Knock me over with a feather: A new survey shows a lot of people waste time at the office doing all sorts of things they shouldn't … including playing games, browsing social networks and looking for new jobs. 

Last month, TeamViewer, a provider of remote control and online meeting software, asked 300 IT administrators to list some common behaviors of office workers and explain how those behaviors have affected both IT administration and the company’s bottom line.

The only thing surprising about the resulting IT Admin Behavioral Study is that the company described the results as surprising — and the fact that only 92 percent of IT admins report troublesome habits among office workers using company computers. Are the other 8 percent of IT admins ignorant or just naïve?

How Does This Thing Work?


From the time desktop computers were introduced in offices worldwide, employees have looked for ways to circumvent the best-intentioned efforts of IT administrators, who labor under the misguided notion that people should work while they are at work.

To protect corporate networks, boost productivity — and prevent workers from having fun — IT administrators have explored one solution after another to block websites, prevent rogue downloads and instill fears about using company equipment for purposes other than intended.

But like children who know their birthday presents are hidden in the hall closet — or the lead characters in horror movies who receive warnings about going into the basement — office workers are tantalized by the forbidden. And you don't need a survey to prove it.

Some of us know that from experience. It started way back in the 1980s, when computers just began to replace typewriters. Back then, no one was that tech proficient, including the so-called IT specialists. It was pretty easy to find what you weren't supposed to see, even on those old MS-DOS machines.

Employees have always been a curious bunch. And that curiosity just increased with the introduction of the World Wide Web, AOL, e-commerce and social networks. Why wait until after work to (fill in the blank) when you can do it now, without even leaving your desk?

About seven years ago, software vendors started taking notice of the lack of work at work. Some of them started offering solutions, like RescueTime, a way to track how you spend your computer time.

As bring-your-own-device (BYOD) went from a dream to a demand, playing at work has arguably gotten worse. A 2008 report on the "consumerization" of office IT noted how savvy office workers, frustrated that their on-the-job computer tools don't function as smoothly as their own devices, were taking matters into their own hands.

Once an isolated minority, these unhappy consumers have entered the mainstream of work life with a growing technical self-confidence. The braver souls shun corporate 'help desks' as much as possible."

No Work, All Play

So back to the new survey .… As you might have guessed, people can't forgo their fascination with Facebook and other social sites, even on the job. The survey estimates 82 percent browse social media sites during work hours. They also:

  • Open inappropriate email attachments -- 57 percent
  • Download games -- 52 percent
  • Plug in unauthorized USB devices -- 51 percent
  • Plug in unauthorized personal devices -- 50 percent
  • Illegally download things, including pirating movies and music -- 45 percent

And 39 percent spend part of the workday looking for another job.

Frontline Perspective


CMSWire asked Robert Stank, head of technology and operations at Crossmedia, a media-planning and media-buying agency in New York City, for a little real life perspective.

"Take that survey with a grain of salt," he said, noting that “troublesome habits” varies from industry to industry.

What's considered troublesome in the financial services sector might not even merit a second thought in the media industry. Taking a break to watch funny videos on YouTube is probably cool at MTV, not so cool at AIG. As well, you need to consider the level of IT Admin surveyed for this. Generally speaking, one of the biggest challenges for IT departments since their inception has been ensuring that their policies and practices are aligned with business goals.

IT departments have long had a reputation for having draconian policies that seem out of touch with what their company might need. As well, consumer technologies have invaded the workplace and democratized technology. In the past, the IT department held the keys to the technology kingdom, and departments needed to come hat in hand to define their requirements and get a project authorized.

Now, technology is ubiquitous with powerful cloud-based capabilities able to be drawn upon directly outside the IT department – often times without its knowledge, assistance or endorsement.  CIOs who have failed to find a way to embrace and coexist with the cloud may look upon this activity as 'troublesome,' and, as such, that mindset may be cascaded down the ranks to the IT admins." 

Well said, Robert.

Viruses, Computer Crashes and Popup Ads

Most survey respondents — about 90 percent — claim the penchant of employees to play at work adversely affects company equipment. It can introduce viruses, slow or crash computers, result in mass popup ads or even make it impossible to open email.

Nearly a quarter of IT admins spend up to 20 extra hours some weeks — and 4 percent have worked more than 40 extra hours in a week — just untangling messes employees made to computers and networks.

On a positive note, that may be keeping them healthy. More than four in 10 IT administrators estimate they walk between one and nine miles a month "traveling from desk-to-desk and floor-to-floor" during their daily tasks.

But they aren't happy about it. IT admins claim they feel frustrated (70 percent), angry (60 percent) and discouraged (32 percent) by the bad habits of office workers. About 12 percent are so fed up want to quit their jobs.

Can't We All Get Along?

It's hard to break shopping and social media addictions, on or off the job. But 94 percent of IT admins said that there are some possible solutions, including better security software (66 percent), using remote access software to fix problems (47 percent), disk cleanup software (44 percent) and automatic backup solutions (40 percent).

Another 29 percent said they would be happier if they could telecommute — apparently, it helps having less face-to-face contact with the employees who cause the problems. Off course, employees still have options. If they miss the personal connection with their favorite IT admins , they can always Facebook friend them … while they're at work.

Title image by Shana Smith, Crossmedia. "This is my actual desk," she said.