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.