Steve Fenton

Your Web Proxy is killing productivity

Are you using a web proxy to filter websites and monitor your employees Internet usage? Maybe it is time you asked yourself why you are doing that!

Most people claim that a proxy stops people from accessing inappropriate websites or that it stops Internet usage from killing productivity – but I can guarantee you that it is actually damaging your business and you should just switch it off.

Firstly, lets deal with the problem of people accessing inappropriate websites. If an employee sits at their desk and looks at a truly inappropriate website, your problem is that employee. The vast majority of your people wouldn’t even consider looking at anything that would make anyone else feel weird while at work. The one person who doesn’t have their own social filter probably needs a conversation. Unless you think your company is rammed full of odd people with no self-control or social awareness, you don’t need a proxy to help you here.

So that leaves productivity.

Part of the answer here is the same as before. Most people know what needs to be done and won’t let The Web interfere with that. If you have a situation where someone is procrastinating they’ll use the Internet to stall. If you remove that, they’ll find some other way of stalling that might not be so obvious. For example, say I’m stuck writing a weekly report because I can’t work out how to word something – maybe I’ll drop onto a social network and distract myself for a bit, if there is no Internet connection, perhaps I’ll get a drink and chat to someone about Ice Hockey. Whatever the case, the work doesn’t magically happen if a web proxy stops you from avoiding it – there are lots of other ways to avoid it.

Partly, the switching to some mind-numbing experience like a social network or online forum gives you the required brief distraction and when you go back to the task it is easy to do because your brain just needed to take a break. Even if it didn’t, blocking The Web just hides the underlying problem – why isn’t the task getting done?

I worked with a guy and his surfing was a signal to me that there was a problem. If I could see random sites popping open for more than a few minutes, I knew he was either bored, stuck or in need of a motivational (verbal) hug. For me, his browsing wasn’t a problem and I wouldn’t have changed his habit in a million years – it was just as good as if he had come to me and said; “Steve, I’m stuck on this and need to talk it through with someone before I can make my mind up how to solve the issue”.

People don’t work a solid eight-hour day. They need breaks. The Web can be a break. It’s healthy. Get over it.

So here’s the big news-flash. While you are busy patting yourself on the back for boosting productivity by installing a web proxy, your people are trying to get to that site that they use for work – but that they constantly get redirected to a page that reminds them that you don’t trust them and that you’re monitoring their surfing. Every time they have to navigate past that proxy page to get to the site they use every day for work it reminds them that they aren’t trusted. There are some great studies that show how people act in a more trust-worthy way if they feel they are trusted (the brain actually produces oxytocin when a person feels trusted, and oxytocin has been proven to increase trust-worthy behaviour).

If you aren’t already convinced, imagine this scenario. Some of your people are working on a big problem and they get a search result that looks like it contains the solution. When they click on that result, the web proxy tells them “this web page cannot be viewed because it is in the category ‘Social'”. How productive are they now? If you think this doesn’t happen, you’re kidding yourself. It happens all the time. Sometimes your people will be so intent on getting the answer they’ll grab their mobile phone, or try to load the page from a cache somewhere or will phone someone up and ask them to perform the search – but you’re crushing their productivity.

So if you want great people who do an awesome job, switch off the proxy server. Show some trust. Let people be responsible for their own actions. Letting people access the information they need either to do their job or take a short break from their job will make them better employees. Regularly showing people that you don’t trust them makes enemies out of your best assets.

Written by Steve Fenton on