Running a business in the modern world is impossible without access to the internet, but at the same time, you don’t want to leave the entire internet totally open for individuals to surf while they should be working.
Should companies consider having internet browsing policies to combat this, and how can they be implemented effectively?
The problem of the internet
The internet gives us access to the breadth of human knowledge and can be an invaluable tool for any number of different tasks. It’s also full of mindless games, social media and other things that can waste every minute of our days. According to the Center for Internet Addiction, internet misuse in the workplace costs employers more than $63 billion in lost productivity every year
This isn’t to say that employers should be banning all internet use during working hours. IN addition to being borderline totalitarian, it could drive workers away and make it difficult to bring in new hires.
What should be included in an internet browsing policy?
What should employers include in an internet browsing policy? There are a lot of variables to consider here, including requirements of the job, any history of internet misuse and what it will take to create the most productive environment without alienating employees. These policies should include, but may not be limited to:
- Reasoning: Why there is an internet use policy in place
- Definitions describing proper and improper use of employer-owned equipment
- Statements prohibiting the unauthorized encryption of information to prevent monitoring
- Statements informing employees that breaking the browsing policy can result in disciplinary action
- Zero-tolerance policies for things like bullying, harassment or discrimination
Depending on the exact details of the business, there may also be a need to limit an employee’s access to the internet. While limiting internet or social media access is within the rights of an employer, it’s essential to ensure that the policies don’t violate employee rights under state or federal law.
Companies are primarily concerned about websites that distract from work and negatively impact productivity, as well as sites that may contain inappropriate material. Pornography, social media, gaming, entertainment and shopping sites may all fall under this umbrella.
Internet browsing policy training
Writing an internet browsing policy isn’t enough. Setting up a comprehensive training program for both new and existing employees will help to ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities in the workplace, what is considered acceptable and the consequences of violating the policy.
Employees need to be aware that their online activities are monitored, and that there can be consequences for accessing sites that are not permitted on company time. Don’t set this up in secret and then spring it on them. Instead, include employees in the creation process so they’re aware of what is going on and what they need to do to stay on HR’s good side.
Employer owned vs. private devices
Most internet browsing policies are written with employer-owned devices in mind. How do these rules and policies apply when the employee owns or provides their own equipment for the job? These questions become more common when remote work became the order of the day during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the concept of “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD emerged.
In most cases, personally owned equipment will still need to be monitored during working hours to ensure that employees are in compliance with company policy. This becomes especially important if the employee needs to access confidential or protected information remotely. It’s essential to draw a line between work use and personal use, however. There’s no need for employees to be monitored at all times on their personal equipment. Without that line, employee monitoring can become a gross invasion of privacy.
For business owners asking if they should have an internet browsing policy, the answer is never strictly yes or no. Take the time to assess your company’s individual needs and determine what will work best for you. Some companies require constant internet monitoring, either because of past problems or to protect confidential information, while others may only wish to prevent too much distraction during the work day. Find your middle ground and choose what best meets your needs.