Say you suspect that an office employee is spending time reading blogs on the Internet. Various technologies exist to track or block that employee's on-the-job Internet use. Few contractors, however, are sold on the idea.

“I've considered it,” says Tod Colbert, president of Weather Tight Corp., in Franklin, Wis., “but I haven't chosen to use it. My problem with spyware is that it sends a message of distrust to employees. I prefer not to have an environment like that.”

TRACKING DOWNLOADS When Colbert mentions “spyware,” he's referring to such software as Spector 360 from SpectorSoft Corp., in Vero Beach, Fla. For $1,995, you can install the product on as many as 50 office computers and track such things as which employees spend the most time surfing the Internet and who's downloading music and other large files. “I'm not saying I don't have a problem with [some employees'] Internet use,” Colbert says. “We do occasionally find — after an employee has left the company — evidence on their computer of non-company business. But I don't see a big problem with it, and I don't see how I could successfully police it.”

But even with spyware, policing is necessary. You need to install and learn how to use the program, and review reports. “Realistically, I don't think I'd spend the time or pay someone to do the monitoring necessary to catch people doing online shopping or whatever else,” Colbert says.

LOST WORK HOURS But investing that time might be smart. “Finding just one employee who spends an hour a day surfing non-work-related Web sites can save a company more than 200 hours a year in lost productivity,” says Kasey Sellati, public relations manager at SpectorSoft.

David Goodman, vice president of marketing and information technology at Windowizards, in Levittown, Pa., takes a different approach. For an initial cost of about $3,000 seven years ago and about $1,000 in annual upgrades, his company installed a Barracuda Networks fire-wall that blocks access to all Internet sites not on an approved list. “It improves productivity and helps prevent viruses from entering our network,” Goodman says. “Rather than going through a log of employees' Internet activity and reprimanding them for their behavior, I never let the behavior happen.”

Employees occasionally complain, but Goodman is unmoved. “We don't use company bandwidth for personal use. If you need to do those things, get a BlackBerry.” —G.M. Filisko is a freelance writer based in Chicago.