Imposing Parental Controls on your Employees

Of the thousands of questions I’ve answered at  Experts-Exchange, plenty have been seeking a way to solve the symptom of a much larger problem.  It’s quite easy to tell if the question was asked by someone who has a vested interest in the success of the business, or is merely concerned about solving the problem of the moment, by the way they react to my response.  (Which will always focus on the larger problem rather than providing a quick fix).

Sometimes the larger problem is technical, such as those caused by trying to use Windows XP Home workstations in an Active Directory domain.  There are certainly a lot of work-arounds, but if they can’t understand that IT is an investment (see my previous post about this) then I wonder why they installed an SBS to begin with.  There are other questions where the network administrator or IT consultant is asked to provide a solution for something when the larger problem has nothing to do with technology, but rather it’s caused by management (mismanagement, actually).

In the past few days, I have seen no less than 8 questions on Experts-Exchange seeking an answer of how to block or restrict user access to the Internet.  Here are a few examples (with original spelling/grammar):

What is the best way to restrict user access to the internet while ensuring that windows updates and antivirus defintions are being received.  All users and Power Users on their XP Machines

I am trying to deny internet access to certain users. I have looked up solutions on this web site and followed them. I create a GPO then stop the users from running iexplore.exe. No matter what a change the users are still able to access the internet

I want to block all Internet Explorer traffic on user’s PCs in my office. I want to make an exception on 3 paticular websites though.  I’m using Windows Server 2003 SBS.  Any ideas?

If you search for similar types of questions asked in the past, you’ll find thousands of requests.  This is one that I found particularly amusing:

ive got 4 people who are misusing the internet at work, and so i need to block their computers from accessing any websites at all, if possible to block their usernames also, so that no matter what comp they log into they cannot access the net.  ive been thinking if it is possible to do so with the lmhosts files on each computer?

ok so not only do i need to revoke all internet access i need it so that if they do try and access the net, they get directed to a file on their computers that i will emplace which will send a report to someone.

cheers for any light you can spread! 🙂

When I see these questions, I am often compelled to respond with something like this:

Instead of blocking Internet access, why not get a few 42″ display monitors and hang them in visible locations.  Then, use a remote control session to display employee activity for everyone to see.  That sure would stop Bob from viewing wildbabes.com or make it difficult for Susie to order a new pair of shoes from supershoedeals.com!  Because public humility in the workplace is much quicker than waiting for the HR director to get the report of attempted Internet use.

The fact is that the “computer activity monitoring” software industry, which was originally a hacker’s favorite tool and then became a legitimate tool when marketed to parents who needed to keep tabs on their 12-year-old’s activities, is now being offered as a “valuable” management tool.  Making such promises as allowing you to “efficiently spy on your employees from your own desk”.  Below is a screen shot of the control panel from a program called StaffCop, which I’m sure was named by someone who has absolutely no concept of employee morale — (I think it’s made in Russia):

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All of this reminds me of a wonderful story about an emperor who procured the most luxurious suit of invisible cloth.  Why do all of these managers think that the appropriate way to have someone do their work is to prevent them from doing something else?  When will that small child point out to them that the problem isn’t the Internet, but their own lack of management skills?  Not only are they unable to provide these employees with clear expectations and attainable goals, they somehow think that Internet access will prevent them from doing their work.

The irony, of course, is that the questions themselves are being asked on the very Internet which these folks seeking to block for others.  Apparently, these other employees know everything there is to doing their job correctly and efficiently, and never need to come up with new and innovative ideas which may improve their results.

I couldn’t imagine using Microsoft Office without things like Office Online help

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or the myriad of templates provided by Office Online.  These tools not only make my work look better, they have saved me countless hours of being frustrated with creating a document from scratch.

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Then, if I can’t find what I’m looking for, there are always the discussion groups.

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But, remember, if you block them from all of that… then they’ll also be blocked from this

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So, wake up people!  Take the time to sit with your employees and ensure that they have the proper tools, training and support to do their jobs well.  Provide them with clear expectations and attainable, measurable goals which are regularly reviewed (which used to mean annually, and now means either monthly or even weekly).  Most of all, give them respect.  If they respond well, you’ll both be rewarded.  If they don’t, then you’ll be glad you stopped treating them like children because can’t fire your kids.

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Is IT an expense that you’d rather not incur?

If you run a business or are the person responsible for Information Technology and are constantly looking at ways to cut your IT expense… look no further because I have your solution!

Sell all of your computers and buy one of these:

And a few of these:

You should also check to see if the typewriter that’s under those boxes of last year’s invoices in the back of the storage closet still works, just in case you need to send a formal letter or fill out a government form.

Before you judge my perfect solution, take a moment and think about how you view the computers in your office and write down the functions they provide.  Now, look at that list and if all of those functions can be accomplished with a Rolodex and a few legal pads, its obvious that your computers are an unnecessary expense.  Getting rid of them would certainly eliminate some of your daily frustrations.

On the other hand if you had just one item on your list of functions that could not be done by these two wonders of the world, such as “pop-up an alert and ring a chime to remind me of my 3:00pm meeting each Tuesday”, then you may want to reconsider how you view IT expenditures.  Because that little pop-up alert is just the tip of the ROI iceberg.  Computers provide you with a MEASURABLE RETURN ON INVESTMENT and the problem that most people have is actually taking a few moments to decide what to measure.  Once you do start measuring the return generated from your IT investment, you will also start finding new ways to optimize and improve your results.  You may cut IT expense in one area, but you will likely increase IT spending overall as your business profits and grows due to your insightful and successful management skills.

Check out the Forbes report on the ROI of Microsoft Small Business Server:  http://sbsurl.com/roi

Zipcar makes zero points with me for new website!

I’ve been using Zipcar now for about six months and for the most part I love the service.  Especially since I moved into an apartment building that has a bunch of Zipcars parked in the garage below.  For those that aren’t familiar with the company or it’s concept, Zipcar is a car-sharing company that rents cars by the hour which can be reserved within seconds once you’ve been approved for the program. 

One thing that I’ve always loved about Zipcar is that I can easily make a reservation or extend my current reservation right from my Motorola Q Smartphone.  Well, I could do that up until a few days ago. That’s when Zipcar launched "the redesign of its web-reservation and patent-pending "Z3D Knowledge Center." 

When the folks at Zipcar were hinting about this new system last month and allowed members to try it out, the first thing I noticed was that it didn’t work at all from my phone.  Not even in the "Full Desktop" view that I can normally use for even the worst designed websites.  I then went to send feedback regarding the new site, and the Operating System choices were as follows:

Windows 2000
Windows XP
Windows Vista
Mac
Linux
Other

I thought for sure this must just be an oversight during the pre-launch… that of course they would come out with http://mobile.zipcar.com (or the stylish http://m.zipcar.com).  But it now looks as though they just didn’t even think about it.  Now I’m not a web development expert by any means… I do have a fair understanding of the ajax elements though.  More importantly, I use plenty of mobile web applications and sites to know how important it is to make sure that mobile users can freely access your web site.  Especially if your primary busines is mobility!

To be honest, Zipcar does make it rather easy to extend your reservation over the phone on their automated system.  It’s just a couple of digits to press.  But, that’s only convenient if you are extending an hour or so and the car you are currently using isn’t booked after your slot.  Any situation that’s more complex really requires a view of availability… and that brings us back to the browser that doesn’t work on my phone anymore. 

C’mon Zipcar!  Is it really that sleepy in Boston?