During a normal workday, your employees may be surfing the Internet a good deal of the time, listening to online radio stations or following their favorite sports teams through digital broadcasts. Some are probably sending e-mail and instant messages to friends, family members, and coworkers. And others could be shopping, banking, or booking their next vacation.
The fact is that most workers with Internet access don’t see anything wrong with a little personal perusing at work. And most work-time Web surfers insist their productivity is not affected by the time they spend on such admittedly non-job-related pursuits.
Internet surfing may seem like a harmless hobby, but when it takes place on company time, it can have serious and costly consequences for business owners. More and more companies are monitoring the Internet activities of their employees.
Here are some ways you can keep an eye on and discourage Web-surfing employees and some good reasons to do so.
Your first step is to establish a policy that covers what is allowable in both e-mail and Internet activity. Employee e-mails leave your company wide open to a host of legal issues and liability. Moreover, any slanderous or defaming sentiment sent by an employee over a company’s e-mail system or via instant messaging could put your entire company at risk. That’s why you need to set a policy for your employees. Click here for a sample e-mail policy.
Let employees know that they should not expect privacy when using the company’s Internet connection. Some companies have implemented restrictive policies that grant Internet access to employees on a case-by-case and site-by-site basis. While this type of policy makes sense for certain industries, it’s almost impossible for others. But whatever policy you develop, distribute copies to each employee and have them acknowledge, in writing, that they have received and read it.
Your next step is to determine if there is an Internet abuse problem. Analyzing your office’s Internet traffic can uncover how much Web traffic is related to business and how much is personal.
If you simply want employees to stay off the Internet, consider offering some alternatives such as allowing them to listen to music while they are working. Or set up specific times or limits for personal usage.
If you determine there is a problem, you can deploy a software program that will monitor Internet activity and block access to questionable sites. SpyTech, Websense, and eBlaster are three such software titles. Some applications filter e-mail, while others block access to unauthorized Web sites.
You can also selectively block access to certain “families” of sites, such as shopping, auction, or sports Web sites. Blocking objectionable content can also minimize your company’s legal exposure.
Many companies hammer home their Internet policy every time a user logs on to the network. As part of the log-on process, users are presented with a dialogue box summarizing the policy and reminding them that “the use of this system may be monitored and recorded for administrative and security reasons.” To proceed, a user must agree by clicking the OK button.
Whatever solution you arrive at, it will only be effective if monitored and stringently maintained.