01 December, 2005

Red SwingLine Blogging

I used to work in an office. 8:00am to 5:00pm, one hour for lunch. It was an autonomous position, so I could take my OSHA-mandated breaks whenever I wanted. If there was time. Offices are a funny kind of servitude in many ways. There will be days of non-stop activity that really needs doing. Filing purchase orders, executing contracts, pacifying high-strung artists who want to know why they don't have a royalty check this quarter &mdash all the important stuff. But there are days, both whole days and fractions of days, where nothing happens. You've got to wait for this woman to get out of a meeting or that guy to figure out the new policy. So you sit there. Before computers you'd file your nails or read a magazine. You'd leave your light on and your chair facing outward to make it look like you just got up for a minute when in reality you are down on the third floor trying to make time with the cutie in Payroll.

Now there are computers. And now you can blog. You can read the tossed-off crud from other people's brain or you can toss off your own. You can send emails to your husband, you can IM the guy in Vermont who sells you all your hardware. I've been there. I've seen it done. For about three months my company was on a 'no-internet-for-personal-use' policy. In the end the policy was dismantled by the President's secretary refusing to do his shopping for him over the Internet. Shopping falling as it does under the "personal use" category that the home office was in such a twist over. So, Presidents wielding more clout than Associate Brand Managers in these types of situations, that policy was quietly retired.

Company internet policies are strange animals. Everyone (save certain industries) disallow porn, but beyond the obvious "NSFW" sites there seems to be a sliding scale. Some companies encourage web use as refreshing and productivity enhancing. Others discourage it outright, with detailed specifics in handbooks and memos. I'm betting most places merely tolerate it out of the realization that a no-personal-web policy would be to difficult and costly to enforce. It's also very difficult to tell people whose health insurance premiums you've just doubled and whose annual raise you've just cancelled that they can't read "Dilbert" on the internet first thing every morning.

So what? Well, first we have the AllState guy fired for apparently writing something that his company didn't like. The debate rages on as to whether or not he wrote his pieces on company time. Then today we have the Nashosphere in a twist over allegations of a state employee blogging on company time.

My questions are these:

1. Should a blogger be fired for writing about something other than their own company? If my boss is a big Garrison Keillor fan, should I be fired for saying that I think the dude is teh suck on my blog?

2. If there is nothing in writing made available to employees about an internet policy, can one be enforced? Do we assume that people know by osmosis what the correct use of the Internet is during work hours?

3. Most importantly, what the blue-blazes is 'company time' anymore? If you are salaried you are constantly told that you are being paid not only for your time but your expertise. So you will have those 18 hour days during crunch time. With no added pay. But you will also have those lulls. Since the demand for your time can't always be accurately measured, the breaks due you can't always be scheduled. So, if you can blog on your break or your lunch hour, but neither one is scheduled how can the "blog only on your break/lunch hour" philosophy be enforced?

In case you can't tell, I'm mighty glad to not be in an office anymore.


At 6:14 AM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Exador said...

Every company I've worked for has been pretty lax about it. They all understood that there are slow times.

It comes down to this: It's the same as any other time filler. Are you getting your job done? If you are at the water cooler talking football all day, you should be fired. The same for smoke breaks or surfing the web.
Personally, I don't hide the fact that I'm not doing company stuff because it's generally not the case.

At 7:43 AM, December 02, 2005, Anonymous brittney said...

Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am. Browsing the internet all day for pay is pretty freakin' cool.

At 9:44 AM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Casey said...

It's pretty well accepted if not encouraged here at Griffin. We have a guy, who much like Brittney, devotes a protion of his time to scanning for interesting and mostly relevant news and announcements about things related to all things Apple and just generally geeky things to post on our internal RSS feed. On top of that, Griffin makes the Your Mac Life and Trash Talk podcasts possible. Personally, I've come to rely on the collective wisdom found at sites like CocoaDev and CocoaBuilder and er... digg :)

At 9:58 AM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Exador & Casey (Brittney's exempt since her job is slightly different) and anyone else who has either a lax use or encouraged use at work:

How would your company feel if you blogged something they didn't agree with that wasn't directly related to work? Do you think they would be justified in firing you?

Obvioiusly Casey shouldn't blog about the evils of Apple (if there were any ;=p) but say he was to write a piece about how he hates Scientology. Should Griffin be allowed to fire him for that?

Change the analogy slightly. Let's say the Exador and a coworker drive to McDonalds for lunch and, while sitting at a table, Exador says that he hates redheads. Since his company doesn't want to alienate redheads, should he be fired for saying that at lunch?

At 10:21 AM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Casey said...

We're a pretty laid back bunch. If I blogged about something that Paul didn't agree with he'd probably just tell me that I'm stupid :P Would they be justified in firing me? Not for the content of the post (unless I said something like Belkin makes way better stuff than us... they wish). Would Griffin be justified in firing me had I expressed my opinion about redheads (or did I hate Scientology?) in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper? Same difference as far as I'm concerned, I don't see how it's any of their business. Now if they wanna say that I'm being fired for spending company time doing things other than work, I wouldn't agree with it, but it would be a slightly more palatable excuse.

As for Apple, I was so going to post a big long rant about the various user interface inconstancies in Mac OS X the other day... with illustrations and everything. It's particularly frustrating for me since I'm not sure which way the mother ship is heading and I want to emulate their style as much as possible in this latest project. In the end I simply complained to those around me for the better part of the day and left it at that.

At 10:29 AM, December 02, 2005, Anonymous Hubby said...

If companies are going to give their employees access to the Internet/blogs and then cry "misuse of company resources" when those employees read/write blog entries during their down time, then shouldn't those companies be consistent and also forbid smoke breaks on the basis that smoking is unhealthy and, therefore, a misuse of the financial resources that they company spends on healthcare benefits? Yes, it's kind of an absurd analogy, but I think it illustrates what a slippery slope this kind of thing can be.

Unfortunately, not every employee out there demonstrates enough of a work ethic or enough common sense to build a lot of conficence when it comes to allowing employees to police themselves on matters like this. I don't know of a single manager who wants to spend their time governing what websites their underlings visit or whether Bob over in Accounting tacks on an extra 15 minutes to his lunch hour twice a week. However, when employees do stupid or abusive things, management often has little choice but to try to establish policies to help minimize future stupidity. By their nature, these policies are often excessively broad, ill-fitting, inconsistent and completely devoid of common sense. But more often than not I think they're stupid solutions to equally stupid problems that arise when people do stupid things. It's less a question of employers trying to be Big Brother than it is one of employers trying to strike a reasonable balance between individual liberties and the need to protect the company. Unfortunately, some employees make this balance a lot harder to achieve than it needs to be.

At 12:51 PM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Lee said...

I am currently in an office situation. I am currently posting this comment from that same office. I have responsibilities that need to be taken care of before I leave for the day, if not ASAP.

Additionally, I am in Sales and get paid wage plus commission. If I have spare time, I can spend it on the Internet, or I can spend it working the phones trying to get more sales.

So while I could hypothetically spend all my spare time on the Internet, it is in my interest to work the phones instead.

But if I spent all my time working the phones, I would be brain-numb, and occasional time spent on the Internet is actually healthy for my work and paycheck.

As long as I don't abuse the situation, I'm fine.

At 8:41 AM, December 05, 2005, Blogger dolphin said...

I blog at work all the time. My boss knows and doesn't care because I get my job done, usually ahead of schedule, and if the workload increases as it does certain times of the year (I work at a college, busytimes seems to be around breaks, have to get ready for students to leave and get ready for students to come back).

I don't think an employer should fire an employee for posting anything provided it doesn't hinder there ability to work (though I have no problem with an employer who decides to prohibit all blog posting during work hours).


A blogger who uses his job to post confidential info or bad mouth the company, GONE. obviously.

A teacher who posts her wild sexual exploits under her real name, GONE. That actually happened. I think it's part of a teacher's job to be a role model and her job performance is severely hindered if her students see her as a wild sex maniac.

On the otherhand, a secretary who blogs about bad service at McDonald's shouldn't be fired because her boss's brother owns a McDonalds.


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