No! Not my Gmail and Facebook! How to convince work not to block?
August 14, 2009 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Work is thinking about banning access to Gmail, Facebook, Hotmail and other third-party email and social networking sites. Help me convince them not to?

My employer (a law firm) is very close to blocking access to third-party email and social networking sites, purportedly because such sites are conduits for "viruses." I would like to convince them this is a very bad idea, for a variety of reasons: (1) it's unnecessary, since there is no actual virus problem from such sites; (2) it's counterproductive, since it will block various legitimate work-related uses and will prevent people from keeping up with family and personal issues; and (3) it's insulting and childish.

Are there other arguments I should be making? Do you have citations or references that would help?

posted by raf to Work & Money (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I think a little bit of down time is a good thing for workers. Of course, if your bosses don't think this is true, you're probably screwed.

If the atmosphere is right (I imagine a law office isn't) I'd ask your bosses if they spend all their time in the office focusing solely on work related things, or if they take a personal call or two during the day.
posted by toekneebullard at 1:41 PM on August 14, 2009

Would they ban the telephone, because you might a call from a scammer that you might fall prey to? Companies have historically been fine with people using the telephone for both work and the occasional personal call (even before cell phones); the internet shouldn't be different.

Our company bans Facebook, which is fine since we never use it for work or "legitimate" personal reasons, :) but banning the others you mentioned would really be a hindrance.
posted by Melismata at 1:42 PM on August 14, 2009

might GET a call.
posted by Melismata at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2009

There is this article on whether allowing access to Facebook and the like at work actually makes for better employees.

This guy explores a lot of the issues around these tools as they pertain to the Government of Canada and gives excellent reasons why they shouldn't be blocked. I would suggest reading through some of them.

Good luck!
posted by urbanlenny at 1:47 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I should clarify that their justification does not seem to be the downtime concern (though some of us of course have our suspicions), but the security one. Though arguments on why some downtime is a good thing are definitely still welcome and helpful.
posted by raf at 1:51 PM on August 14, 2009

A study out of the University of Melbourne determined that web surfing increases productivity.
posted by Pineapplicious at 1:54 PM on August 14, 2009

I would think allowing access to these non-work related sites helps for the same reason that companies like Google have fun stuff in the office--it keeps people at work. If you have to go home to check your personal email, that's a huge incentive to go home for the day rather than stay late getting work done.
posted by phoenixy at 1:56 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If they're so worried about viruses, do they allow incoming e-mail? Outlook is a disaster for this. Similarly, I'm assuming they lock down the USB ports so that malicious USB sticks can't be used.

If your IT department has a current antivirus subscription, and it's rolled out on all the machines, these websites aren't new conduits.
posted by scruss at 1:59 PM on August 14, 2009

Do they currently ban other sites for this (or other) reasons? Because those sites would rank pretty low if I made a list of good places to get infected with a virus.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:01 PM on August 14, 2009

Really, what legitimate work-related use does facebook have? I'm honestly curious what those might be.

Keeping up with family and personal issues doesn't seem like it would gain any sympathy from the higher-ups... that is stuff that should be happening on your own personal time.
posted by jangie at 2:03 PM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I realize that the job market is not great but you might convince them that treating their employees like criminals or children wouldn't be good for retention. I left my last job for many reasons but one of them was exactly what you describe. Do they really want an office of disgruntled employees?
posted by octothorpe at 2:07 PM on August 14, 2009

jangie: I'll give a couple of examples. In trademark cases it is helpful in tracking down infringers on the internet so we can send them cease-and-desist letters. And I know of a case where it was used to determine that a witness was lying about when he worked somewhere.
posted by raf at 2:09 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Help me convince them not to?


Seriously, stop and think about why do actually need access to GMail and Facebook while you're working. Not theoretical, possible arguments that might convince them to stop... but real reasons.

Then if you come up with real reasons, use those as arguments. But if you don't... maybe this isn't something you should be fighting. Because looking for facetious arguments is sort of proving at least one very good possible reason for blocking, no?

I'm surprised they even asked or told you in advance. Most IT depts just block Facebook (for example) and then wait to see who complains. And why.
posted by rokusan at 2:10 PM on August 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

If they are really concerned about security, forcing everyone to use firefox with adblock and noscript would go a lot farther than banning access to these sites.
posted by utsutsu at 2:21 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

raf, if that's the case, then you should bring those uses up, and not mention anything related to keeping up with family or personal issues. I'm not your boss, but if I was, anything reasoning about personal uses would instantly deep-six any other arguments you had.
posted by jangie at 2:26 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a number of friends in Facebook who are in the same profession as I am. Many of us post links there that we find useful and know others will too. It's a very convenient way of sharing information with a large number of people. Most of us do not use Facebook to list what we ate for lunch, what we bought at the store, or what we're thinking about at any given time.
posted by mareli at 2:26 PM on August 14, 2009

Really, what legitimate work-related use does facebook have?

I manage the business (read: sales) side of a IT publication. About 60% of my 'friends' on FB are not personal friends, but customers I'm friendly with. I'm clearly identified as the Associate Publisher, and about 20% of my FB posts (maybe three a month) are things that subtly (I hope) promote my publication's value. Nothing overt, but, as an example, a link to an exceptional article relevant to our market/community.

On Linked-In I'm much more out there, even to the extent of posting issue close dates, but that's Linked-In for you.

[No, of course not. Whether it would technically be self-linking, it surely would be in spirit. And if you doubt my character, trust my sense of self preservation. Folks here are sharp. I'd fully expect that within 30 minutes of posting something from where I work to MeFi there'd be a large, radioactive crater where my account once stood]
posted by mojohand at 2:30 PM on August 14, 2009

I don't know of any reason to allow facebook access, honestly. But blocking gmail just seems silly since there are so many free email systems out there that blocking one well-run site seems pointless.
posted by chairface at 2:31 PM on August 14, 2009

Really, what legitimate work-related use does facebook have? I'm honestly curious what those might be.

I can't speak for others, but in my case I work for a far-flung organization with offices all over the world. A number of my colleagues are also part of it and looking at Facebook now and again sometimes gives me an awareness of what is going on that my boss lacks.

Boss: "Okay, we will need to set up a face-to-face meeting with these six people. How is mid-November with you?"

Me: "Good with me, but Jack will be on vacation climbing Kilimanjaro and I think Jessica will be starting her maternity leave by then. Maybe earlier?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:55 PM on August 14, 2009

Are you accessing personal email and social networking sites using company-issued computers? If so, why should you have the right to conduct personal business on company equipment on company time? That's like a crew of construction workers demanding that the company set up internet-connected PC kiosks on the work site so that they can check Facebook and personal email whenever they want.

Do what professionals who work in the field and on their feet do: buy a smartphone. Install Facebook, Windows Live (for hotmail, Messenger, etc), banking apps, Twitter, etc. and configure all your personal email accounts. Or bring your laptop to work and catch up on your break at a nearby hotspot. This is the era of mobile connectivity--you can access all those sites and services on personal devices. Take the matter into your own hands (literally).
posted by prinado at 2:56 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The head office just sent out a "primer" on how to use social media networks safely because some of the more clueless among the "employees" got us onto one of the tabloid papers' gossip columns for their Facebook antics. I would love to get a hold of whomever those people are and give them a good talking-to for ruining things for the rest of us.

Man, it was so hard to type this comment and obfuscate most of the identifying details while still retaining the meaning. I think I need to lie down now.
posted by TrishaLynn at 3:10 PM on August 14, 2009

blocking gmail just seems silly since there are so many free email systems out there that blocking one well-run site seems pointless.

That's not the proposal. As the OP said, the proposal is to block many email sites, not just Gmail.

To answer the question:

Going up to your boss, asking to keep using Facebook on company time, and saying it's "insulting and churlish" if you can't -- is not a good plan. I don't think I even need to explain why.

By your own admission, your motivation is to be able to use Facebook for personal use at work. The people making this decision surely understand that people would like to be able to do that. You wouldn't be telling them anything they don't already know.

As for the idea that you need Facebook for professional use -- well, that's hard to believe. It seems like a thin veneer to cover up what you really want, which is to use the company's technology and time to do non-work-related activities. Is looking for copyright violations on Facebook really a necessary part of your job? If so, why doesn't your employer already know about that? You don't have general access to everyone's content on Facebook, so how do you find out about the violations? Are you in their network? Are they your friends?
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:15 PM on August 14, 2009

Really, what legitimate work-related use does facebook have? I'm honestly curious what those might be.

Here in Savannah, if you're not on Facebook, you're out of several business and social loops, which isn't helpful to anyone. Most of business is social, be it meet and greets or talking and touching bases with people. It's the 21 century, any business that wants to restrict employees from social apps is being short sighed and foolish.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:17 PM on August 14, 2009

I block Facebook and Youtube at my office. I am sure my employees have wondered why they can't pull them up, but none of them has been cheeky enough to ask.

And I am not noticing that the lack of Facebook and Youtube is causing my employees to be any less happy or productive.
posted by jayder at 3:18 PM on August 14, 2009

I supervise and direct a young and diverse group of people across the globe so Facebook is a fantastic way to get to know them better as people which helps me connect with them.

Also as many jobs become less rigid in terms of an 8-to-5 structure and people are expected to flow to work as it happens, employers need to understand that some personal things will be done on the company time. While I agree that smartphones do solve this problem in many cases, we are still several years away before that can be assumed as a viable solution for everyone.
posted by mmascolino at 3:26 PM on August 14, 2009

You work for a law firm. Having worked at law firms myself for most of my adult life, they traditionally are very conservative outfits. Speak your piece if you are in a position of enough seniority where your input is being solicited, either as part of a relevant firm committee or if they are doing an open and anonymous survey of attorneys' input into the move. But if you are not, you run the risk of being thought of as the guy who tried to preserve his right to goof off at work. That is not, as anyone here (including me) would say, an accurate or fair assessment. Not in the least. But those who would think so are the kinds of minds that would label you so, and if they've made up their minds to the point where it's being announced as it is, then unless you are in a position where your input has routinely shown the ability to influence firm policy decisions, then your input into this matter could only damage you.
posted by WCityMike at 3:52 PM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Attorney offices are boring, stuffy places, not usually conducive to embracing new technology, unless it increases billable hours or reduces cost. Social apps are behind the 8 ball from the start.

I work with small business, supporting IT within companies. I am the senior consultant and I'm usually talking with top management, usually the business owners (or for law firms, the partners). We frequently get asked to block IM traffic. Within the last couple of years, this has expanded to include Myspace, Gmail and Facebook.

When I ask why they want it blocked, I get some version of "I walk by their desks and all I see are those d*mn IM windows open" - recently it's "I walk by their desks and they're on Facebook all day". It doesn't actually matter if you are on Facebook for two minutes or ten, if the boss sees the screen, it's a Bad Thing.

It's all about perception.

This may or may not be the answer you want, but most often these types of management concerns are related to indiscreet, frequent use of applications that do not appear to be related to the work they expect to see you doing.

IM has a place in a law firm when you're using it to clarify transcription questions or transfer files to your transcription service. Facebook has a place when you're doing research or communicating with people spread out over a large area. This is usually not the case in a law firm, you'd have an intranet for that.

So, either learn how to alt-tab and flip your social apps to the background and only pop in for quick little views, use a smartphone, only do personal stuff on break and lunch, or knock off the social stuff while at work.
posted by disclaimer at 3:52 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

To the people who suggest it's unreasonable to use personal email on a work computer while on company time: the concept of "company time" doesn't really make sense in a law practice. I am expected to be available for work after hours, on weekends, overnight if needed. People work late or on the weekends fairly often, and all-nighters are not unheard of. But as a corollary of that, it is acceptable to take breaks from work to handle personal issues while in the office — the firm's not, for instance, going to tell people they cannot communicate with family during the day. (Indeed, the firm suggests we simply use our work email address for personal business, so that we have access to personal emails during the business day.)

I bill my clients by the hour, whether that hour was worked at home or at the office. If I take 20 minutes to handle something personal at work, I don't bill it. And I'm paid a salary, not by the hour, so I'm not abusing someone else's time, just as they're not abusing my time when I send a work-related email or work on a document after hours. That sort of flexibility is standard in legal practice, and, I suspect, in most or all professional service fields.
posted by raf at 3:53 PM on August 14, 2009

Really, what legitimate work-related use does facebook have? I'm honestly curious what those might be.

my store has a facebook page that we use to announce special events & sales & whatnot - serves us quite well
posted by jammy at 4:04 PM on August 14, 2009

I've worked in IT for law firms before. Many of them, depending on the kind of law and which countries they practice that law in, are subject to regulations and also to audit requirements. They spend a lot of money and resources on products like Docsopen and Interwoven to ensure they have good document management procedures.

If yu are sending and recieveing email from gmail, hotmail, even facebook, and the firm gets audited, they have to retrieve ALL correspondance. How can they prove to the auditors no-one used gmail, hotmail etc for work purposes? Can they get years work of back emails from these email providers at a moments notice to prove it, and to meet legislative requirements?
posted by Admira at 4:32 PM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I work in a law firm and had to deal with this when an overnight update of the firewall blocked all webmail. We had to convince management that there is a "business case" for allowing access.

We ultimately prevailed by arguing that, no matter what, people are going to get personal e-mails at the office. If webmail is blocked, these personal messages will go through the firm's servers. On an Exchange system, your friend's 5Mb video will take that much bandwidth to download and take that much space on the server (or multiples, due to RAID systems and backups). Using webmail, the user decides if they want to download it and, once downloaded, it gets deleted shortly after that. Letting employees use webmail means that the firm's e-mail system is dedicated to firm e-mail.

And as far as the virus threat goes, I trust Google and Yahoo! (and even Microsoft) more than our IT department to make sure that harmful viruses don't get though.
posted by Hali at 4:48 PM on August 14, 2009

Can they get years work of back emails from these email providers at a moments notice to prove it, and to meet legislative requirements?

If this were the reason, it would've been advertised as such.

My suggestion is that you focus on #2.

It's very difficult to prove that something (in this case, a virus threat) doesn't exist. You are unlikely to convince them that there's no risk (because, let's be honest, the whole damn internet is a virus threat), so your goal should be to convince them that the treat is minimal and worth the risk for the benefit.

That leads to #2. You have to bill hours. You have to get your work done. Sometimes that means working late or on weekends. Facebook and personal email provide a few things to facilitate this: First, it provides you with a link to the outside world. If you feel like you've been isolated in a building all day, you're going to be much less happy about that 12th, 13th, or 14th hour at work than you would be if you were able to keep your personal affairs in order during that time.

Second, that link is one you can check on your own schedule. You can take a look at those sites when you're between projects or at a good stopping point. They don't interrupt the same way calls and texts do.

In short, allowing the use of those sites (and others like them) increases the number of hours an associate can spend in the office without burning out and, therefore, increases the number of billable hours that associate can produce.

Focus on the productivity argument: the personal issues that get dealt with via facebook and gmail have to be dealt with eventually. Allowing them to be done easily during work hours helps everyone.

As for your third argument: ditch it. You're being overly dramatic. Blocking websites at work is "childish" or "insulting." Making an argument like that makes it look like you're emotionally invested in the result, which is going to weaken your credibility on the productivity points because, let's be honest, nobody's really emotionally attached to productivity.

If you have examples of real (not hypothetical) work-related needs, certainly mention those, but understand that the IT reaction is going to be "Well, we can unblock someone on a case-by-case basis if their partner decides they need it for some task."
posted by toomuchpete at 4:56 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

When my work tried this, the staff requested a meeting and politely talked about how we all check work emails and respond to work voicemails and do extensive amounts of public relations stuff for the company outside of work hours. So a fair deal, we proposed, might be that if we weren't allowed to check personal messages during work time, we should no longer be expected to read or respond to any work related queries, whether by phone, email, or face-to-face with the general public, outside of work time. The company quickly realized that this would not be in its favour.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:36 PM on August 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Really, what legitimate work-related use does facebook have? I'm honestly curious what those might be.

About two days ago at work, I accidentally deleted an important voicemail along with the caller's callback number. Since I really needed to talk to this person, I tried googling her name. Wouldn't you know it, her facebook page showed up. I sent her a message through FB, that if she was the person who had called me and left a message, would she please call back as I had deleted the number by accident? Less than 10 minutes later, the phone rings and its her, laughing but getting the information she needed from me.

It can happen.
posted by tamitang at 10:03 PM on August 14, 2009

Good luck convincing your bosses, if that doesn't work it isn't difficult to bypass these sorts of blocks. You should be fine as long as the IT guy is a friend or as overworked as mine was.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 3:12 AM on August 15, 2009

I'd be very surprised that this ban lasts more than a day or two. When a senior partner discovers he can no longer get his personal email on any one of his several company owned/provided computers IT will bend easily.
posted by Gungho at 5:21 AM on August 15, 2009

The older the powers that be, the more likely this will occur.

Eventually this question will only exist as a "can you believe this actually happened..?" reminiscence.

Future generations will only know 24/7 access to social media and would never presume to deprive others of it.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:51 PM on August 15, 2009

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