June 19th, 2008

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Email for Personal Use On the Job May Be Good for Productivity

Some years back, when I was in private practice, my secretary was planning a family trip to Disney World. She wanted to know if she could use our office internet access for some research and to make some arrangements (back then many people didn't even have dial up at home). I gave her blanket permission to use the office internet for any personal use provided (a) the use was legal, (b) the use did not imply any connection to the firm and was clearly for personal use, and (c) she continued to get everything done on schedule.

Some folks criticized me as a soft-hearted technophile, and many simply rolled their eyes at the naive soft-hearted young lawyer who didn't understand how employees needed a firm hand. I responded, with varying degrees of politeness, that these people were idiots. Not only was there no good way to effectively police the conduct without an inordinate investment in time and effort and money for policing tools -- all of which would also dampen morale -- but having my secretary use the internet for personal reasons *increased* productivity. Instead of going to lunch and leaving my phone unmanned, she was busy at the computer researching Disney World and thus naturally available to cover phones or respond to any emergency need. She also learned a fair bit about internet research, which was useful next time I needed things like travel arrangements.

Now this study reported in Washpo agrees that the conventional thinking on internet for personal use at the office is at best an unavodiable evil and at worst a serious time drag needs reexamination. Mind you, there can still be real problems with capacity issues, so it's not all good news. But it comforts me to think I may have the last laugh ten years later.