Blown To Bits

The Office Computer

Thursday, September 25th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

After yesterday’s anguished report on surveillance of children, let’s try something today that at least starts off on a lighter note.

A report out of New Zealand says that of all the time people spend online while in the office (and for many people, that is most of their office time), about a quarter of it is spent doing personal business. And more than three-quarters of all emails sent from office computers are personal.

Ah, I hear you cry, but it makes me so much more efficient that I get more done than I used to.


And someone in the story points out that it’s better for the business if we do our banking online from our desk than if we take half an hour to walk to the bank.


In any case, these reports cause the corporate efficiency experts to do the lost-time calculations, the vast cost to business of this wasted time. If only we could get our employees to focus on their work, we’d be more competitive.

And it is exactly these considerations that drive companies to install on office computer tools like the ones we discussed yesterday for children — software that monitors what web sites employees are going to, and perhaps blocks certain external connections. (There are other reasons as well. Not a good thing if you email your friend Mary in Oklahoma the spreadsheet you meant to email Mary in accounting.)

The cultural issues are going to take some time to sort out, but once put in place they tend to be hard to move. So read your corporate privacy policy. As we note on page 57, Harvard’s employee privacy policy is surprisingly Orwellian, though I am confident that it’s never used the way it’s written:

Employees must have no expectation or right of privacy in anything they create, store, send, or receive on Harvard’s computers, networks, or telecommunications systems. …. Electronic files, e-mail, data files, images, software, and voice mail may be accessed at any time by management or by other authorized personnel for any business purpose. Access may be requested and arranged through the system(s) user, however, this is not required.

What does yours say?

3 Responses to “The Office Computer”

  1. jessica Says:

    A lil ironic that i’m reading this from work?

  2. Harry Lewis Says:

    Think of it as professional development 😉

  3. yvette Says:

    When major companies in Korea blocked people from using MSN Messenger at work, people just started using another messenger service. Not surprisingly, NateOn has a “transparent window” that blends in with one’s desktop background for those chatting from the office.