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Nicolai Solling, the director of technology services at Help AG, a German company with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Jeff Topping / The National
Nicolai Solling, the director of technology services at Help AG, a German company with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Jeff Topping / The National

Tricky work web to untangle

The Life: Companies across the world, including Middle East, is losing out on employee productivity to Internet usage for non business related purposes, says study.

With the Olympics taking place half a world away, most of the UAE will miss the sporting events broadcast during the day.

That is, if they do not take a peek into what's happening in London over the internet at their work places.

While a few minutes of personal time, such as checking email, Facebook and LinkedIn, in a corporate set-up is tolerated at most companies, a director of a Dubai branch of a global IT services company says widespread use of corporate internet facilities for non-business related purposes is becoming a concern in the Middle East.

"It is a bother because internet is a business tool and [unregulated use] decreases employee efficiency," says Nicolai Solling, the director of technology services at Help AG, a German company with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

His concern stems from a report from Palo Alto Networks, a US manufacturer of hardware and software used to secure computer networks and vendor partner of Help AG. Mr Solling's office contributed statistical information about internet use in the UAE and Qatar to the report.

Nearly a third what a company spends on bandwidth is used for either streaming video or sharing files and a large portion of that is likely to be for personal purposes, according to the June report.

The personal use of office internet is becoming a threat to bandwidth-sensitive business applications, said the Palo Alto Networks survey, which has data from more than 2,000 organisations worldwide.

A Bayt.com 2011 survey revealed that in the UAE, 43 per cent of people admitted using social networking websites at work.

Help AG has 250 clients in finance, manufacturing and government sectors among others in the UAE. "About 50 per cent of the Middle East clients have adequate internet policies or are trying to control internet usage with technology that fails to harness modern internet based applications," says Mr Solling. "[And] most employees do not read the policies [regarding internet use]."

But companies are increasingly putting policies in place relating to the use of email, Twitter and text messaging service among other communication tools, according to a survey of the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, both based in the United States.

"In North America, the employer is much more likely to be sued for inappropriate or offensive computer use than the employee," says Nancy Flynn, the founder and executive director of The ePolicy Institute.

The reason is inappropriate use of the internet often lead to legal claims of harassment, discrimination and a hostile work environment against the company, she said. In 2010, Ms Flynn drew up the internet policy for a financial sector client in Abu Dhabi and trained its staff on adhering to so-called "netiquette" and email use rules - best practices not very different from those followed in her home country.

As a rule of thumb, employees should avoid conducting personal business during work and forwarding confidential company information.

When it comes to monitoring of employee's use of the internet, a company must follow its own policies and the law of the land.

"In the UAE, an employer must have informed consent of the employee before any monitoring takes place," says Patricia Wardrop, a legal consultant at DLA Piper law firm in Dubai. The consent must be in writing.

To implement that, a company should have a detailed telephone, internet and email policy, which staff must be fully aware of.

The Dubai arm of Help AG, which employs 40 IT professionals in the UAE and five in Qatar, does not control in-house internet behaviour.

"We prioritise our business applications over non-business applications instead of blocking them," Mr Solling says.

"Internet usage is a satisfaction parameter, like a good coffee or lunch facility at work."

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