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Im always surprised when people complain about the amount of time their employees spend on non-work-related activities at the office. I recently read about yet another monitoring tool designed to track when and where employees spend their time online. Certainly, such technology has value for compliance purposesto ensure that your employees arent downloading pornography on the job, for instance. But this particular vendor was also pitching its product as a way for employers to know just how much time workers are spending goofing off while on the clock.In the past few years, technology has taken a hit in this area. The web, of course, was initially feared by managers, who worried that their employees would spend all their time online, rather than working. Apparently, to judge by the monitoring software mentioned above, plenty of managers still worry about this, but more reasonable heads have embraced the web for its work-related benefits, enabling employees to research data and interact with one another easily and cost-effectively. The other bugaboo technology is IMIm still surprised by how many IT and business leaders tell me they cant get IM into the enterprise because management worries it will be too disruptive, and too much of a distraction.
Where were these people 10 years ago, when employees idled away their time at the proverbial water cooler (more often one anothers desks, the lunchroom, the hallway and the parking lot), or chatting on the phone with friends and family? There have always been plenty of ways to waste time at work. When I was a reporter at a national magazine right out of college, it was part of my job to read half a dozen daily newspapersbut I probably wasnt supposed to spend as much time on the comics and gossip sections as I did.
None of that made me any less productive, for the simple fact that human beings are not machines. Most of us cannot stay focused on our work from 9am until 5pm (or longer); we need to take mental and physical breaks to perform at our peak the rest of the time. I did once have a boss who boasted that she worked 60 fully productive hours a week, stressing that during those 60 hours she didnt even stop to blow her nose. She was being completely serious, but she was also almost certainly lying. If she wasnt, she should have tried taking a Kleenex break once in a while; it probably would have made her a much more effective person to work for.
In todays virtual workplace, where more and more of us work from home or remote offices, far from the prying eyes of our bosses, its still frustrating to see how many of them insist on visibility. These managers want to know that were punching the clock as expected, and that were 100% focused on the business at hand when were logged in. But its better to judge people on what they produce than how they produce it. For some of us, that means reading the comics in between the business news; for others, its catching up on the latest You Tube videos. Either way, if were doing our jobs well and efficiently, who cares?