Surfing at Work, Working at Home: Who Wins?

One major concern that employers have expressed about employees’ internet access at work is that employees will spend too much time conducting personal business or surfing the web, rather than fulfilling work responsibilities. However, a new study suggests that employers have little to fear, as employees who spend time on the Net at work on personal matters more than make up the time at home. (See NY Times article. Free registration required.). In the annual National Technology Readiness Survey (NTRS) conducted by the Center for e-Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, researchers found that workers with Internet access at both home and work spent an average of 3.7 hours per week engaged in personal online activities while at the job, but also spend an average of 5.9 hours per week online at home for work-related purposes. A total of 73% of workers spend as much or more time using the Internet at home for work purposes than at work for personal reasons, while only 27% spend more time on personal pursuits than they give back at work. According to the Center’s Director, Roland Rust, the survey results suggest that “Businesses often clamp down on personal use of the Internet at work, citing concerns about productivity, but this study indicates workers more than make up for it at home…The survey suggests companies should accept some personal use of the Internet at work as not only inevitable, but as positive to the organization.” Some of the reasons that employees with home access still conduct personal business at work: the workplace offers more desirable infrastructure such as high-speed connections and is likely to already be on, rather than requiring the effort of booting up; and the growth in e-services creates new reasons to go online that might be conducted during the workday. Employees are more likely to engage in work while at home for some of the following reasons: computers give workers newfound freedom. For example, a person can now leave the job early enough to have dinner with the family, and finish up business on the Internet afterwards. This might include checking email, conducting research, ordering travel or purchasing things for work. Workers may also telecommute, and telecommuting may be spontaneous or temporary, such as staying at home in the morning to catch up without distractions. The results of this study suggest that employers need not be so concerned with worker productivity that they devise restrictive policies on personal Internet usage in the workplace, as restricting Internet usage at work may have the opposite effect of discouraging an employee’s work-related internet use at home, which is more likely to benefit the employer in the long run.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.