I cannot work in silence. I never could, and I likely never will be able to. In high school, I did all my homework with the stereo blaring in my bedroom. In college, I studied in the common area of my dorm, with activity buzzing all around. And in law school, the student lounge was my study area. So, it comes as no surprise to me that I’ve never been able to practice law in silence either. These days, it’s either my iPod, or XM radio streaming through my desktop. The latter, however, is a bandwidth hog. Do the math. If you multiply me times a few dozen employees (or a few hundred, or a few thousand, depending on the size of the organization), it’s no surprise that corporate networks are being strained.
It’s also no surprise that employers are starting to fight back. According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics announced to its employees that it would begin blocking music-streaming sites, online radio stations and gaming sites, and sites that stream sports and entertainment audio or video. Lockheed estimates that these recreational uses consumed up to 10% of its Internet bandwidth.
Decisions such as those taken by Lockheed are difficult ones. It’s often a struggle to balance corporate resources and employee morale. There is no right or wrong answer. You could frame the dilemma simply as “more bandwidth costs more money, ergo, bandwidth restrictions.” Or, you believe that happy employees are more productive employees, and determine that what you spend in extra bandwidth you will recoup in added productivity. Or, you can act like the HR manager in Dilbert and reward serious offenders by promoting them.
Bottom line – businesses need to make decisions about the appropriate allocation and use of bandwidth, and incorporate that decision into a workplace technology policy that sets out the dos and don’ts of workplace Internet use.