Written by: Marla R. Gunasegaram

Information Studies 246 - Social Aspects of an Information Oriented Society
Professor Howard Besser

Many new technologies have been developed to assist in the decision-making process and to increase productivity in the workplace. The implementations of such technologies may have been done for the best of reasons, but many times they have a negative effect on the corporation and its productivity. These negative effects can be extremely detrimental to companies and their existing corporate cultures. This paper will describe such technologies, focusing on computer use monitoring softwares and Intranets or Groupware packages. There will be a discussion of why these technologies were created and how they are being used. The discussion will then lead to the effect that these technologies have on employees and existing corporate cultures. The paper will conclude with how companies should implement and use these new technologies in order to enhance existing corporate cultures.




There are many ways that companies can monitor employees. The simplest form of monitoring is that of actually watching employees as they work. As we all can imagine, managers today do not have time to walk around the office observing employee productivity and doing so would be a waste of management's time. In response to this problem organizations have come up with other ways to monitor employees. Companies conduct telephone and voice communication surveillance, video monitoring surveillance and most recently computer and data communication surveillance. The American Management Association conducted a monitoring and surveillance surveys in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Some of the results of the 1999 survey will follow. According to the survey, "forty-five percent of major U.S. firms record and review employee communications and activities on the job" (AMA Workplace Survey, 1999). This statistic includes the recording and review of phone calls, the storage and review of voice mail messages, the storage and review of e-mail messages, the storage and review of computer files, and video recording of employee job performance. This paper will focus in on the findings for computer and data communication monitoring. Computer and data communication monitoring includes computer usage (time logged on and keystroke counts), computer surveillance (files stored and reviewed) and electronic mail (messages stored and reviewed). The AMA Workplace survey reported that of the companies that participated in the survey, 15.5% had tracked computer usage, 19.7% (1998 statistic, no results for 1999) had conducted computer surveillance and 27% had reviewed electronic mail messages. How many of these companies informed the employees that they would be monitored in such a fashion? The AMA Workplace survey reported that on average 83% of the companies that conducted such monitoring did in fact inform their employees that their computer usage and habits would be monitored.

"forty-five percent of major U.S. firms record and review employee communications and activites on the job."

Why all the fuss about computer and data communication monitoring? Companies say that they monitor employee online activity to prevent liability and maintain productivity. Due to the increase in Internet access made available to employees, companies are finding that employees are spending time online for non-work-related issues.. Large amounts of time are being used to surf the web and write non-work-related e-mails. An online service, The, conducted a survey of Internet use in the workplace and "found that 90.3 percent of employees report surfing non-work-related sites at some point during the workday" (Noack, 1999). The study also found that of the employers surveyed "51 percent believe that the Internet detracts from office productivity" (Noack, 1999). One would think that a simple solution would be to restrict or discontinue Internet rights. It is not that simple since having access to the Internet and e-mail has become a critical part of the workplace environment. Supplying employees with the ability to access instant information is key to workplace productivity and efficiency when used for work-related projects. Along with Internet use monitoring, companies have taken to storing and reviewing e-mail correspondence and work files. Companies are "mainly looking at avoiding sexual harassment and other kinds of lawsuits that could stem from offensive material on display. But they can also be looking to protect trade secrets, boost productivity and keep workers from scouting for other jobs" (Noack, 1999).

"WinWhatWhere tells you when you were doing what, and where you were doing it... it quietly monitors not only internet usage buy every application run on a computer or an entire network."

There are a number of products available for employers to monitor computer use. Most of these monitoring tools only scan e-mail and prohibit access to certain Web sites. The exception to this is a fairly new product developed by WinWhatWhere called Investigator. Investigator was originally developed as a time-management/project-billing tool to help system administrators track down software and network problems. Now it is mainly used to perform monitoring of all user actions. According to Richard Eaton, president and founder of WinWhatWhere, "It records the time, the date started, how long it was active, the name of the program, the title of the window, and every keystroke that was entered" (Oakes, 1999). Also from Eaton, "You can make Investigator completely silent, so it doesn't show up on a task list. And if they do find it, it can show up… under another name" (Harrison, 1999). The most popular feature of Investigator is that of the keystroke recorder. Keystroke recorders "read keystrokes, including deletions, and save them to a hidden file" (Ellerman, 1999). Keystroke recorders have many uses other then employee monitoring. For example, parents can use them to keep tabs on their children's e-mail, web surfing habits, school papers and chat room visits. Keystroke recorders are also being used to "perfect interface design; NASA deployed WinWhatWhere in designing the user interface for the space station. The software replaces a primitive system in which researchers stood behind users and took notes on every move they made" (Ellerman, 1999).


Groupware products can most simply be defined as teamwork software. Groupware products usually have a shared database where employees can work on common documents and conduct electronic discussions and meetings. Other features that Groupware products contain are schedulers, calendars, e-mail and real-time meeting functions. In short Groupwares "allow team members to work on a single document, discuss ideas online, maintain records, and prioritize and schedule team work and meetings" (Master Class, 1999). Some examples of groupware are Lotus Notes, Exchange, GroupWise, Collabra Share and GroupSystems. Many companies use groupware packages to increase employee productivity because they allow for collaboration on projects and provide a place for all to share their ideas.

Groupwares "allow team members to work on a single document, discuss ideas online, maintain records, and prioritize and schedule team work and meetings."

Soon after the development of Groupware software came the development of Intranets. Intranets are private computer networks that are built using Internet technologies. There has been some confusion about the definition of Internet and the definition of intranets. The main difference between the Internet and intranets is that intranets are private networks. The Internet is a public networked environment where information is posted and reviewed by anyone who has Internet access capabilities. An intranet on the other hand is developed, usually by companies, for private internal use. Intranets allow all members of an organization access to privilieged corporate information. Why do companies use intranets? "Organizations build an intranet because it's a nimble, competitive tool; powerful enough to compress time, shrink the disadvantages of distance, and build on their greatest capital asset - employees with knowledge of company operations and products" (Greer, 1999). Over intranets employees can do all of the same things that can be done using Groupware software. They can attend virtual meetings, review shared documents and plan strategies. The main difference between the two is that Groupwares are prepackaged software products that are developed by software companies such as Lotus Development Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, and Novell Inc., to name a few. The groupware products that these companies provide all have different collaborative computing functions that can be bought and installed on company computers. An intranet on the other hand is usually developed internally by the company that will use it. Since intranets are developed internally the functions of the intranet reflect only what the company needs and sees a use for. It seems that a lot of the time certain portions of Groupware packages go unused. Intranets are built to meet specific needs within companies and can be added to or updated when new needs arise. In 1997 Forrester Reseach Inc. conducted a survey of 50 Fortune 1000 companies to determine how many companies where building their own intranet or were already using one. Ninety-six percent of those polled responded that they were already using or will be using intranets for internal team management.

"Organizations build an Intranet because it's a nimble, competitive tool; powerful enough to compress time, shrink the disadvantanges of distance, and build on their greatest capital asset - employees with knowledge of company operations and products."


Corporate culture, what is it? Every corporation or organization has a culture and every corporate culture is different. Corporate culture can be described in the following way, "Culture is the sum total of values, virtues, accepted behaviors (both good and not so good), and the political environment of an organization" (Bliss, 1999). There are many different types of corporate cultures and some have been described in the following ways: customer-focused culture, innovative culture, honest culture, technology driven culture, laid back culture, risk taking culture, or family focused culture, just to name a few. Corporate culture is usually created with the founders of the company. The founders' actions and behaviors typically set the stage for the future culture. That is not to say that cultures do not change over the years, they definitely do. Implementing new techniques and methods for getting things done within an organization will re-shape existing corporate culture. The key is to be able to enforce these changes without undermining the existing corporate culture. It may even turn out that the changes a company wants to make can not be done at all because the proposed changes go so much against the company culture that it will only result in a decrease in productivity and the loss of good employees. Losing key employees can be the downfall of an otherwise healthy organization. According to Jack D. Deal, owner of Deal Consulting, "workplace atmosphere has become the number one issue for employees - especially skilled employees. Everyone wants to be in a 'good place to work'. What they really want is to have a family atmosphere where they are appreciated and not belittled" (Deal, 1999). Deal and many other business consultants feel that "employees are today's primary competitive advantage" and it makes sense to provide and maintain the type of culture that they seek out.

"Culture is the sum total of values, virtues, accepted behaviors (both good and not so good), and the political environment of an organization."

As one might think, the installation of monitoring software on a company network can cause negative reactions from employees. By installing such software a company is basically saying, "We don't trust our employees." The trust and loyalty that is developed between employee and employer is a big part of maintaining a healthy corporate culture. People do not want to work for a company that instills a sense of mistrust. This only shows that the company lacks confidence in the work that its employees produce. Most people take pride in their work and feel a sense of accomplishment when they are asked and trusted to produce quality work. If in fact companies are installing this monitoring software as just a legal precaution in order to create the equivalent of an electronic paper trail, then it is understandable that a company would want this software. The sad truth of this story though is that employers use monitoring software to spy on employees. WinWhatWhere president Richard Eaton "said he believes that 90 percent of the time the software is used to track suspicious behavior. He doesn't think it's deployed to keep tabs on entire networks" (Oakes, 1999). Employers will be making a grave mistake if they engage in this type of monitoring behavior because it only leads to mistrust and will have a negative effect on employee moral and may even lead to valuable employees leaving the company in search of a more trusting environment.

Installing monitoring software says "We don't trust our employees." The trust and loyalty that is developed between employee and employer is a big part of maintaining a healthy corporate culture.

At first glance, Groupware packages and Intranets seem like a purely harmless and highly productive technology to introduce into any working environment. If implemented correctly this can very well be the case. As stated earlier these collaborative computing environments bring a number of benefits to a company by increasing employee productivity and better time management. The one downfall to these applications is the reduction in actual employee contact and social interaction. In general most people are initially scared and skeptical of change. When a corporation decides to change the way people have been communicating with each other a resistance to this new type of technology can be expected. Many corporate cultures are built upon the way employees communicate, work together and get things done. A large part (and for some of us, the most enjoyable part) of our work lives is that aspect of working with other people as a team to develop a product, create a system or even just getting the day to day work done. The implementation of Groupware products and Intranets will seriously cut down on employee interaction. When most companies start out with few employees the need for this type of teamwork application is small. The founders and the few employees that work for the company can easily communicate due to their small number. As we stated earlier, corporate cultures are developed with the founders in the early stages of corporate development. As companies grow and the need for collaborative communications software increases, major shifts in corporate culture will need to take place. If social interaction is a key aspect of a company's corporate culture then precautions should be taken when moving towards an online computer collaborating system. A major part of productivity and creativity comes from human interaction. Megan Santosus explains how Groupwares and Intranets can reduce employee creativity:

"Corporations can, in theory, realize significant bottom-line performance gains capturing intellectual capitol, so it is not surprising to find many organizations using technology to capture, analyze, categorize and share what employees know. Knowledge management proponents would have you collect every bit of corporate know-how in a database or Lotus Notes application and let employees access it to their hearts' content. But here's the rub: Much of what is useful often can't be neatly categorized. What's more, the mere act of typing information into a database frequently robs it of the intuitive spark generated by face-to-face conversation. Technology, for all its speed and accessibility, can't run with an idea and brainstorm it into something innovative" (Santosus, 1998).

How then should corporations implement these new technologies without bringing mistrust into the workplace, without decreasing employee interaction and most importantly without decreasing creativity and disrupting the existing corporate culture?


In regards to monitoring software, companies should spend more time on the front end when hiring employees. Instead of hiring people you know very little about, do the research, spend quality time interviewing new hires and have many people in your company interview the new hires. In short, hire people that you trust. Do not hire people that you know nothing about and then install a monitoring device to see if that person is a good employee. Hire people who are aware and agree with the existing corporate culture. A company will save money by doing so. "Companies would not hire someone who did not have the particular technical or functional expertise they require" (Bliss, 1999). Why would a company hire someone who did not fit the culture of the organization? If a company still feels a need to install monitoring devices in the workplace then the only way to decrease the amount of distrust this will bring into the corporate culture is to inform employees that this type of monitoring is going on. Be up-front and honest about what is being done so that there is no additional mistrust. There will already be plenty of trust issues to deal with by simply installing the software. Employees have a right to know that their every keystroke can be and will be monitored.

Ideally, companies should develop their own intranet and not even deal with Groupware packages. The people who know the corporate culture the best are those who live and work in it on a day to day basis. Another plus, of having people within the organization develop the intranet, is that it will lead to employee interaction and creativity. Employers should encourage internal development of intranets and include all departments in the development process. This will ensure that parts of the existing corporate culture become a part of the new electronic communication scheme. Karen Rubenstunk, an analyst at Meta Group says this most succinctly, "When a technology project fails, it fails not because of the technology, but because the underlying culture in the technology doesn't match the company's culture" (Hibbard, 1998). Employees will feel that they played a part in this major change that would have otherwise received some resistance. If a company does not have the technical know-how, employees necessary or the financial means to develop its own intranet then they should turn towards Groupware packages. When it comes to the implementation of Groupwares the company should evaluate the existing corporate culture and choose the groupware package that best fits this culture. Groupware packages "tend to require changes in the way users work, which means it hits much more cultural resistance… it demands a lot more training (and prodding) for end users. Users don't usually dive in as they typically do with intranets" (Master Class, 1999).

CONCLUSION [back to top]

It is important to take into account existing corporate cultures when making decisions to implement new technologies in the workplace. Not doing so can lead to the loss of key employees, decreased productivity and creativity, and the increase in distrust within the company. Spending more time during the hiring process will decrease the need to implement monitoring softwares. If a company decides to implement monitoring software at the very least it should inform the employees that they might be monitored. Doing so goes a long way in reducing the negative effect that this sign of mistrust will have on the corporate culture. When deciding on a collaborative computing environment it is best to develop intranets within the company using current employees in the developement process. This will reinforce, and may even lead to a stronger, corporate culture. If using a Groupware package is the company's only choice then extensive research in choosing the groupware package must be done in order to find the best fit with the existing corporate culture.

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Web Site Designed by: Marla R. Gunasegaram
Written for: Professor Howard Besser
Information Studies 246 - UCLA, Fall 1999
December 8, 1999