided for the discussion. I have a few thoughts around these topics, many from my experience.
Cyber slacking may actually be beneficial. There have been times when I needed a break from the constant focus to just be able to focus. Ariga & Lleras (2011) found that brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods. If the internet is my distraction, then it is just another tool that can help me focus. I do agree that, as Weinberger (2011) noted, the link dynamic tends to pull people away from where they were originally focused. So, it can easily become a long break as I continually click on interesting links.
As to security and liability, I have the same view on both of these topics in regards to the internet. As a process expert for many years, but working for a technology company, I often had to tell customers and colleagues to be careful not to solve a people/process problem, with a technology solution. All too often, technologists suggest devices or programs to address problems that likely have to do with policy, governance, or just plain bad behavior. We would use pictures like the below to illustrate the challenge:
Picture: I am having trouble inserting an image, but here it is described. It is a picture of an exit door being propped open by a brick. A sign on the inside of the door (which you can see because the door is propped open) says that “this door must be closed at all times”. The caption of the slide asks if this is a people, process, or technology problem, then asks if a stronger lock would help.
If people use any assets of the company in a manner that presents risk to the company, then it is about the person, not the asset. And most of the credential theft problems we have seen come from administrators and their lack of discipline and hygiene with their credentials, rather than the bulk of employees (who should not have much rights). In this case, it is fixing the processes, then the people, and augmenting with some technical solutions (e.g., isolating all administrative accounts in a separate, secure domain).
So, I agree with you that the internet far better for companies, and for the reasons you stated.
Ariga, A., & Lleras, A. (2011). Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition, 118(3), 439–443. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.007
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too Big to Know. New York: Basic Books.
Thank you for your comments! I am glad you pointed out that cyber slacking may actually be beneficial, and even help people stay on task. Sometimes this seems like the “elephant in the meeting room”, with everyone using their phones and tablets. Given Ariga and Lleras’ (2011) finding that brief diversions can significantly improve performance on the main task, a little connecting sounds good.
Using pictures to pinpoint the nature of problems is such a great idea. Your picture of the “must be closed at all times” exit door being propped open by a brick gets right to the problem. If the door must be closed, don’t make it so easy to open it. Sony has been hacked more than 10 times. In 2011, 77 million accounts with passwords were stolen by entering the Sony system through a PlayStation diagnostic mode. In 2016, PlayStation was hacked again. An analysis revealed that password like surfboard42 were still acceptable to the system. Most sites would require a capital letter and punctuation. It was five years before Sony added two-step verification, preventing the door from being propped open by a brick.
Your advice to look at the processes and the people, and then see how technical solutions can help, is very wise and something I will remember (along with the brick picture)!
Sony was an especially good, or bad, example of very poor cyber security hygiene. People and process mattered, but it was at the architecture and policy level. It always is people, process, and technology.
Like the others I really like how you laid out your blog with the pros and cons. Even with such interesting content, the blog’s architecture made it an even more engaging reading. Of course the mini-break of watching some cat videos – well you did post the link – might have helped too 🙂
You discuss the potential for workers to be off task. In regards to remote workers you might find it interesting that one company in the United Kingdom required its remote workers to wear trackers and use apps which measured nutrition, exercise, time sitting at desks, and happiness levels. Another used tracking software to measure collaborative activities and customer interactions (Blount, 2015). So yet another take on networked workers and the network! ~Tricia
Blount, Y. (2015). Managing the invisible employee. Governance Directions, 67(6), 365-367. Retrieved from https://www.governanceinstitute.com.au
“required its remote workers to wear trackers and use apps which measured nutrition, exercise, time sitting at desks, and happiness level”!? Wow! If there were deficiencies, did the company deliver nutritious meals and allow workers time to exercise and watch Pharrell Williams’ Happy video? While the company may be trying to help its remote workers, I cannot help but wonder if the employees feel this monitoring is within their reasonable expectation of privacy, and how it is impacting their morale. Did the article mention these aspects? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!
You always make me smile. Unfortunately the meta-analysis did not cover employee engagement or retention associated with the measures. It did indicate that all employees agreed to the conditions willingly. I personally think it is overstepping. I expect to be trusted. However, maybe they were finding deleterious impacts on remote workers and were really trying to help?? If that were the motivation and if the possibility of receiving fun videos and good food were in the offing … I could go for the tracker 🙂 Hope I don’t have to make that choice.
I’m going to echo many of the statements of those above me, I really enjoyed the format that your presented your arguments in during this post. Like “The Ayes Have It” brought up, many of the cut issues that you bring up seem to be unlikely to be adopted by any companies. I understand that your intent was to highlight current issues with our increasingly connected workforce and not actually advocating for companies to abandon the internet. I think moving forward it will be increasingly important for organizations to stay on top of the technological advancements and prevent falling into the “cut” problems you described.
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Thank you for your comments! You bring up such a good point. Even though we will always have to deal with the issues at hand, staying on top of technological advances and looking at the big picture will help us move forward!
Cat on Keyboard-
I liked the format of your post. I found the section on liability related to Internet use interesting. Today I listened to a TED talk that discussed Internet shaming. Ronson (2015) told a story of a woman that made a joke that was in poor taste and then misunderstood. The tweet went viral, and the public (or the public on Twitter) outcry was swift and harsh. The company she worked for had no choice but to fire her after the massive Internet backlash. I think employee Internet use both at work and outside of work can become problematic for employees and organizations. In my days as a social media manager, I had to be extra careful about my Internet habits because I was often tweeting and posting to Facebook on behalf of organizations and sometimes for executive directors. I think as the nature of jobs change, Internet liability will become an even a bigger and more complex issue.
Ronson, J (2015, June). Jon Ronson: When online shaming goes to far. [Video File]/ Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/jon_ronson_what_happens_when_online_shaming_spirals_out_of_control
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Thank you for your comments! I was stunned and saddened by the story that Ronson told in his TED talk. I had not thought about this type of Internet vigilante justice, but it is easy to see how damaging it could be. Education comes to mind as a possible aid. Do you think you will share the video with your students?