Saturday, April 24, 2010

Draconian internet usage policies are no fun.

How many of you have painfully restrictive web surfing controls at your place of business? Luckily, my gig allows us to go where we need to in order to get the job done. But I have heard many a nightmarish tale of woe from people I meet about power mad IT departments.

I can appreciate the need for internet security. Heaven knows the web is filled with viruses, hackers, and other unscrupulous individuals ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting web surfer.

But I’ve heard horror stories about hotel employees that can’t access hotel web sites, entertainment industry workers that can’t get onto Facebook and Myspace pages to check out new bands, and newspaper writers that have to jump through hoops, submit paperwork, & get multiple approvals from supervisors to research a story on their work PC!

I talk a lot about having goals and asking why, and situations like this just scream out for a good “WHY?” Like I said, at my work we can easily access what we need. It makes research and getting data a breeze. So WHY on Earth would an employer put barriers to productivity in place like this? The whole idea of the internet is that you can easily and seamlessly click from information source to information source to find what you’re looking for. When arbitrary restrictions are put in place, it creates a traffic jam on the Information Superhighway.

OK, that joke was completely lame. I apologize. Nobody calls it that anymore.
I can see employers prohibiting employees from accessing web sites that are clearly not work related. Pornography & internet gambling come to mind immediately. But while stopping your staff from visiting social networking sites might initially seem like a good idea (nobody’s updating their Facebook status on MY time, Mister!) you might actually be taking a valuable work productivity resource away from your team. YouTube and Facebook are actually 2 of the biggest and most frequently used search engines on the web today. Tons of businesses are getting into social media marketing, making these sites a valid and frequently used source of business information.

One solution might be to establish an employee social media policy (see my blog on this topic here). You probably have policies in place outlining how you expect your staff to dress, answer the phone, run the cash register, deal with clients, and interact with other employees in the workplace. Not having a documented policy for how you expect them to interact while representing your company on the internet can buy you some real headaches.

My policy has always been “hire good people and let them do good work”. Unless someone has proven themselves to be irresponsible with internet use, let them do what they need to do in order to get the job done. If their productivity falls off due to internet use problems, it’s a personnel issue, not an IT issue. Deal with it accordingly. In business today we need access to every weapon at our disposal.

Certainly, prohibit your employees from engaging in online actions that are risky –exposing information to hackers, exposing the network to viruses, etc. And clearly communicate (another of my favorite terms) what you expect from your team as far as internet use goes.

But micro-managing employee internet use in the interest of keeping productivity high can backfire in this age of technology. If you feel like you still need to clamp down tightly on what your staff can and can’t access on the internet during company time, maybe you’ve got the wrong people around?

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1 comment:

  1. Just checking to see if the "comment" function works. It's getting lonely around here!