By Edward Kwang
The Internet is a wonderful invention for mankind. It is safe to say that it has transformed our society significantly, and it is continuing to evolve and bring changes to our lives. There are many reasons that business owners and managers should allow their employees to use the Internet. For example, using email is a common way of communicating with customers. Using a remote support application can quickly and easily resolve your application problem and get you back to work. Tracking package delivery is a common task for businesses that send and receive packages. There are too many examples to continue.
Even so, I know of many businesses that do not allow their employees to access the Internet. I think we all know the reason. Owners or managers fear that the Internet may cause their employees to lose focus on their jobs and decrease productivity. Their concerns are real and should not be dismissed. Studies suggest that some workers spend as much as 25 percent of their business hours doing personal business online.
Internet Filtering Solution
For most of the larger organizations, the common method for addressing this concern is to implement some type of internet filtering solution. This is also known as web filtering, content filtering or surfing control. While this type of solution can accomplish its objective to a certain extent, there are several drawbacks. The common issues are either over blocking or under blocking. Over blocking may block websites that can be useful and contain acceptable materials. Under blocking may not block the websites that employees may waste time on.
The biggest issue I find with Internet filtering is that it is a passive tool. Blocking your employees from accessing a certain nonproductive website does not mean your employees will become productive. If your employees want to waste time, I assure you that they will find a way to waste time no matter how tight you control their Internet access. This is especially true since the invention of the smart phone. How are you going to stop your employees from using their smart phone for social sites or personal emails? Pretty much everything you can waste time with on a regular PC can be done through a smart phone as well. My opinion is that smart phone technology has totally changed the paradigm of Internet filtering, and you will find that this is becoming a less and less effective solution.
Some businesses choose to implement computer monitoring software to combat computer abuse. This type of solution is often very invasive to the point that much of this software is considered “spyware.” This often makes your employees uncomfortable about their working environment. In addition, you can’t really use monitoring tools for management. The concept of monitoring is to prevent fraud, gross negligence or theft, where you will access it once in a while like a video surveillance system. A monitoring system is not designed to give management a performance measurement on how productive an employee has been. For example, if you have any employee working 10 hours a day and he spends 10 minutes a day online on social media sites, do you really mind?
Many years ago, my management consultant advised me that a good employee’s performance evaluation is the key to a well-managed company. He advised me to make quantifiable performance measurements, set standards for employees to accomplish and challenge them to improve their numbers.
While I understand this quantifiable performance measurement concept, I told him that it is very difficult to make it work for my business. Then he suggested that I consider the number of lines of code written or the number of bugs that were produced. I argued with him that that does not really work because I know programmers can just copy codes and create a lot of lines of code but not really do much, while other programmer can write re-usable codes that are concise and easy to maintain. Also, there are serious bugs and cosmetic bugs of no significant consequence, and we can’t simply use the number of bugs produced to quantify an employee’s performance.
I argued so much that he finally gave up. He told me that he did not know my business well. It was my job to find out how to quantify my employees’ performance. Only when I can do that, can I successfully manage my business.
Even though I was not able to come up with good quantifiable performance measurement at that time, I had always kept what he said in the back of my mind. A few years later, one my employees moved away from the area where our office was located to be closer to her boyfriend. She spent an average of two to three hours every day driving on the congested LA freeway system. She came to me and asked if she could telecommute. She is a valuable employee of mine. I know she likes our company, but I also know that her work would not able to compete with her boyfriend if she had to choose. I know if I didn’t do something to keep her, I would most likely lose her.
My biggest concern about telecommuting is that there’s no face-to-face contact. After a while, a telecommuting employee may become complacent. How do I know if an employee is working on my project when she is working from home? This is especially true because I am not familiar with the work she does every day.
I reluctantly agreed to allow her to work from home one day per week before we could establish some kind of measurement system. Then we could start to increase the number of days per week that she worked from home. We looked at the products on the market. To my surprise, there was nothing on the market that could provide the “quantifiable performance measurement” as I expected. We decided to develop such a solution ourselves.
We called the first beta version Session Audit Manager or SAM. From there, I allowed her to work from home two days per week. After a while, I had collected a reasonable amount of data. I set a standard of 80 percent active ratio. If she could meet this standard, then she could work from home three days per week. Very quickly, she met my standard.
After we came up with the second revision, we decided to call this solution MySammy. One of the features of MySammy 2.0 is that she can check her own performance standard. I told her if she could achieve 85 percent active ratio, then she only needed to come to the office one day per week. She took my challenge and very quickly achieved the result. But this time, I noticed there was a difference because I saw her work on weekends from time to time. This indicates that the 85 percent ratio was the challenge that she needed to motivate her to sometimes work beyond her normal schedule. In the end, this was a win-win solution for both my employee and my company.
MySammy is a solution that is designed to provide a quantifiable performance measurement on how a person spends his/her time in front of a computer. It is a great tool for telecommuting employees. But management can use it for any worker that spends a lot of time on the computer.