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Study: Office surfers aren't slackers

As employers limit personal Web surfing, a new study finds that such moves could lower workplace morale, while lenient policies may prompt staff to put in more time from home.

Maybe companies shouldn't be so quick to pull the plug on personal Web surfing at work.

A new finds that employees may waste time surfing on the job, but they tend to make up for it by working from home in their off hours.

The National Technology Readiness Survey, conducted by the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, along with marketing company Rockbridge Associates, surveyed 501 people in December 2002. The survey found that people with Web access at home and at work spend an average of 3.7 hours per week surfing sites for personal use at work. But they spend more time, 5.9 hours per week, logging on from home so they can work.

"The survey suggests companies should accept some personal use of the Internet at work as not only inevitable, but as positive to the organization," Roland Rust, director of the business school's Center for e-Service, said in a statement. "Totally segregating work from personal activities might result in a net decline in work performed, not to mention lower workplace morale."

The study comes as more and more employers are cracking down on personal Web surfing. Some companies recently have started blocking dating sites, gaming sites and instant messaging services, fearing that such activities are sapping corporate bandwidth and diverting attention from work. The trend follows earlier crackdowns on employee file-swapping.

The study results regarding productivity did not apply to workers without home Web access, however. Those people spent an average of 6.5 hours per week surfing at work while spending just 3.7 hours a week working from home.

The study also found that shopping activity decreased among those who surfed at work compared with 2001, a trend researchers blamed on the economy. Only 48 percent bought an item costing less than $100, compared with 53 percent the year before. Fewer people also booked travel online in 2002.

Activities on the rise among surfers included paying bills online, checking utility accounts and conducting transactions with government Web sites.