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Connected at Work: Not Always a Good Idea

By Michael Connolly

For those recent graduates lucky enough to land a job or for anyone that has joined a firm on a summer intern program, one of the biggest challenges they face is reigning-in the amount of time they spend on the Internet. Whereas they were previously able to check or update their Facebook and Twitter accounts several times a day, surf YouTube for the latest videos, and generally goof around online, they now have corporate privacy and security issues to consider.

Many companies have become acutely aware of the security risk that unrestricted Internet access poses – and the number of hours that are wasted by surfing employees – and have cracked down on private use. That has led some corporations to block sites like Facebook and YouTube altogether, only allowing access on request and when it’s monitored.

However, that’s not stopping younger recruits that come to work armed with smartphones and other devices that let them circumvent time-wasting restrictions, even if they pose less of a security issue. “This is the always-connected, always-wired MySpace generation,” says Mike Freeman, a corporate security expert based in Boston. “They are used to open access 24/7 and it’s a huge culture shock when they get cut off.”

Younger employees argue that restricting their online activities is, in many cases, counterproductive, denying them access to family, friends and resources that could help them settle into the corporate world and become more efficient. It’s an argument that has so far fallen on deaf ears in highly regulated industries like finance and healthcare, but is getting some serious consideration elsewhere.

“Spending a certain amount of time online is no different from hanging out at the water cooler or in the lunch room,” says Freeman. “That’s the way young people relax and catch up on gossip.” Plus, many employers see a certain amount of free Internet time as a trade-off for the extra hours often expected of newly-hired graduates.

Completely open access has its own problems though. Many companies’ high-speed Internet connections are ideal for downloading or uploading personal files, or even streaming movies or sporting events. Corporations have to be certain that their firewalls and other security measures are sufficient to block viruses and catch unknown or suspicious attachments.

Meanwhile, new recruits used to an always-connected lifestyle need to make compromises and meet employers half-way. It might not be a good idea to forward that not-so-funny picture through the company e-mail system and, believe it or not, life will go on even if you don’t check Facebook every five minutes!

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