Like many workers, I spend a good portion of my day surfing the Web. Unlike many workers, I don’t have a boss, so my boss can’t monitor my web surfing activity.
Businesses, naturally, are worried about employees surfing on company time. Think of all those hours where employees could have been getting some work done! I’m worried about all that surfing getting in the way of my work, too. I’ve even been known to head out to a coffee shop with no internet access, just to force myself to write. But I still spend plenty of time surfing. As my own boss, how can I live with my employee’s blatant surfing on company time?
I can because I’ve set standards for my own performance: I need to write at least three substantive Cognitive Daily posts a week, and I try to write something for Word Munger every day (though sometimes I’ll let that slide a bit if I’ve got a lot of other stuff going on).
On top of that, I try to have two paid writing gigs per month (CogDaily is a paid gig, too, but it doesn’t make much of a dent in the credit card bill).
On top of that, I need to be making measurable progress on my major project, a book. I should be sending out revised proposals to agents this week. When I’m in full-bore writing mode, I write a chapter every two weeks.
If I can get all that done, and still have time to surf the web from time to time, then I figure I’m not surfing excessively — and besides, how am I supposed to get ideas for new writing projects if I’m not surfing the web?
Many bosses, however, are taking a different approach. Instead of setting performance goals and rewarding employees who achieve them, they simply restrict internet access. As if employees didn’t have a gazillion other ways to waste company time. Before the web existed, I used to read dozens of books on company time. Of course, I had the excuse that I was working for a publisher and I was familiarizing myself with the competition, but still, how different is that from surfing the web?
How hard is it for a company to monitor its employees’ actual productivity, instead of looking at surface traits like web surfing? There were editors at Harper who worked incredibly long hours — they were often in the office past 10 at night. They weren’t wasting time, either; they had their noses to the grindstone, doing serious work. But these editors didn’t sell any more books than some editors who waltzed in at 10 a.m. and were gone by 4 p.m. All the publisher had to do was count the number of books each each editor sold and monitor the dollars they brought in. Then deciding who to promote and who to fire was easy. I can assure you, the people who stayed in the office until 10 at night were not the ones getting promoted.
Maybe publishing is an easier business to monitor than others, but I doubt it. Good work is good work. If I can do better work than my co-worker while surfing the web 3 hours a day, should you remove my internet? Or remove my co-worker?