I read that the average office worker spends 21 hours a week online and around a third of that isn't work-related. Incredibly, 60 percent of all online purchases happen during working hours.
The more I dug around, the more shocking statistics I uncovered. It's not just a time-cost issue either. If employees use the Internet outside of the normal boundaries their job requires, they may download viruses, give away confidential information or otherwise land you in trouble.
How do firms cope with this?
I've seen lots of ads for software that can monitor almost every detail of Internet usage, but I'm not sure that's the best approach, at least as a starting point. For one thing, monitoring employee behavior in a sneaky kind of way is a sure recipe for mistrust and low morale. I think it's far better to set rules openly and discuss them with employees to get their buy-in, and even their signature. These rules are usually enshrined in a document called an Internet Acceptable Use Policy. The value of having this in writing and sharing it throughout your business is that no one can subsequently claim they didn’t know the rules.
Typically this would make clear:
- Whether any non-business Internet access is permissible at all.
- If permitted, when: for example, during breaks. This should include email checks.
- Whether company PCs can be used, or personal devices only.
- What kind of activity is permitted? For instance, you would almost certainly want to ban downloads and can set up your PCs so they can’t download.
- Access to all adult sites is forbidden.
- Whether personal storage such as USB drives can be connected to company devices.
- The sanction, such as dismissal, for breaking the rules.
If you suspect misuse, you should tackle it head-on with the abuser. And if you decide to install monitoring software, you should likely do it across the board and tell employees what you're doing. You should also have rules on Internet usage outside of the office that relates to your business. For example, can employees mention their jobs and your business if they blog, tweet or use social networks?
Be realistic in setting your policies. Many people get emails and message alerts in real time on their smartphone. It'd be difficult to stop that, but you can insist that only urgent items are dealt with during normal working time. By showing a fair and realistic attitude towards Internet usage, you're more likely to get cooperation from your employees and reduce the risk of abuse. So get that policy written or reviewed today!