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Cyber Monday, Monday: can't trust that day...

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Close to two out of three employees will shop online from their workplace computers. Is there anything wrong with that?

Cyber Monday will fall on November 30th this year, and some observers are expressing concern about the potential hit on productivity businesses will suffer. Many employees will be using their companies' bandwidth to shop 'till they drop on Cyber Monday and beyond. Should businesses be concerned about all this retail activity taking place on their dime?

According to a survey conducted by ISACA, the IT governance association, 63% of people of all ages say they shop online during the holiday season from their workplace computers. There appears to be a real cost to all this holiday spirit, however, as IT professionals in the survey calculate that their company loses an average of $3,000 or more in productivity per employee from online holiday shopping at work.

More than half, 55%, also reported that their company permits workers to shop online but has no strategy for educating them about the risks.

SpectorSoft president C. Douglas Fowler puts it this way: “Many companies are not prepared for the sudden drain on resources caused by employee online holiday shopping during work hour.  When businesses anticipate or experience the loss of revenue and productivity around Cyber Monday and the Holidays, they begin looking for ways to find out exactly what their employees are doing.”

Productivity is one concern. CareerBuilder says employers lost 580 million in productivity on Cyber Monday in 2008. They estimate that 43% of those planning to shop from work on Cyber Monday will spend at least one hour doing so, and 23% said they shop two hours or more from their workplace computer. Another concern is the vulnerabilities that will be introduced to workplace computers -- there is an increased risk of spam, viruses and phishing attacks in the workplace.

Should employers crack down on these practices? Is it even worth the effort?

On one hand, it may be the equivalent of standing in the middle of 7th Avenue and yelling for the traffic to stop.

There's another way to look at the issue as well. Are the employees that are taking a couple of hours to online shop still getting their work done? In an era of online business and networks, enforcing 9-to-5 productivity may be, well, counterproductive. The lines between work and personal life are blurring.

First of all, the ability to use workplace computers to do things like holiday shop is a relatively painless way to maintain employee morale. Plus, the way work gets done in today's information economy is via teamwork and "burst productivity," in which work may get accomplished outside the boundaries of corporate schedules and firewalls. Many professionals are ready and willing to work on their own time -- why wouldn't employers allow for the opposite as well?

Yes, companies need to be vigilant about viruses and malware, and help employees practice safe online shopping. But trying to crack down represents the rigid thinking of older times when there was a huge wall between business and personal lives.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure