Locking down computers from accessing certain websites is a common practice.
Companies will site everything from security, liability issues and computer virus threats to bandwidth issues and productivity. In the end, companies don't want their employees futzing around on YouTube and having to pay the tab as it is happening. I've always said that locking employees out of Facebook won't make them more productive, they'll just find something else to waste their time with (like smoking or talking on the phone). In a hyper-connected society this type of practice (which is still commonplace) is creating growing concerns. One major issue is new employee recruitment. It's hard to recruit the best and the brightest and then have to explain to them that the tools they use to communicate (and many of these tools these younger individuals use more than talking as a form of communication) are verboten in the workplace. I have one friend whose smartphone is so locked down at work that they can't even take pictures with it (the company is afraid of liability issues) and another senior marketer of a multi-national brand whose computer is so locked down (this includes no access to sites that use Flash) that they actually have their own laptop and USB mobile Internet stick that they use instead of the office computer.
This has become such a serious issue that some companies have created corporate policies that don't allow employees to bring or use their own personal computers and smartphones during office hours. Some go so far as to not allow any form of personal technology on company property. Imagine having to work at a company like that. The tide is slowing turning. The Globe & Mail published an article yesterday titled, Workplace use of personal electronic devices on the rise. At first glance of the headline, I suspected that this article would be all about individuals who are sneaking their laptops and smartphones into the office and using their own devices to access online social networking sites, etc..., but it turns out that companies are now (slowly) beginning to open up and allow their employees to not only bring their own gear to work, but to use it for work-related issues.
It's an ever-changing world and companies are not keeping pace.
From The Globe & Mail article: "Currently, only 44 per cent of employers have a formal BYO device policy and just as many ban them outright. But nearly all the employers expect to have a formal BYO policy within two years, the survey of 700 information technology officers - 100 of them in Canada - conducted by remote working applications developer Citrix Systems Inc. found. Just 6 per cent of employers said they don't anticipate allowing employees to use their own devices at work. That's despite the fact that many already do, whether or not there is a policy. Laptops and smart phones are the personal devices most commonly used today, the IT managers said, but tablet computers are on the rise. The survey found that employers expect a quarter of employees will bring personal tablets to work within two years, compared with an average of 8 per cent today."
It's the iPad, stupid.
While some may be focused on how quickly the adoption is happening, I was more intrigued by the line about tablet computers and their rapid ascent. As technology gets easier, cheaper, more fun to use and connected, there's almost little-to-nothing that companies can do to keep their employees disconnected. In fact, even thinking about a disconnected individual in a world where some regions see Internet access as a human right (for more on this: The Internet As Your Birthright) is becoming somewhat laughable. One of the biggest evolutions in the business world that happened because of connectivity is this: for the first time in our civilization, individuals are ahead of the brands when it comes to marketing. They're more informed, more empowered and much more connected. Brands (and the businesses that are behind them) are - for the first time - playing catch-up.
Hint: employees, consumers or whatever... are all the same thing: they're people. Companies need to get smarter.