Web Surfing at Work - Good for Business?

At a Dallas office that helps seniors decide where to live, accountant Allison Thomas is free to surf the Internet.

"It was definitely just a distraction that was always there," she said.

But every keystroke she makes can be seen by the company's technology officer - thanks to computer monitoring software.

"I can see what Web site they are using along with what Web site they are going to, and how long they've been on the Web site," said Stacee Howse.

"It's made me more aware of what I'm doing now," Thomas said.

Facebook
YouTube
Gmail
Follow Comcast on Twitter

While not popular with workers, the company claims productivity is up 30 percent in just seven months.

"Some employees were using the Internet two to three hours a day for personal use," Howse said. "We've gone down to about 45 minutes to an hour a day of personal use."

About two-thirds of American workers or 65,000,000 people have access to the Internet on the job. We spend an average of an hour and a half online during the work day -- but many of the sites we visit don't seem very job-oriented.

Eight of the top 10 most popular sites viewed during work hours include personal e-mail like Gmailand video-sharing like YouTube. But the overwhelming favorite is Facebook, where people chat and post photos.

Many businesses seem worried. A survey of 1,400 companies found that nearly 80 percent of them monitor employees or impose strict guidelines.

But a growing number of companies are finding that socializing online doesn't have to mean a drain on productivity. In fact, it can become a new way of doing business.

"My belief is that we're just starting to see the workplace benefits from social technologies," said technology consultant Josh-Michele Ross.

One company trying to capitalize is cable provider Comcast. A small team led by Frank Eliason gets paid to use sites like Twitter--which sends short messages between users--to answer customer complaints - even during our interview.

Eliason said, "I'm actually writing to customers that have private messaged me via Twitter."

Nearly 30,000 people followwhat Eliason writes.

"It builds those personal relationships," he said.

Back in Allison Thomas's office, a ban on Facebook was recently lifted - a cautious experiment.

"We just have realized that it is something you kind of have to do in this time and day in age," Howse said.

With more of our every day lives tied to the internet, it's further proof that the workplace needs to keep pace.