We can't all eat, breathe, and live social media 24x7, as much as we might like to. Some of have day jobs that require a bit of our attention, too. And unlike the web-app embracing startups we read about, the policies at more traditional companies actually discourage mindless web surfing, tweeting, facebooking, and the like. However, there are still plenty of ways to fit in your social media addictions at work, without getting noticed by your nosy co-workers or getting blocked by I.T.

Problems & Solutions

For every roadblock to using social media at work, there is a workaround. Maybe you've been nervous to try these things because you're not sure of how much you're being monitored by I.T., your boss, or even your colleagues. You don't want to appear as if you're goofing off all day, do you? That being said, even the most diligent office drone deserves a break from time to time, and these days, those breaks often include a little brain candy in the form of social media.

If I.T. has your PC so locked down, you can't add or remove anything, you can't download anything from the internet, and you hit blocked pages all the time, then good! I.T.'s doing their job. But here's how to get around that.

Bring Your Own Browser

Just because your PC is locked down, your USB ports are probably still available. Only the most paranoid of companies use software to disable the optical drives and USB ports. If you can open files saved on a keychain USB drive, then you're in luck - you can use your ports.

At home, prepare a USB drive with the PortableApps suite. The standard edition offers a web office to go, featuring portable editions of OpenOffice, Sunbird, Thunderbird, and AV.

But most importantly, PortableApps offers portable Firefox, which we all know no social media lover can be without. Now, just like your were installing Firefox on a new computer, prepare your portable version with all the toolbars, bookmarklets, greasemonkey scripts, and add-ons that you can't live without. Once back at work, just pop in your USB drive and it will be like you've never left your home PC.

Dying for IM

If your I.T. department blocks you from installing IM, you can try Gaim Portable that came with the Portable apps you installed.

If that doesn't work, you might find that a web-based alternative like Meebo meets your needs. You can try their Firefox extension, too.

However, savvy I.T. personnel have heard of Meebo and block it on the firewall. But there are a few alternatives that they may not have blocked just yet. These include MSN Web Messenger, Yahoo! Web Messenger, AIM Express, Kool IM, ILoveIM, Mabber, Snimmer, Google Talk Gadget, ebuddy, and Robin Good lists a few more. Plus, you might want to check out Gmail's integrated Gtalk client to see if that works.

Just be warned, if your company policy states IM is not allowed, being caught doing so could be serious. For companies that deal in trade secrets or financial information, such a violation could even lead to termination. So for the uber-paranoid, just break out your phone. Most modern cell phones and PDAs ship with an IM client or two already installed. If not, go grab your favorites from the web: MSN Mobile, Mobile AIM, Google Talk (for some smartphones).

Sneaking in Your Tweets

Not comfortable with twitter.com loaded up on-screen for everyone to see? There are other ways to tweet undercover. Download Twhirl if you can. You may also want to check out OutTwit which lets you get your tweets via Outlook email.

If you can't download or install anything, just subscribe to your Twitter feeds via RSS instead, being sure to use an online reader.

Of course, for mobile users, tweeting by IM (see above section) is a possibility, as is tweeting via various mobile apps, like Blackberry's Twitterberry, ceTwit or Twobile for Windows Mobile, MoTwit for Palm OS, Tiny Twitter or jtwitter for Java-enabled phones, or, for anyone else, EmailTwitter, which lets you send tweets and retrieve your timeline via your phone.

Mindless Blog Surfing

RSS. RSS. RSS. If you're not already using an online feed reader, like Google Reader or Bloglines, now's the time to start. Too busy with that "work stuff" to do more than just scan articles? Set up a tag just for your "read it later" items or star them. Revisit them later when you're back at home.

Another option is to subscribe to blogs in Outlook. In many traditional companies, Microsoft Office is par for the course. If your company has revved to Outlook 2007, you can read your RSS feeds right there, no additional software needed. To kick it up a notch, Inbox 3.0 integrates with Outlook, too.

Want to actually go surfing outside of your feeds? Any web surfing at work has the possibility of interruptions. So save the things you come across for later reading at home. Using your portable Firefox, install Idea Shower's "Read It Later" extension for saving items you come across on the web.

Even better, the new ReadBag app built on Google's new apps engine, lets you save links for later reading too, but this tool also offers a daily digest that can be emailed to you at the time you specify. Readbag works via bookmarklet or Firefox extension and provides mobile access to your saved items.

Facebook at Work

What's that? Facebook's blocked? How could they? Proxy sites come to the rescue. If you desperately need MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, YouTube, Digg, Mixx, or any other restricted site, you can try a proxy like: Access Facebook, Facebook Firewall, or VisitSitesAtWork. You can also check out the list at Proxy.org. Just be sure to clear your cookies, your history, and your cache when done. The domain names pretty much give away what you were up to there.

Another idea is, again, mobile access. Blackberry users have their own mobile Facebook app, iPhone users can go here, and, for others, you can visit the Facebook Mobile web site.

Fight FriendFeed Withdrawl

If you successfully installed Twhirl for tweeting at work, then you're in luck since it also lets you access FriendFeed. Other FriendFeed AIR apps you can try are AlertThingy, Feedalizr, or bTT.

If you are prevented from installing programs, consider FriendFeed access via RSS feeds. Just subscribe in your online reader. 

For mobile users, the moblf app can help. This app gives you access to FriendFeed, Twitter, Yelp, and LinkedIn updates via SMS on your mobile phone.

Other Tips

If you can't download files form the web but you can install them, just load the executables onto your USB key and bring them into the office. Another alternative is to zip them up and store them online at an online storage site like box.net or SkyDrive.

You also need to know how to quickly minimize your activities. On a Windows PC, Alt+Tab switches you from window to window. Have only two open - the web browser and the spreadsheet, for example. This way, you won't accidentally mess up and Alt+Tab too many times in haste as your boss approaches, and end up switching to yet another inappropriate window.


Having been in I.T. myself for years, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to subverting I.T. policy to goof off at work. Why would I share this with the world? Because any I.T. manager worth their salt should know all these things already and how to combat them (if that's what the company wants.)

And every company concerned with employee productivity needs to determine for themselves where they draw the line on non-worked related internet activities and take the appropriate measures they deem necessary for blocking, stopping, tracking, and monitoring employee web use.

Finally, remember: just because you can, doesn't mean you should. If you really are slacking at work, people know. I've honored more than one request throughout my years in I.T. to monitor an employee's activities on the DL and your I.T. guy probably will do the same. Proceed carefully.