It all started as an innocent project to find a cheap way to conduct an online panel discussion, but it turned out to be a lesson in work place rules that left me shaking my head. First, the backstory.

I really enjoyed watching an online panel discussion that Brian Cuban did last week called “So You Think You’re a Social Media Expert.” The topic was interesting, but what I found more interesting was how Brian was conducting the panel. Using a mixture of UStream and Skype and a couple other resources, the four member panel was able to rant, and I was able to watch and listen. It was like being at a conference and watching a panel go at it. Actually, it was like being in a restaurant and eavesdropping in on a really good conversation. However, there was a technical problem that with the audio feedback that caused everything to be repeated three times, and was very, very annoying. Thus, I started my innocent project of trying to find a way to replicate Brian’s online panel format, without the feedback (still a work in progress.)
As I was working out the details, I needed someone with Skype access that would assist me in curing the feedback issue. This is where I got a rude awakening. Turns out that six of the seven people I contacted were not allowed to use Skype at their workplace. SIX OF SEVEN!!! I thought this was an anomaly, so I started asking around and found that almost everyone I knew that worked for a law firm or corporation or school district or government entity told me that Skype was banned where they work (along with a number of other Internet resources.) When I asked why it was blocked, the universal answer was “Security Reasons.”
Now, I’m not a network specialist, so maybe Skype burns up bandwidth on the office network, or maybe there is some ultra dangerous virus that gets through when I use Skype. So, if you are a network specialist and know why Skype would be banned at most workplaces, please fill me in. But, I’m thinking that “Security Reasons” really means “Time Wasting Reasons.” In other words, products like Skype are really banned because someone at the C-Level believes that you will be wasting precious firm time calling your buddy in Germany instead of billing time to the client.
When firms worry about “time wasting” that tells me two things right off the bat. First, whoever is supposed to be supervising is not doing a good job. Whether this is the Partner supervising the Associates, or the Manager supervising the Staff, there is a failure in managing your people. Second, it means that the management is telling their people “We Do Not Trust You!” If the answer to the issue is an all-out ban because it “wastes time”, then that means that the people that work for the firm are not trustworthy enough to make good decisions on their own. If that is true, then my gut reaction to those implementing the ban is “Wow, you have made some really poor hiring decisions.”
Again, maybe I’m just ignorant of the true meaning behind “Security Reasons” when it comes to outright banning of products like Skype. If so, then please forgive my ignorance. But, if you are banning products like Skype because you don’t trust your people to make good decisions… then I have to say that your people aren’t the problem.