Unlock work internet or risk losing staff: Microsoft

Jobseekers will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access a senior Microsoft executive said today.

“These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day” said Anne Kirah Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist.

“People that I meet are saying this to me every day all over the world.”

Kirah made the comments during the keynote at the opening of Microsoft’s annual developer love-in Tech.Ed in Sydney.

“Companies all over the world are saying oh you can’t be on the internet while you’re at work. You can’t be on instant messaging at work…” she said. “These are digital immigrant ideas.”

Kirah defines ‘digital immigrants’ as people who were not born into the digital lifestyle and view it as a distraction rather than an integral part of life. The younger generation of workers have been using computers and mobile phones since birth and she calls them ‘digital natives’.

Kirah cited a Norwegian psychologist who claimed that young people were now so reliant on digital communication that “taking a mobile phone away from a teenage girl is the same as child abuse.”

“Digital communication is part of people’s lives now. Their friends online are the people they identify with.”

Microsoft Australia Group Manager of Technical Communities Frank Arrigo said people were so frustrated with limited internet access at work that they were finding their own workarounds anyway.

People were increasingly making use of anonymous proxies that couldn’t be easily blocked by corporate firewalls bringing in their own wireless broadband services for use with a personal laptop or with a work PC or accessing instant messaging via mobile phones and PDAs.

“People are hitting security barriers put in by the owners of the infrastructure but employers see internet access as bad for productivity.”

“Bill Gates said years ago that if you worry about internet productivity you’re worrying about people stealing pens from your stationery cupboard… there are bigger things to worry about.”

“Organisations have valid concerns about security risks but all you need is technology to secure the network perimiter properly” Arrigo said.

“We know of one woman who was so frustrated with her work blocking her 9 to 5 internet access that she’d spend her evenings doing research online and then she’d email it to herself to read at work the next day… there are a million ways around these limitations.”

Arrigo said employers needed to rethink their assumptions about internet usage. “For a lot of people now instant messaging is a legitimate work tool that allows quick communication between colleagues avoiding voicemail-tag and long distance charges yet many companies block instant messaging completely.”

“They only see the downside of it; they assume it’s a time waster.”

While Kirah and Arrigo’s comments no doubt resonate with many frustrated office workers around the world they also have a business motivation for Microsoft.

Because Microsoft’s Windows Live services will be advertiser-funded the more people that have access to them the more money Microsoft makes.

“Our business model is advertising. With advertising you want reach” George Moore General Manager Windows Live Platform told APC.

Frank Arrigo said it wasn’t only about using the net at work: employees are also becoming increasingly frustrated with companies that don’t make it easy to access complete company network resources from home.

“The tools are available but it’s a matter of educating IT departments that it can be done securely. In the case of Microsoft our 70000 staff have a smart card that authenticates a secure network link in to work.”

Citrix also offers a product GoToMyPC which allows remote screen sharing of work PCs even through restrictive corporate firewalls. It encapsulates the screen-sharing data in standard HTTP packets.