Workers Increase Net Usage, Employers Increase Net Monitoring

More than 42 million Web surfers logged on to the Internet from the office in the past year, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, as Web usage at work jumped 23 percent.

Nielsen//NetRatings’ data found Internet usage at work increased as office users logged on more often, visited more sites and spent more time online. In June 2001, Internet users at work logged in 43 times, a 10 percent increase from 39 sessions a year ago. In June 2000, the average work user visited 28 sites while a year later they frequented 35 sites, a 25 percent increase. Time spent online grew to 22 hours and 38 minutes online in June 2001.

“Nearly 15 percent of all Americans access the Internet from their workplace, and that will continue to grow,” said Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytical services at NetRatings. “The office environment is depending more on the Internet as a comprehensive tool for research, business-to-business transactions and day-to-day office management.”

Average U.S. At-Work Usage
2000 vs. 2001
June 2000 June 2001 Percent
Number of Sessions per Month 39 43 10%
Number of Unique Sites Visited 28 35 25%
Time Spent per Month
20:30:36 22:38:22 10%
Internet Universe 34.4 million 42.3 million 23%
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

Nearly every Web site category has seen an increase in audience traffic courtesy of at-work Internet users. Corporate information sites have grown the fastest, soaring 49 percent from a year ago. The finance category surged 42 percent in the past year. Online travel captured the third hottest category, jumping 31 percent.

And while some of the online activity certainly is not related to the job, the Internet is playing a bigger role when it comes to getting work done.

“Office workers are moving beyond email and integrating more use of the Internet to complete their tasks,” Kaldor said. “From accessing internal corporate Web sites to planning business trips online, workers are conducting many different business-related functions on the Web as part of their daily work routine.”

As is so often the case, Europeans are following the American pattern and increasing their use of the Internet in the office. According to the Web@Work Survey 2001, conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres and commissioned by Websense, 73 percent of respondents feel it is acceptable to surf the Web at work during breaks, but only half feel it is appropriate before or after official hours. The survey was conducted among 800 employees across Britain, Italy, France and Germany.

Top 5 Categories Among U.S. At-Work Users
Ranked by Percent Growth
Category Unique

Corporate Information 14,611 49%
Finance/Insurance/Investment 21,169 42%
Travel 18,399 31%
Telecom/Internet Services 29,691 28%
Special Occasions* 4,125 27%
*Special Occasions sites include greeting cards, gifts and flowers
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

The survey also found that U.K. companies are the most aggressive when it comes to reprimanding staff for inappropriate use of the Net. Employers in Britain were five times more likely to take disciplinary action than Italian employers — and 2.5 times more likely to take action than their French or German counterparts. More than half (52 percent) of companies across Europe are doing nothing to address the issue of Internet misuse. But two-thirds of U.K. employers have Internet access policies in place, and only 33 percent of French companies report the same. Seventy-one percent of workers feel it is acceptable to have the Internet managed at work, with the British and Germans being most in favor.

Employees surveyed by Taylor Nelson Sofres reported using the Internet at work to book a trip (52 percent), pursue education (42 percent), research a hobby (41 percent), visit a virtual shop (28 percent) or watch a sports event (27 percent).

“The survey shows that the Internet is clearly a valuable business tool for employees, but at the same time it can be a distraction,” said Geoff Haggart, vice president of Europe for Websense. “It also shows that companies need to strike a balance and be aware that employees do not object to having their Internet access at work managed.”

The scale at which companies monitor the Internet use of their employees was recently brought to light by findings from the Privacy Foundation, which claimed 14 million employees — just over one-third of the online workforce in the United States — have their Internet or email use under continuous surveillance at work. Worldwide, the number of employees under such surveillance is estimated at 27 million.

In the past, the reasons given by employers for the monitoring of Internet use and email ranged from productivity concerns to liability for sexual harassment or other employee misbehavior online. But the Privacy Foundation’s research indicates that the low cost of the technology, more than any other factor, is driving the growth of email and Internet surveillance in the workplace.

Employee monitoring, as measured by the sales of surveillance software, has increased at least twice as fast as the number of U.S. employees with Internet access in the past few years. Worldwide sales of employee-monitoring software are estimated $140 million a year, or about $5.25 per monitored employee per year.

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