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Group 1 - Monitoring Employees (Topic #1)


Discussion Topic: "Employers should have the right to electronically monitor employees as much as they choose. If employees don't like it, they should quit." Discuss your position on this ethical issue with your group, and use some of the following questions to help direct the discussion: 
  1. What are your position(s) and supporting arguments on this issue? 
  2. How do you evaluate, weigh and balance these arguments in establishing your positions? 
  3. What is the group's "general" position on this issue? 
  4. How would you deal with this issue in the real business world? 
Address questions to allan.jeong@doit.wisc.edu.


Monitoring..NO WAY...
by Jay Gil

I'm strongly against monitoring employees no mater how they do. As someone said in class, I agree that it's a matter of trust. The employer has already made a choice to hire a certain employee. If the employer didn't trust him/her, why did the employer hire him/her? You didn't have to...

I think that employment should be based on mutual trust. If there is no trust between the employer and employees, there will be no future for the company. There could be lots of inefficiency if they don't trust each other in the company.

Our company life is being more concentrated on electronic communications such as e-mail. So, it's wrong for the company to use this very efficient tool for monotoring employees. Otherwise, it could have been used in more productive ways.

Posted on May 09 2000, 10:41 AM
from IP address 144.92.44.76


All the time?
by Kamen Kolev

From the prolonged discussion in item #7 it seems like you guys think monitoring means that there is always somebody watching you!

I am sure this is not the case. It would consume an unjustified amount of organizational resources. One individual is probably not able to monitor effectively more than 5-10 others, so a company with 1,000 employees would have to have 100-200 "monitors". This is unrealistic.

The way I understand monitoring, it means only that the organization has the capability to check on employees when there is some suspicion. Nobody is being watched all the time. However, the threat that something illegal or unethical could be discovered later prevents employees from doing it.

Most employees under monitoring should probably relax - chances are they are not being watched right now!

Posted on May 08 2000, 04:22 PM
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Intensified work time monitoring
by Daekeun Bae

I like to negotiate between two parties but I am a little bit more in favor of monitoring. So,I suggest here, that we implement intensified work time monitoring. 'Intensified work time monitoring' is monitoring workers only at busy working time. For example, from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM and from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM is very critical time for doing the business in companies, so everybody is supposed to have busy time at that time. Only two hours of monitoring!!!. Employees will enjoy privacy at the rest of the time except that intensified work time. It will satisfy employees and company owner at the same time because employee will have a substantial private time and company owner will have a chance to monitor. Actually, it has been successful in my country and few people resent it. What do you think? <Daekeun Bae>

Posted on May 04 2000, 11:10 AM
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Time doesn't matter
by R.J. Safranek

While limiting monitoring as much as possible is a good thing, it should not be time influenced. I know that at my work, I did my best work at night when nobody else was around. Does that mean I wasn't busy or that I wasn't working during the busy time? I would hope not. Time isn't the issue. Besides, if you know you will be monitored for those two hours, why not look as busy as possible then, and slack the rest of the day? The issue is whether monitoring is ethical or not. Clearly it is spying on individuals at work, either with or without their knowledge. Monitoring for productivity just allows managers to be more punitive and lazy, because technology will do their job for them.

Posted on May 04 2000, 11:20 AM
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Monitoring for value - Tumara Campbell
by Tumara Campbell

I agree RJ, I think that monitoring should not be time influenced. I worked in MIS and my job was either very busy or very slow, depending on how many problems people had. BUT the goals was to have a smooth running system, so if people did not have problems and I was not terribly busy fixing problems, then that meant that I was actually doing my job! And how do you monitor jobs like that? One answer might be monitoring for value, for example, my manager could follow up with a client that I served to see if I was courteous, responsive and if I did infact fix their problem. There's no technology in that, just human interaction. So maybe monitoring should be used to create some sort of value for both the manager and the worker, and maybe it should be performanced based, instead of spying just to be spying.

Posted on May 05 2000, 03:42 PM
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intensified times only....
by kimv

Bae,

This is an interesting compromise proposal.

What time of work is monitored during intensified times? All types of work? How is the information collected and used?

Do you think people are "better behaved" during those hours or does it not matter?

I'd like to hear more.
-kimv

Posted on May 04 2000, 07:05 PM
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Let's work hard for the good of all the people
by Daekeun Bae

Thank you for commenting on my idea., Kim.
I and you will become the future manager, some time later. I thought it was the best. You are going to say that you are in favor liberty but things will change when you become a part of top management. What would you think at that top position? You would be acting differently any how. when I go back to my country, I would think both things. What I would do for the company and workers at the same time. My philosophy for my idea is that something is better than nothing. You can not act in favor of workers all the time and also you can not work in favor of the top management of company all the time. My idea of implementing 'intensified work time monitoring' is the only one method for the good of all the people (I think). Daekeun Bae



Posted on May 05 2000, 09:23 PM
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changed perspectives with a view from "the top"
by kimv

Bae,
I honestly hope that I will never change my fundamental negative view of employee monitoring. I've been a middle manager for several years and hope that these lessons will not be lost as I "move up the ladder," assuming that's what I ultimately choose to do.

But, you have a point. I have deliberately developed a skill set that will keep me pretty far from industries that favor monitoring. In fact, I once turned down a Customer Call Center job because I didn't want to listen in on other's conversations.

Time will tell, but - with all do respect - I hope it proves you're wrong.

p.s. I think our interchange is revealing some fundamental differences in our values - I am not a big fan of the "good of all people" approach to decision-making. I'm more of a champion for the excluded, and take a more individualistic "distributive justice" approach to evaluating stuff. (in case you haven't already guessed

Posted on May 06 2000, 10:49 PM
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For you, Kim
by Daekeun Bae

In the work situation in my former work place, ten to twelve and one to three are regarded as the most important work time. Of course it is mainly about financial companies. Also, manufacturing company report tells that that time is the most productive time for workers. (Except time right after the lunch time). And about the better behavior comment, think about the time when we are giving a presentation when many people are watching us!!!!! It is the human nature that we want to look better when others are watching. Daekeun Bae


Posted on May 05 2000, 09:35 PM
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for you, Bae (others feel free to jump in, too)
by kimv

Hey, thanks for the note.

Regarding monitoring during most important work time & looking better when others are watching:

- If monitoring was truly consensual between employer and employee, then it might make sense to "turn on the recorders" during peak times. My problem is that most monitoring situations are non-consensual in that management dictates who/when/where to monitor. Was your work monitoring consensual?

- I consider class presentations a form of consensual monitoring. We all know that, going into a US-style MBA program, presentations are expected from us. By attending class, we tacitly agree to being watched.

- actually, not all of us do perform better when others are watching. There are several personality types in our workworld who prefer a solitary, individual environment (the stereotypical programmer comes to mind, and perhaps the science researcher). In MBA school and perhaps in management, I think we run into more people who "like to be watched." But, we shouldn't make the mistake of assuming everyone is like us in this regard.

Posted on May 06 2000, 10:43 PM
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response to Bae
by Vaishalee Patel

Two points:
1. If employees know that they will be monitored at certain times, what will stop them from "slacking" the time they are not being watched? Sure, they can be on their best behavior when being watched, but will they ALL of the time?

2. As Kim said, I am not sure that everybody works best when being watched. I know that I am one of these people... Also, I think it would stress out some individuals to be watched during certain times! This could negatively impact their work and it can in the long run, cause health problems. This has been shown in the financial world, where young executives have heart conditions due to stressful life styles. I know this may sound extreme, but it is an issue to be considered seriously.

Posted on May 08 2000, 03:29 PM
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Untitled
by R.J. Safranek

The cultural point is a good one, and it was an American comment based on American companies. But this is a class in America. I would think if you looked at a communist society they would not oppose monitoring as much because they are used to being watched anyway. The point of the personal work at work was that if an employer monitors you all of the time at work, then that employer is also monitoring your personal life.
There is also an issue called trust. If you can't trust your employees to do the right thing, then those employees should not work for you, or you are doing something wrong. Monitoring will convince a thief to just find a stealthier way to steal, it will not stop the stealing.

Posted on May 03 2000, 01:09 PM
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response to RJ
by Dave Constant

Good point.

I think the reason monitoring evolved in the first place was because employers found that they could not trust certain employees in certain circumstances (e.g. without direct supervision).
Also, I think the level of trust varies based on the nature of the job and the type of work involved.

For example, while growing up I had to work part time at some jobs some might call "unglamorous", like working in a factory or a grocery store. I can say firsthand, without question, that 90% of employees working in this scenario, given the chance, would take a break all afternoon! The inherent properties of the work itself are just not something people naturally want to do, and I can't blame them.

However, in different positions, like working in an office, I can see that higher levels of trust may naturally occur because the nature of the work itself is more fulfilling.

I believe there are some people who can be totally trusted not to waste company time. But given human nature and my personal observations, I think it is impossible to classify these as the majority.

Posted on May 03 2000, 02:13 PM
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the beginning of monitoring for productivity assessment
by Vaishalee Patel

Dave- to respond to your point of how monitoring evolved...
I really think that security issues started the whole "monitoring" the workplace ordeal.
However, I think monitoring for productivity assessment started because we have the technology to do so- Especially the internet and email monitoring. Technology is so fast paced and we are inventing so many new "toys" so fast that we use them without thinking about the ethical implications of using them.

Posted on May 03 2000, 04:40 PM
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optimistic?
by kimv

Unfortunately, I think employees are fully aware of the ethical implications of productivity monitoring, but go ahead anyway in the interest of growth, economies of scope and keeping staff levels down.

Think about it - especially in call centers (where all calls are recorded) people can essentially work unsupervised because there is an audit trail of everything they do. If something goes wrong, a single manager can rewind a tape and evaluate the situation.... saves the time of actually talking to the employee.... keeps that employee on the phone doing the work.

Not only is this operational decision unethical, but it's also reactionary. Mistakes are made and supervisors have the data to perform damage control.

Okay, this example is a little extreme, but you get the idea.

However, Vaishalee, I think you're giving technology innovation too much of the blame - people understand the implications of what they're doing and are continuing anyway.

Posted on May 04 2000, 04:32 AM
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Employee monitoring - Optimistic?
by Tumara Campbell

I agree, to some extent with Kim. Employers probably know that there are better ways to deal with dishonest workers than monitoring. But at what cost? In America, we seem to be in a repetitive cycle, whatever we can do cheaper using technology we do it. And as the cost of technology gets cheaper and cheaper, the cost of human capital increases.
I disagree with employee monitoring because I thought that we gave employees autonomy and empowerment because it increases productivity? Now are we saying that we need to make sure that employees don't abuse their empowerment? So, lets give them autonomy, but monitor every thing that they do? I disagree with those who feel that monitoring increases productivity because, in my opinion, it only serves the purpose of taking back the autonomy we gave workers in order to make them more productive in the first place.

Posted on May 04 2000, 08:34 PM
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autonomy
by Anonymous

Well put, Tumara. I couldn't agree more.

Posted on May 05 2000, 05:47 AM
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in addition, self-efficacy
by Vaishalee Patel

Tumara-
Extremely well put!!
In addition to autonomy, we have the critical concept of self-efficacy and how it increases productivity..
This is a really important paradigm of work motivation and a lot of empirical research has recently been done on this topic.
It has been shown in many studies that stress decreases self-efficacy which decreases your productivity. So for those people who get stressed out when people are watching you- I am one those- monitoring can be detrimental to you in the workplace!!!

!

Posted on May 08 2000, 03:35 PM
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Untitled Untitled
by Cassius Moura

Yes, monitoring will convince a thief to find a stealthier way and/or a place to steal!

Posted on May 03 2000, 03:41 PM
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theft
by kimv

I agree.

Monitoring will also damper the enthusiasm of the well-intentioned, trustworthy employee.

There's a tradeoff: which price do you want to pay? Lost $$ through theft or lost $$ through formerly motivated staff?

Hey, does anyone have any idea how much $$$$ is saved through deterring theft? I suspect the numbers are pretty low on the grand scaled of things.

Posted on May 04 2000, 04:34 AM
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Money
by R.J. Safranek

We tried to find numbers for money saved by deterring theft, but they aren't readily available. How do you measure a deterrent? But you can estimate the other side. Say by monitoring you only reduce productivity by $50/day for a good employee. Multiply that times 300 days and 100 employees (a nice medium small company) and that is a guaranteed loss of $1.5 million dollars! You would need to deter, or catch, a lot of thieves to justify monitoring for theft.

Posted on May 04 2000, 11:26 AM
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Productivity vs. shirking
by Kamen Kolev

One group said that productivity is decreased by monitoring, while the other said this is not so, and further added that monitoring reduces stealing and shirking.
In fact, both groups are right - both of these effects occur. However, each group focused only on one of them (the one which serves their end). In reality, the company should assess the combined effect of the two and maintain a balance between them.

Imagine the following scenario (the numbers denote benefits that employees provide to their employer):
With Monitoring: Productivity 10, Shirking (-1), Net benefit to the employer: 9
W/o Monitoring: Productivity 12, Shirking (-4), Net benefit to the employer: 8

While both effects occur, in this scenario the first one is stronger, so the employer might choose to monitor. Of course, in other cases the reverse may be true, and the employer will choose not to monitor. However, we should acknowledge that monitoring has diverse effects that should be accounted for in relation with one another, and not in isolation, as the two groups did. Otherwise, a fine job, thanks for the interesting presentations!

Posted on May 03 2000, 10:55 AM
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Types of jobs
by Vaishalee Patel

I agree with Kamen's points and I do agree that productivity does increase and decrease as a result of monitoring. That is why I believe that we must take this on a job by job basis. One job may require much autonomy and another may require less- the former will probably be negatively affected by monitoring and the latter less.
I know that if I was monitored at work, which required autonomy, I would definitely be less productive.
What do you all think of autonomy and the how monitoring affects this aspect?

Posted on May 03 2000, 04:36 PM
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autonomy is critical
by kimv

Giving an employee autonomy is simply one way of showing respect for them. Employers can carve out autonomy in even the most rigid jobs - by allowing staff to listen to music at work, by letting staff personalize their workspace with photos or other knick knacks, by ensuring that decision-making occurs at all levels of the company.

Monitoring's overall effect is detrimental - to me, it conveys the message "we don't trust you enough to do your job properly" and "when there's a mistake to correct, we don't trust you enough to report it to us. Your point of view isn't enough for us to remedy the situation." Monitoring destroys autonomy.

While it might prevent a theft or two, the price to pay is low morale of all employees, especially good employees.

(Note that monitoring for safety purposes is acceptable, ie. a camera in a 24 hour video store could actually protect a late-night employee from harm. I'm not sure that it does right now, but tweaking the system could allow a remote co-worker to call the police on behalf of the employee in the store)

Posted on May 04 2000, 04:26 AM
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Escaping from the freedom to show off
by Daekeun Bae

There are many differnt people and different minds. Of course I saw many people who lost their productivity by being monitored. But also there are many people who want to achieve high performance while being watched. I would like to think that it is like giving presentation in front of many people. If there is nobody or few people, will you be motivated?
Some people will say, "Watch me. I want to show you my work!!! People like that are willing to be watched!! <Daekeun Bae>












Posted on May 04 2000, 11:42 AM
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Monitoring: Absolutely Justifiable !!!
by Cassius Moura

Imagine the following situation: you are the owner of a major hospital and a customer complains that on a particular day one of your employees did not provide the proper care and the patient died. Then, you get the tapes from that day and realize that the employee did a good job and that it was not the employee fault. What if you did not have taped the situation? Would you blame your employee ?

Posted on May 02 2000, 06:45 PM
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alternative scenario
by kimv

Imagine this scenario - you just found out that circumstances beyond your control have infected you with HIV. Your employer monitors your short conversation with a co-worker as you return from your appointment. Based on the conversation that was on tape, you're laid off shortly thereafter.

What protection do you have from circumstances like these?

Posted on May 02 2000, 10:26 PM
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As Dave said ...
by Cassius Moura

As Dave said: "Employers should, however, conduct monitoring in a reasonable fashion. This means monitoring soley for the purposes intended".

The unethical behavior of the employeer is another issue that anyone can experience with or without monitoring.

Posted on May 03 2000, 11:13 AM
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Untitled
by Bob Trucker

Cassius,
You don't get it. Either you are montering or you are not. It is impossible to be selective as to only monitor work related items. Employment practices being what they are today, employees must now mix so much more of their personal lives in with work. I think Kims example of the person infected with HIV is very timely to our discussion and should be examined.

Posted on May 04 2000, 08:01 PM
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response to cassius
by Vaishalee Patel

I agree with your point...but I really think that you need to evaluate why the customer had complained in the first place. You cannot simply rely on the tapes that were provided. After all, a video tape will not show emotions....

Posted on May 03 2000, 04:33 PM
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cultural differences?
by Kim Varnell

One comment in today's presentation struck me as perhaps, very "American." It was the comment that we should all be able to do "personal work at work."

My experience working in the Caribbean showed me that not every corporate culture believes this is true. Several companies track the number of minutes employees spend on the phone, for example. If the job description does not require phone access, the employee does not have the right to use the employer's phone. Part of the reason for this is that telephone expenses are actually a significant percentage of a Caribbean companies variable costs, but the policy always struck me as pretty extreme and dictatorial.... even compared to, say line workers in the US, who still have access to phones during their breaks.

So my question is:
- how much do cultural attitudes influence the attitude toward monitoring?
- how much does access to inexpensive resources influence the attitude toward monitoring?

Your thoughts?

Posted on May 02 2000, 01:05 PM
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Response
by David Constant

Hi Kim,

I would like to respond to your first question, but not necessarily answer it, because I have only worked in the U.S. and have no other frame of reference. I think the American culture goes a little bit too far in their expectations of what their "rights" are in the workplace. I don't understand where this notion of workers have the "right" to meaningful work, take care of personal matters at work, etc.

I understand that people might do a better job if they are treated well and properly motivated, but this says nothing about the employer's obligations. I believe that employers are only obligated to provide a safe environment (for both long and short term safety hazards), and to pay wages on time and for agreed-upon rates. Employer's have no obligation to go any further than this. (Although it is probably in their best interest to do so because they are subtly competing for their labor force, and unhappy laborers are free to pursue other job opportunities).

As far as monitoring goes:

Employers provide the ultimate service in that, in exchange for your labor, they provide the resources to survive (e.g. money). Therefore, I think they have a right to monitor for well-intentioned purposes, such as protecting against theft, improving customer service, etc. Employers should, however, conduct monitoring in a reasonable fashion. This means monitoring soley for the purposes intended, and forewarning employees about monitoring logistics.


I would be interested in hearing other prospectives, especially those who think my position might be too much in favor of employers.

Thanks,
Dave Constant

Posted on May 03 2000, 10:53 AM
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too much in favor of employers?
by kimv

Dave,

You bring up really good points. Your argument is rational and makes sense from an economic point of view. Perhaps we do expect too much from employers.

But, at some point this "subtle competition for human capital" evolves from a perk to an expectation, at least in the mind of many employees.

To me, this evolution indicates that there is more than just economic reason driving our expectations.

Which is why I feel that monitoring, while economically justifiable, is still wrong... except for basic security. Monitoring for productivity is simply too invasive, mostly because fallible people design the system and might make wrong decisions about what level of monitoring is required to perform a "well-intentioned" effort to protect assets.

Posted on May 03 2000, 03:09 PM
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response to David
by Vaishalee Patel

I would like to challenge your point of contractual obligations of employers and employees. I really do believe that these obligations go beyond providing a safe environment, etc. I think that the employer should provide a challenging job and the employee should take initiative if the job is not providing this for them.
I am a big proponent of "growth of the individual" at the workplace and if work does not provide this for the individual, then they are not fulfilling their obligations.
On monitoring:
I think that certain jobs (high-level jobs that require decision making and intiative and self-direction) in which autonomy is necessary to complete the job to its fullest, monitoring is wrong!!!
However, in jobs where the job may be pretty straightforward and the level of trust between the employer and employees is low, monitoring may be acceptable. And of course, employees would be aware of the monitoring.

Posted on May 03 2000, 04:31 PM
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monitoring: a self-referential observation
by Kim Varnell

Somedays I feel like everyone is watching me, not because I'm paranoid, but because

1) the media is full of one-to-one e-marketing techniques and lawsuits

2) it's the end of the semester and I'll fill out approximately 10 university-related evaluation forms in the next 5 school days

3) I'm participating in a class that has chosen to use virtual interation as part of a research study

This interaction was much more appealing and interesting to me before I realized that I would be part of a study.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE virtual communication. It saves me time and is another way of staying in touch with friends (via ICQ) or classmates (via First Class)or getting help (via IT-related bulletin boards). What bothers me is that, this time, my comments and observations may end up as an insightful quote in someone's phd thesis.

Yes, it's confidential and yes, I agreed to the study and yes, I'm helping a fellow student perform research... but I also am reaching a saturation point.

Imagine if, after class, I also had to go to a workplace that electronically monitored my actions. Yuck.

Posted on May 02 2000, 12:59 PM
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being electronically monitored ?
by Cassius Moura

You are always being electronically monitored. Did you ever go to the Grad Computer Lab or to a bank? Why the workplace should be different? Monitoring is a way to safeguard you from injustices.

Posted on May 02 2000, 07:06 PM
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time differences
by kimv

I guess the workplace is different because I'm there longer than the few hours in the grad lab or a few minutes at the bank.

Plus, I guess I differentiate between public and private places:

- the grad lab, the bank, the public library are all public places that have potentially more safety risks

- my workspace, beyond perhaps a secure keycard or security at the door, is a more private place, one that I feel should not be monitored

Posted on May 02 2000, 10:24 PM
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Start here
by Allan Jeong

ELABORATE & COMMENT ON EACH OTHER's MESSAGES:
To promote true discussion and the exchange of ideas, read the messages already posted to the bulletin board, and "post replies" to the messages to elaborate or comment on the ideas of other group members.

INITIATING A NEW LINE OF DISCUSSION:
If you want to initiate a new line of discussion or message thread, click on "Post new message" off the main page.

Posted on Apr 28 2000, 08:07 AM
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