When Winston Churchill described Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, he could well have been describing the astonishing inherent preference of play over work by human beings. There are too many distractions at work these days and the Internet is to blame.
Do you know with certainty what your employees are doing right now? Chances are, they are watching another cat video, chatting on Facebook or messaging on WhatsApp.
And, if you want to know the extent of the problem, just look at the most watched YouTube videos online. As at the time of publishing this article, the most viewed online videos to date were music videos and weird stuff like munchkins walking on a treadmill or partners secretly recording each other doing something unusual. There isn’t a single hit video that’s about serious stuff like how to keep employees from watching cat videos or tracking time with screen capture software.
Even more disturbing is that many employees have perfected the art of looking busy when in reality they are messing around. The physical appearance of working is hard to distinguish from someone who is doing their own stuff. You can’t tell what someone is up to simply by watching them stare at a computer screen.
This is a problem that affects large and small business alike. But, small businesses tend to suffer more. Being smaller, they are hit harder by the effects of low employee productivity.
There are several ways a manager can ensure that employees remain productive.
Look Over Their Shoulders
It may sound old school but when implemented effectively it is a great way to deter employees from doing anything non-work related.
All you really need to do is establish a reputation for sneaking up on employees when they lease expect and asking them what they are working on. If you catch anyone wasting time on Facebook or YouTube, make an example of them.
After a while, this acts a deterrent since no one wants to risk their jobs.
The only problem with this tactic is that it underestimates the creativity of the human mind. It won’t be long before staff come with inventive ways to warn each other of impending danger.
So, if you are using this method to keep productivity high, it will only effective in the short-term before your staff adapts.
The second option is deployed widely by a number of employers.
Internet filtering involves blocking access to websites and even disabling network connectivity in extreme cases. There are several forms it can take but the following are the most common methods used by employers.
This is the easiest method used by employers to filter content. As the name implies, the IP address of the target website is blocked at the access point e.g. router. It’s a fairly easy filter to implement and doesn’t require any technical skills. The disadvantage with this method is that all websites sharing the same IP address, which is the norm on a shared hosting server, are also blocked. Thus, you may end up inadvertently blocking sites that you want employees to access.
Also, it’s very easy to implement a workaround. All a determined employee needs to do is use a proxy to access the blocked site. There are hundreds of free proxies online so you would have to know the IP addresses of all of them on order to use this method effectively. Blocked websites like The Pirate Bay have also beaten this filtering method by moving the site to a new IP address on a regular basis and letting their users know about it.
DNS Filtering and Redirection
This is a bit more sophisticated than IP blocking. In this method, the Domain Name Server (DNS) doesn’t resolve to to the correct domain. It could also return an incorrect IP address. This is a common method used by Internet Service Providers to block illegal websites. Countries well known for censorship have also deployed this method on a wide scale.
But, there is also a workaround for this and it won’t be long before your employees are back to their old ways. One way to beat a DNS filter is to find a DNS server that resolves the DNS correctly. OpenDNS or Google Public DNS are both good options. All the employee needs to do is to configure it on their operating system or device.
This method is also used widely in educational institutions, government offices and private firms. The URL is scanned and checked against a list of keywords. If there is a match, the website isn’t loaded. This method is more sophisticated than the first two because it doesn’t matter which domain is typed into the URL so long as there is a keyword match.
But, you still can’t beat the determined types with this method. Encrypted protocols like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and The Tor browser easily circumvent these method. Once data is encrypted on the device, the filter is unable to scan the request and any website becomes accessible.
Yet another way to filter Internet access involves a firewall technique where data packets are allowed through or stopped based on pre-set criteria such as keywords, source and destination IP addresses and ports. TCP packet transmissions can be terminated when targeted keywords are detected.
But, again The Tor Browser and VPN services easily beat packet filtering.
More Advanced Methods
To be honest, there are more advanced methods to filter the Internet. For example, countries like China and Iran have used Forged TCP Resets and Deep Packet Inspection on a wide scale. But, these are costly to implement and you may end up spending a massive amount of money on techies salaries to prevent your employees from accessing Facebook and YouTube.
Some employers also ensure that employees don’t have administrator rights on their devices so that they don’t install services like VPN and The Tor Browser. But, in this day and age when employees bring their own devices to work, it is difficult to control what an employee can access on their phone, phablet or tablet computer. If they can’t access Facebook from company owned computers, they will simply do so from their devices when you aren’t looking. So even this is partly effective.
Time Tracking With Screen Capture – A Paradigm Shift
What’s needed is a completely new way of thinking about employee productivity. Recent research has shown that when you filter Internet content employees become resentful about the controls and you may end up opening a can of worms.
Employers need to realize the productivity is about getting work done. If an employee is still able to finish work allocated while still accessing Facebook, it means that they are underutilized and corrective action needs to be taken. More work should be assigned to such an employee.
Secondly, where employees are working on company computers, management needs to introduce a policy of time logging. This is best achieved using time tracking with screen capture applications. These applications log time worked, capture screen shots of what the employee has been doing and upload them to a server.
Hubstaff time tracking application does this and more. Workers log time and employers can check the time logs complete with screen shots and timesheets to verify that the employee has put in the contractual amount of hours daily.
The Hubstaff time tracker is also great for companies and individuals who hire remote workers and freelancers. With this desktop client, you can see what your freelancer is doing in real-time anywhere in the world.
The Hubstaff app is available for OSX (10.6 Snow Leopard and later), Windows (2000 and later), and Linux (distributions released in 2010 or later).
Learn how Hubstaff can get you and your team in the best position.
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Image credits: topgold via Flickr