Employees Online the productivity issue.
Although some of the concerns about employee Internet use may be valid, employers have taken the quick-fix approach to resolving these issues: technically blocking employee access to the entire Internet or targeted parts of the Net, and watching over employees' shoulders to make sure they don't do anything they shouldn't. This approach is almost always unwarranted, and the consequences may be worse than the problem it is designed to address.
Most companies offer written policies explaining their Internet access. According to a study of 244 companies conducted in late 2000 by the Saratoga Institute, 92.6 percent said they have written policies in place, and 62.9 percent said they include Internet usage guidelines in their employee handbooks. Nevertheless, employees routinely circumvent the policies to use company online resources. In a 1999 study conducted by CIO Communications, 42 percent of the executives surveyed said their employees simply ignore written policies. (Most often, employees ignore policies because they are poorly explained or poorly communicated, they are not enforced, or employees don't know they're enforced.) Getting around company Internet usage guidelines is increasingly easy to do given the availability of software and web sites designed specifically to thwart organizations' efforts to monitor and restrict employee Internet use. (For examples, see safeweb.com, freedom.net, and anonymizer.com.)
That employees feel it necessary to mask their online activities is borne out by the number of companies that engage in Big Brother--like monitoring (see article in Dec/Jan CW, "Big Brother: Net-Style Privacy -- A Communication Nightmare?" p. 15). Sixty-eight percent of major United States firms monitor their employees, according to an American Management Association study. Employers read employee e-mail, track keystrokes, and monitor web sites visited. The American Civil Liberties Union concludes that some 20 million U.S.-based employees have their e-mail, computer files, and even their voice mail scrutinized by their companies. Nearly 65 percent of companies have disciplined employees for abusing the Internet, according to a poll of 224 human resources directors; 30 percent said employees have been fired for their abuses.
Companies engage in these activities to address a number of concerns:
* Employees who spend time engaged in non-work-related surfing are affecting company productivity.
* Employees should not be permitted to use company Internet resources to access inappropriate content, such as sexually explicit material, hate-oriented web sites or job-hunting resources.
* It Is inappropriate for employees to use their company e-mail addresses to engage in non-work-related online discussions. In addition to fearing damage to the company's reputation, employers worry about disclosure of confidential and proprietary information and violation of laws and regulations.
* The resources employees use to do non-work-related surfing belong to the company. That gives the company the right to monitor them and to ensure that employees use them only for work-related purposes.
the productivity issue
An avalanche of studies bolsters the claim that productivity is suffering because of non-work-related use of the Internet. Most of these studies are funded by the very companies that make and sell the software and other tools companies use to monitor or block employee access.
These studies base their conclusions on the number of hours employees spend surfing non-work-related sites. One study, from Web filtering company Websense, finds that the average employee spends 21 hours online each week at work versus only 9.5 hours at home. Another study, by Find/SVP (an Internet research company) determined that the average employee uses an entire workday each week -- 7.7 hours -- surfing non-work-related sites. The Conference Board reported that employees spend 90 minutes each day on non-work-related sites.
Management is buying into the results of these studies. Forty-three percent of companies completely prohibit non-business use of the Net, up from 36 percent in 1996, according to a study titled, "Mastering Your Intranet/Internet: Policies, Procedures, and Best Practices." Forty-six percent allow limited personal use during after-business hours (up from 41 percent). Only two percent allow unrestricted personal use at any time (down from 17 percent). Sixty-five percent of the respondents said a desire to manage employee productivity was the driving force behind such policies. In fact, according to 94 percent of the executives surveyed by CIO Communications in January 1999, non-work-related surfing eating into productivity was the top concern.
(The Saratoga Institute study offers contradictory statistics, noting that less than 5 percent of the companies it surveyed claimed to be "very concerned" about employee personal use of the Net at work.)
While these statistics motivate doom-and-gloom scenarios from some quarters, other studies present a wealth of evidence that the Internet is increasing work-related productivity:
* A report from the Pew Internet and American Life project found that 37 percent of full-time workers with Internet access use it primarily for work-related research and e-mail.
* A twice-yearly survey prepared by the University of Texas found that companies incorporating the Web into their day-to-day operations experience increased efficiency and productivity. Revenue per employee jumped 19 percent from 1998 to 1999 and is expected to keep climbing, according to the study. The most dramatic gains occurred in the service- and goods-based parts of the economy. The study also noted that companies integrating the Internet into their operations were 2-1/2 times more likely to see productivity gains and more than 2-1/2 times more likely to see market share growth than companies that had not made the Net part of their day-to-day operations.
* A study produced by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 42 percent of the human resources professionals surveyed felt productivity had increased in their companies thanks to employee access to the Net.
* Most of a company's Internet resources are used for work-related purposes, according to "The Internet's Impact on Business Productivity and Individual Work Habits," a study commissioned by MCI Worldcom and conducted by market research consultant Socratic Technologies. Sixty-eight percent of respondents say the Net has reduced company costs, 63 percent note that it has improved customer service, and 61 percent believe it has reduced company travel.
What's going on here? How can productivity be improving at the same time it is diminishing? The answer depends on the metrics employed in the studies showing declining productivity. They simply add up hours. The Saratoga Institute study estimates that a company with 1,000 employees can lose US$35 million worth of productivity if each employee does personal Web surfing for an hour a day.
But is productivity truly being lost? These estimates are based on simple multiplication of the hours spent on the Web by some dollar amount representing the value of an hour's worth of work time. The studies (and all those like them) fail to take into account a variety of mitigating facts. They don't, for example, balance these supposed losses against productivity increases employees have accrued thanks to the Internet. If it takes an employee three hours less than it used to to perform a task because of access to resources on the Net, and the employee spends two of those saved hours engaged in personal surfing, isn't there still a net one-hour gain? I'm not suggesting that employees shouldn't dedicate their time to the company -- I'm only pointing out the flaw in the calculation. These studies also fail to consider how many extra hours employees put in to make up for the hours they spent on non-work-related surfing.
Nowhere is there evidence to suggest that work is not getting done on time, or that the quality of work is declining. Evidence, to the contrary, suggests that work is getting done faster and the quality is better than ever -- thanks to employee access to the Internet.
The truth is that most employees with access to the Internet (that is, office-based knowledge workers) are putting in hours at work that exceed the standard 40-hour workweek. In the U.K., for example, a study by the Institute of Personnel and Development found that one in three workers is putting in 60-hour workweeks. Another study -- this one in Australia -- noted that Australians are working longer hours than at any time during the last 20 years. Full-time workers in Australia are putting in nearly 50 hours each week, according to the study released by the Statistics Group of the Australian Parliament.
Add to this the number of hours employees spend doing work outside the office. According to Stephen S. Roach, an economist quoted in the New York Times, "The dirty little secret of the Information Age is that an increasingly large slice of work goes on outside the official work hours the government recognizes and employers admit to." Electronic devices ranging from telephones and fax machines and pagers to cell phones and portable e-mail devices mean employees are connected to the work place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Research bears this out: A study released in December 2000 by Pitney Bowes (and conducted by the Institute for the Future) indicated that nearly half the respondents to the study report that work-related communication has spread beyond regular business hours.
(About a third of the respondents also said they conduct home-related activities while at work. Interestingly, home is where most people go online for personal access. According to Nielsen/NetRatings data collected across Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America, more than 295 million people across 20 countries have Internet access from a home PC -- and use it. "Rates of access at work are lower than access at home in most countries," according to David Day, director of analytics at ACNielsen eRatings.com.)
Finally, access to the Internet genuinely does increase productivity. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project research, most wired workers stick to specific tasks when they're on the Web. Allowing non-work-related surfing can, by itself, improve productivity. Punch Networks, an Internet company, does not monitor employees' online activities because the company believes it is acceptable to use some company computer resources for personal use if it reduces hassle in their lives. The company believes that employees who handle some of their personal business at work will take less time off. Software developer Sarasota Systems allows employees reasonable use of the company's electronic communication services, preferring employees to use its e-mail system for personal use rather than miss work time to take care of personal business.
The reality of work in the first decade of the 21st century is that the line between work and home is blurring. The Web@Work study, conducted by Websense and the Center for Internet Studies (released in October 2000), agrees that the line has become less well defined, and that companies need to allow for some personal surfing time at work. Consider:
* If workers are going to put in 10-, 12- or 14-hour days, there should be nothing wrong with those workers going online to order Mother's Day flowers, research a medical condition, check a sports score, or trade a stock. If they can't do it at work, when can they do it?
* A significant percentage of the messages received at home are work-related phone calls, e-mail, pages, faxes, mail. Imagine employees prohibited from using the Internet at work laying down their own law: "No work-related messaging in my home place."
Productivity should be measured using genuine, reliable productivity metrics. A simple tally of hours spent on non-work-related sites is hardly a conclusive measure.
the problem with objectionable sites
It is clearly wrong for employees to spend time at work viewing material that is patently inappropriate. Pornography tops the list for a variety of reasons, nor the least of which is the legal consequences.
Should organizations take the extreme step of filtering pornographic, hate-oriented and other unsavory Web sites, making them inaccessible to employees? (The definition of a "hate" site can vary from culture to culture. In the U.S., racist sites dominate the public's view of what constitutes a hate site. In other countries and cultures, though, it can range from feminist to ethnic issues. In France, Yahoo! is considered a hate site because it permits the auctioning of Nazi memorabilia. Each organization needs to consider how it defines what constitutes a hate site.)
The filters that block access to the sites deemed inappropriate by a company can catch other useful sites in their nets. America Online was responsible for one of the most egregious examples of this a few years back, when filtering the word "breast" as objectionable put an end to access to all breast cancer sites, including an online breast cancer survivors' support group.
Just how big is the issue of online pornography in the work place? According to the CIO Communications study, only about 8 percent of executives are concerned about employee access to X-rated sites. "The sensationalist sex and legal issues get a lot of attention," according to Stuart Rosove, CEO of Sequel Technology, a developer of Internet management software (quoted in USA Today article about the CIO study). "But productivity is a much bigger concern."
Even if those 8 percent can be sure all the blocked sites are truly objectionable, one must question the advisability of investing the time and money in such restrictions -- it's not cheap -- rather than committing those resources to improved customer service, product development, or employee retention. Somehow, blocking those web sites just doesn't improve things from the customer's point of view.
Providing technical unfettered access to the Web does not mean employees are free to visit objectionable sites. Instead of making the policy a technical issue, employees should be informed of the company's policies and the reasons the policies were enacted. If, for example, legal concerns about sexual harassment lead the list of reasons for banning X-rated sites, employees need to understand that. Policies with no rationale invite employees to circumvent them. In addition, it should be a supervisor's responsibility to detect and confront those employees who are abusing their at-work Internet access. After all, the companies that filter web sites do not post guards at the entrances to their buildings whose sole job is to rifle through employees' briefcases and purses in search of objectionable print material! Management expects the immediate supervisor to deal with an employee who is reading pornographic magazines or hate-oriented brochures on company time.
Proper training and communication with supervisors and employees will keep the vast majority of employees on the straight-and-narrow. Many companies require employees to sign a statement agreeing to abide by behavioral guidelines. Company lawyers should revise these documents to include how employees are expected to use -- and not use -- the Internet.
Few employees are willing to risk their livelihoods to view explicit or objectionable material. In many instances, policies are unclear or unexplained, poorly communicated or articulated. One company addressed a perceived problem not by firing employees or adding filters to the company's servers. Instead, they ran an article in the employee publication explaining the problem and the potential consequences. Incidences of misuse virtually vanished afterwards. Employees treated like adults are likely to behave like adults.
The final step in ensuring compliance with the policy is to make certain that employees know the company is serious. "When I make presentations on the subject, I call for 'public executions,'" says Don Johnson, principal of The Clarity Group and retired director of New Media Technology for Media One. "That usually gets their attention. Organizations should periodically tell their people something like, 'Last year or last month, we fired x number of people for downloading pornography or accessing hate sites.' Further details -- names, locations, etc. -- aren't necessary. In fact, broad statements make examples even more powerful and make it clear that the company has the ability to identify inappropriate use and is willing to act on violations."
Steve Perelman, communication director for Aetna, agrees. "The case [for the company's policies] would be stronger if you made the point that people who did break the rules were terminated immediately. While PR departments tend to shy away from 'public hangings' in order to avoid making the company look bad, it certainly sends a clear signal to employees."
the discussion group issue
Of somewhat less concern to management, but still a motivation for blocking Internet access, is the fear that employees will participate in the tens of thousands of discussion groups and mailing lists that populate the Internet. These employees' company e-mail addresses accompany their missives, creating a direct link between what employees say and the organizations for which they work. Some employees inhabit discussion groups specifically to trash their employers, often in investment-related forums. Others intentionally or inadvertently give away confidential or proprietary information in the course of their online discussions.
Several organizations have implemented blocks to freeze these employees out of discussion groups, reasoning that the company can suffer from malicious or inaccurate information. Of course, these same employees can simply go home and offer the same comments through their personal Internet connection!
The concerns are not illegitimate. Still, the risk of employees posting public messages using their company e-mail is not enough to offset the benefits accrued by allowing unfettered access. Inasmuch as employees have the ability to post in non-work-related groups, evidence suggests that most of the activity is, in fact, related to the job. According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, most of the Internet access at work is applied primarily to work-related research and e-mail.
Acknowledging the power of the many-to-many character of the Net, some companies actually encourage employees to participate in discussion groups. High-tech organizations in particular recognize that engineering discussion groups can be a valuable resource for information employees are unable to find within the company's boundaries.
There are ways to minimize the risk of inappropriate posts to discussion forums and mailing lists.
* Communicate frequently about the consequences of non-work-related posts associated with a company e-mail address. (In the U.S., for example, publicly traded companies should explain that it is a violation of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules regarding public communication of financial-related information; the SEC rules are very specific about the need to notify employees of publicly traded companies what they cannot write online about their companies. Further, the SEC regulation stipulates that publicly traded companies must tell their employees who can and cannot represent the company online regarding financial-related subjects.) Use specific examples of companies that have been hurt through violations of similar policies.
* Provide employees with access to alternate e-mail addresses, such as a Hotmail or Yahoo! e-mail address, which they can use for non-work-related discussions.
* Launch an internal, intranet-based discussion group where employees can sound off about the company. Management may not want to hear it, but it's far better addressed internally than on the financial bulletin boards.
* Make sure employees have complete and accurate information about the company to share in discussion groups. Remember, the Internet is about people communicating with people. Those interested enough in your organization to post questions or assertions don't want a legally sanitized press statement in response. They want to hear from a real live human being. Your employees, armed with authentic and credible information, can be your organization's best and most effective public relations representatives on the Net.
the ownership issue
Companies clearly have a legal right to monitor employee activities; legally, employees have no expectation of privacy in the work place -- online or off. In the U.K., for example, laws pointedly allow employers to monitor employees' electronic communication. But the laws do not require monitoring. Simply because the law permits employers to institute intrusive policies does not necessarily mean it's the right thing to do. Although management may be satisfied that inappropriate material is not being downloaded or posted, and that productivity is not being affected, employees are reacting to a Big Brother mentality that may well affect their commitment to the organization.
According to Carol Kinsey Goman, the noted lecturer and author ("The Human Side of High Tech," and "This Isn't the Company I Joined") who focuses on human capital issues, the top two priorities for chief executive officers these days are recruiting and retaining talented employees and developing the right business strategy for their organizations. "Even when business strategy ranks first, executives are quick to recognize that having the best people is crucial to executing that strategy," Goman says. "If recruiting and retaining talent is number one, the exec realizes that if you have the right people, a viable business strategy will continually evolve."
Getting and keeping the right people in a competitive business environment represents one of the business world's great challenges. The challenge is compounded by the need to recruit post-Baby Boomers, including Gen-X-age employees for whom Internet access is second nature. They had unfettered access in college, where the blurred line between personal and academic activities seemed natural. How are they likely to respond to an employer whose access policies seem, by comparison, downright draconian? Given the choice between an enlightened employer and one who will scrutinize their every online move, which company will attract the best talent? If recruiting is the number one or two issue for CEOs, why would companies engage in activities that will discourage prospects from accepting a job offer?
The MCI Worldcom study, "The Internet's Impact on Business Productivity and Individual Work Habits," notes that 50 percent of respondents believe that access to the Internet has improved job satisfaction, improved quality of work, and reduced work-related stress.
More to the point, who would want to work for a company that adopts a Big Brother mentality? The message employees and prospects hear is loud and clear: "We don't trust you to behave professionally; we are going to presume that you cannot be trusted."
"I love to ask these questions," says The Clarity Group's Don Johnson: "Do you trust your employees? If not, why not? Why do you keep them on the payroll if you don't trust them? What kind of people are you hiring, anyway? Maybe you should examine your hiring practices. Do your people clearly know what's expected of them and what the consequences are if they betray your trust? Do your managers and supervisors feel empowered to deal with these people?"
Of course, some employees will always take advantage of the system. This is, to be sure, a troublesome issue, but it also represents a minority of employees. Most employees want to earn raises, promotions and recognition. The small group of abusers should be managed by exception -- by supervisors who have been trained to identify aberrant online behavior. Employees can be encouraged to tip supervisors to violations by other employees. "Workers who are offended or are feeling the pressures of coworkers not carrying their part of the burden should report the matter to supervisors," says Johnson. "It's the supervisor's job to determine the validity of the complaint."
Without blocking sites, the company's computer systems can maintain records of an employee's online travels and store e-mails sent and received. These should be accessed only when a supervisor suspects a problem, or when an obvious pattern of abuse emerges (in which case the supervisor should be notified to assess the situation and, if necessary, take action).
Internet policies need to recognize core truths about employees, the work place and the Internet -- truths that didn't exist 10 years ago but are taken for granted by most employees today:
* The line between work and life has blurred; integration of work rather than a segregation-based balance should be the goal.
* Employees with access to the Internet work more productively.
* Treating employees like adults generally elicits adult behavior from them.
* Employees who abuse company resources should be dealt with by exception -- by a supervisor -- as opposed to treating all employees with suspicion.
* An organization's financial and personnel resources are best invested in the parts of the business that affect the customer.
Aetna's Perelman says his personal view is that an Internet policy should say, "We want you to do your job, we want you to use the Internet for business purposes, and it's okay to use the Internet for personal reasons as long as your job gets done and you don't abuse the privilege. But don't violate the policies on harassment/hate by visiting inappropriate sites, and don't violate policies on disclosure by sharing confidential information through Internet discussion groups."
Such policies are not just daydreams. A number of companies have implemented enlightened policies, including Ford, 3M, and Moline, Illinois -- based John Deere, which recently updated its policy. The revision, according to John Gerstner manager of Electronic Communication, was the result of recognizing that personal use of communication resources during business hours may be necessary and is acceptable, "as long as it is done in a professional manner that does not interfere with company business objectives or resource capabilities.
"The new policy," Gerstner explains, "goes on to encourage employees to use the Internet through company systems outside of normal business hours. The policy is based on the expectation that personal use will help employees learn how to use the Internet effectively, and the more informed employees are about its power, the better they will be at maximizing its benefits for John Deere."
Similar policies can maximize the benefits for your organization, too. All it takes is a little enlightenment.
Shel Holtz, ABC, is principal, Holtz Communication + Technology, Concord, Calif.
NON-WORK RELTATED INTERNET SURFING
Vult.com -- a site dedicated to providing workers with information about prospective employers -- recently conducted its second annual survey to assess the degree to which employees are using the Internet and e-mail for personal reasons at work, and how much employers think they are:
How much timer per day do employees say they surf non-work-related sites at work?
0.96% - Never
18.4% - Up to 10 minutes
25.1% - 10-13 minutes
22.4% - 30 min. to 1 hour
11.9% - 1 to 2 hours
12.6% - Over 2 hours
How much time do employers think employees should be allowed to spend per day surfing non-work-related sites at work?
14.7% - Never
15.1% - Up to 10 minutes
34.8% - 10 to 30 minutes
24.9% - 30 min. to 1 hour
05.2% - 1 to 2 hours
05.3% - Over 2 hours
Do employees think surfing the Net or personal e-mail affects productivity?
66.6% - No
33.4% - Yes
Do employers think surfing or sending personal e-mail affects productivity?
50.2% - No
49.8% - Yes
TO GET THE FULL RESULTS, VISIT: http://www.vault.com/surveys/internetuse2000/index2000.jsp
How many personal, non-work-related e-mails do employees send during the workday?
17.8% - None
56.3% - 1-5
12.4% - 6-10
06.3% - 11-20
07.2% - 21 or more
How many personal non-work-related e-mails do employers think employees should be allowed to send during the workday?
11.5% - None
53.6% - 1-5
17.5% - 6-10
06.0% - 11-20
11.4% - 21 or more
Creating an online policy document
Following is a laundry list of elements to include in an online policy document. Communicating the policy is not a one-time activity. In addition to the introduction of the company's guidelines, communication about the policies should be ongoing. Employees should receive updates on how policy violations have been handled. You can also communicate news about the fallout other companies have faced from policy violations, including lawsuits and reputation damage. All of the elements of the policy should be reinforced regularly through communication and training; otherwise, it will never be woven into the company's cultural fabric. [*]
POLICY The company does not technically restrict access to the Internet. WHAT TO COMMUNICATE Employees are expected to abide by guidelines for acceptable use of the Internet. The consequences for falling to follow these rules can include termination.
POLICY internet access is primarily for work-related activities, but reasonable non-work-related surfing is permitted and encouraged. WHAT TO COMMUNICATE The company believes that employees who use the Internet are more satisfied with their jobs and more likely to be able to tap into the Internet's power to the Company's benefits. Nevertheless, personal use of the Internet can affect and employee's ability to complete tasks in a professional and timely manner.
POLICY Professional behavior is expected on web sites, in discussion groups, and with e-mail. Employees are expected to behave in a manner that reflects well on the company. WHAT TO COMMUNICATE Employees agreed to abide by a code of conduct when they accepted employment. This requirement extends to employees' activites online. Inappropriate behavior online can affect the company's reputation, which can translate directly to sale and profitability.
POLICY Certain types of sites are inappropriate to access to work. These include: Sexually explicit material; hate sites; job-hunting sites.
WHAT TO COMMUNICATE
* Viewing sexually explicit and hate-oriented sites on the Web is no different from reading similar material in print at your desk. Both are grounds for termination.
* The appearance of pornographic material on you computer monitor can create an unconforable work environment for other employees, potentially leading to sexual harassment charges against the company.
* The appearance of hate-oriented material on your computer monitor can lead to charges of discrimination against the company.
While the company recognizes the need to balance work and personal internet use at the work place, it is simply inappropriate for employees to use company resources to find a job elsewhere. Please confine your job-hunting activites to your home.
POLICY Online discussions are encouraged to accomplish work-related tasks.
WHAT TO COMMUNICATE
* Employees are reminded to exercise discretion in what they reveal to a public online community, particularly about proprietary company activities and information.
* Regulatory rules prohibit employees from disclosing certain specific types of information, the company will be held accountable for violating these regulations and laws if employees disregard this rule. (This rules and laws vary from country to country.)
* Accurate company information is available to ensure that misinformation about the organization is not disseminated. Indicate where this information can be found.)
* Employees are encouraged to answer customer questions online as long as they make sure the information they provide is accurate and they do not violate any of the policies noted above.
* For non-work-related discussions, employees should use a non-company e-mail adddress
POLICY Company e-mail should never be used for advertising or solicitation. WHAT TO COMMUNICATE Explain the legal consequences.
POLICY The company's servers record all Web activity and e-mail message sent and received. Although the company has the legal right to do so, it does not monitor these records, but can tap them to confirm suspected policy violations. In addition, flagrant patterns of misuse identified in these records will be reported to the appropriate supervisor. WHAT TO COMMUNICATE The company is not watching over employees' shoulders, but the company reserves the right to take advantage of the records maintained on the server if misuse of online resources becomes apparent. As long as employees abide by the policies, they can expect their privacy to be respected.
POLICY There are consequences for violating the company's internet policies. WHAT TO COMMUNICATE Explain the consequences clearly. Continually update employees about how these consequences have been implemented to ensure that employees understand the company is serious about the policies.
POLICY Supervisors are trained to identify inappropriate behavior and what to do about it. WHAT TO COMMUNICATE Supervisors should be notified that training is available (or mandatory), and that performance evaluations will include how effective they are at identifying and addressing any misbehavior. Employees should understand that it is part of a superviosr's job to watch for and deal with policy violations.
(*.) NOTE: These policy elements address only monitoring and access. They do not deal with technical issues - such as avoiding viruses, adding attachments to e-mail messages, etc.-or a host of other aspects of employee use of the Net.
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|Date:||Feb 1, 2001|
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