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Surfing at workplace rises despite curbs

Last updated on: November 23, 2010 20:42 IST

Surfing at workplace rises despite curbs

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Priyanka Joshi & Preeti Khicha

Due to long hours at work, Sampreet Dhingra, a 31-year-old graphics visualiser with a leading games development company, shops online for gifts for her family.

She reasons: "Since I spend 10 hours on my work computer every day, I might as well buy my festival gifts online. More so because I don't find time once I am at home."

Dhingra, who recently joined 99labels.com and frequents sites like Rediff Shopping and eBay, claims to have spent over Rs 6,000 last month on online purchases. She now eyes winter deals on online shopping sites.

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Image: More online shoppers.
Photographs: Reuters.
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ISACA, a global association of 95,000 information technology (IT) professionals, surveyed many like Dhingra.

The report said nearly half of information technology leaders in India expected employees to spend more time shopping on their office computers and mobile devices this year.

The numbers show a significant increase during the festive season. Close to 50 per cent professionals who took part in the survey admitted their companies limited employees' online shopping during work hours by preventing access to certain sites.

Close to 41 per cent said their companies prohibited access to social networking sites.

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Image: More people shop online.

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Besides e-commerce sites, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also driving up internet use at work - particularly by the young workforce.

According to Informate Mobile Intelligence, an average Indian mobile subscriber spends 50 per cent of his/her active time on chat-based applications while 26 per cent subscribers use social networking apps on their mobile devices.

E-shopping at work

Sriram K Madhav, product manager at a leading telecom solutions company in New Delhi, regularly logs on to Facebook and Twitter from the mobile provided by his company.

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Image: More employees now uses social networking.

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"A quick check of my Facebook page or a simple update on Twitter helps break monotony at work," he said. While travelling, the time spent on social networking sites increases, as this allows him to stay connected with friends while on the move.

Recently, a study by Experian revealed that Facebook was the second most-visited website in India after Google, accounting for 5.13 per cent of hits from Indian internet users in October. It has climbed a notch since September, when it was the third most-visited website after Google and Gmail.

ViziSense, an online audience and ad measurement platform, highlights sporadic growth in e-commerce. Sites like fashionandyou.com and bagittoday attracted more than a million users each in September.

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Image: Networking to break monotony at work.

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Interestingly, these shopping sites gained traction by leveraging the popularity of social media sites. One can see them creating buzz on sites like Facebook and Orkut through unique campaigns or trial-inducing applications. Besides social networking, employees also use online bankings.

Faroukh Batliwala, a chartered accountant in Pune, said: "It is hard to say how much time I spend on personal surfing and work-related web-browsing at work, as both are done at the same time. While I am waiting for a work email to arrive, I often log on to a social networking site and check for updates."

ViziSense Vice-President and General Manager Amit Bhartiya said e-commerce sites had caught on more in West (Maharashtra) and South (Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) than the North, which takes the lead when it comes to offline shopping.

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Image: Networking creates more buzz.

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Vizisense data revealed these sites saw wide acceptance by youth (between 15 and 24 years) and people with an income of less than Rs 2 lakh.

Security risks

However, online shopping and social networking sites bring risks for the employers' network. This is because employees can get exposed to fraudulent deals and phishing scams and may unintentionally download malware and other vulnerable viruses on work computers.

Social networking sites also present their own challenges. A spokesperson at Axis Asset Management Company explained: "There is a risk of sharing confidential company information on social networking sites because these provide the option of uploading and downloading files. Groups can be formed and this can lead to discussion of a controversial issue that can affect the company's image."

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Image: Beware of phishing.

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As companies increasingly provide employees with laptops and smartphones, the line between work and personal activities continues to blur - and risks increase.

Between lost productivity, the danger of unsecured networks and the probability of losing or misplacing small items, mobile devices pose many risks that must be addressed to obtain substantial benefits from them.

Employers ready to toggle security for employees

At MindTree, employees are not allowed to visit social networking sites during office hours.


Image: Smartphones.

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"We believe accessing gaming and movie sites are a distraction for employees during work hours. Even though many employees do not interact directly with customers, like in a bank, they are still working on a project which will be delivered to a customer," said Babuji Abraham, head (people function), MindTree.

The company does not allow access to Facebook, but LinkedIn can be accessed, as it may help employees reach out to contacts at work. Nonetheless, during lunch and office hours, employees can access several sites that are otherwise restricted.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, on the other hand, enables employees to access social networking sites because it believes this helps them connect with their colleagues and friends.

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Image: Mindtree office.
Photographs: Courtesy, Mindtree.
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"However, we understand the threats to our IT network and have, hence, shut off access to personal email portals," said the company's chief people officer, Dhananjay Bansod.

Most employees insist they are not intentionally inviting security risks to the workplace or wasting time at work. Most attribute personal online activities at workplace to higher internet speed or long days limiting time for personal work beyond office hours.

Experts believe use of social networks and online shopping at workplace should not be banned. It is important for companies to facilitate dialogue with employees so that they understand the terms of use: Amount of time that can be spent online, privacy of company information, as well as impact on productivity.

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Image: A wired world.

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Companies should also educate employees about the difference between a secure and unsecure site.

As ISACA's India Task Force and IT auditor and chair, Niraj Kapasi said: "Companies should pursue an 'embrace and educate' approach, where they enable usage, but have a thorough security policy and controls to minimise risks."

More than a third of IT leaders in India, according to the ISACA report, said every employee who shopped online using a work device cost the company Rs 50,000 or more.

To minimise the costly risks associated with online shopping, 57 per cent of the polled Indian companies prohibit the use of work email addresses for personal online shopping and about 63 per cent have a security policy that covers mobile devices.

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Image: Creating awareness about harmful sites.

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Todd Schofield, global head of enterprise mobility, Standard Chartered Bank, said: "In addition to having line managers to monitor their team members' mobile usage, we work to proactively educate staff about appropriate online behaviour (what to look out for, how to protect themselves, etc) in order to reduce exposure to threats."

He said the bank did not block any site on corporate handheld devices (in this case, an Apple iPhone).

"Today's employee benefits from being able to keep in touch with their non-office life during the day, rather than plugging away non-stop and waiting until they arrive at home," he reasoned.


Image: iPhone.

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