There’s a fine line between being Big Brother and keeping employees from wasting too much time on the Internet. And as we all know, there are plenty of ways to waste time on the ‘net: Facebook, Twitter, chatting, shopping, scores… you name it. But how do you manage control of your employees — and what type of control do you extend over them? Everything gets even more complicated if your business also depends upon the type of PR and marketing to be had from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. As more and more companies and businesses resort to these outlets for free advertising, different levels of control must be put into place.

Here are a few suggestions for tools you can use to manage this control, policies to implement, and ways to keep your employees from revolting.

1: Try Packetfence

Packetfence is one of the most powerful network access control tools available. It’s an open source tool that can easily be installed and administered on either Red Hat Enterprise Linux or CentOS. You can also install on Ubuntu or Debian, but it’s not nearly as easy. With this tool, you can manage who has access to what, what time they have access, and how much they have access to. Packetfence helps keep unwanted users/devices from accessing your network, too. If you are serious about controlling your network, this tool should be at the top of the list of those you want to test.

2: Try OpenDNS

OpenDNS is an industry-leading Web content/security/DNS tool that is completely Web based. With OpenDNS, you can filter content, prevent phishing, block page bypass (Enterprise only), protect against malware (Enterprise only), delegate administration (Enterprise only), and much more. You will have detailed daily reports as well as archived logs and statistics. With content filtering, you can select from more than 50 categories and prevent the use of proxies for bypassing filters. There are different plans, ranging from Free to Enterprise. Pricing can be found on the OpenDNS Web site.

3: Monitor network usage

If you are less inclined to do a catch-all prevention of certain Web traffic, you might want to look into tools that will monitor network usage. With tools of this nature, you can keep tabs on what your users are viewing online and then act accordingly. This is a much less Big Brother approach to managing what your employees are viewing. By handling this task this way, you are more inclined to have a lower attrition rate from employees not wanting to work in a controlling environment. A tool like Net Spy Pro allows you to monitor employee Web usage from a single desktop. This particular tool even allows the administrator to view employee bookmarks and favorites. Although some think this a better approach than implementing policies and preventing access to certain (or all) Web sites, many people view this quite the opposite. As I said earlier, it’s a very fine line.

4: Make sure you have a clear access policy

Instead of employing controlling software, it might better suit your environment and employees to have clear policies in place that prevent the usage of certain Web sites during work hours. This method does call upon the honor system (unless you are using a monitoring tool), which gives your work environment a more relaxed feel. The problem with this method arises when you discover an employee abusing the policies and you do not react. If you lay out a clear policy and do not punish those ignoring it, you may as well throw that policy out the door and forget about having any control whatsoever.

5: Give a little now and then

Along with having clear policies, you have to be willing to offer some flexibility. During the holiday season, employees are going to shop online. During March Madness, employees are going to check basketball scores. You must be willing to give or you will find yourself with some upset employees. If you are never willing to bend on your policies, the attrition rate may rise during certain times of the year or with certain cross sections of employees. (Older employees may be less apt to take issue with such policies than younger employees.)

Finding the balance

The saying “Everything is relative” applies here — as does “Everything in moderation.” The real problem with employees surfing the Web happens when it interferes with actual work. This could be too much browsing or browsing to unsafe or inappropriate sites. You, as an employer (or manager) must tread that fine line between too much and too little control over what employees can do with their Web browsing.

Take our poll

What measures does your organization rely on to manage employee Internet activity? If your approach isn’t one of the options, explain your strategy in the discussion below.