TechRepublic members sound off on Internet use in the workplace

Recently, columnist Tim Landgrave wrote about ways businesses can ensure that their employees are using the Internet responsibly. Here's what you had to say about Internet use on the job.

Regardless of the nature of your business, without the Internet, you’re dead in the water. But for every employee who goes on the Web to conduct research for your company, there’s another who spends time checking sports scores.

In a recent column, “The Internet: Please consume responsibly,” Tim Landgrave discussed how businesses can strike a balance between allowing employees access to the Internet while keeping them on task with the rest of the job.

Here’s what several TechRepublic members had to say about the issue:
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Productivity, not policing
Instead of taking steps to control Internet use, businesses should manage productivity, customer-response time, project time, and project quality, said Stephan Loh, database administrator for Houston-based

“Strict control of Internet use only produces unhappy employees,” Loh said in an e-mail. “This, in turn, reduces productivity and increases turnover rate.”

The only exception is to ensure that employees don’t visit sex-related Web sites, for example, or use the Web to disclose confidential business information.

And hash07 suggested that the column’s suggestions on improving productivity were a “waste of corporate resources.” Instead, he recommended that businesses emphasize that work is their first priority and that all others follow.

Start with hard workers
Darrel Cross, a systems administrator for Indianapolis-based East 91st Street Christian Church, said the key to realizing productivity from workers is to hire responsible, hardworking employees that police themselves.

“No matter what rules and regulations are put in place, nonproductive employees will view them as intrusive and restrictive and find other ways to waste time on the job,” Cross said in an e-mail.

But for all the emphasis on productivity, Cross said that cell phones, pagers, company travel, and other factors have continued to stretch an employee’s work week. “Given that, I have no problem with my employees occasionally using company time to surf,” Cross said.

Addressing the wrong problem
Wayne Mack, a member of the technical staff at Fairfax, VA-based PEC Solutions, Inc., took issue with the column’s focus on use of the Internet and its effect on productivity. He suggested that the problems that Tim Landgrave described in his column should be handled in the same way as if a worker was taking too many breaks to smoke.

He suggested allowing employees two 15-minute breaks and a lunch hour for personal Internet use. “As an officially sanctioned activity, it can now be explicitly scheduled and workers can cover for each other as needed,” Mack said in an e-mail. “It is much better to admit that it occurs and provide appropriate guidelines to manage their own access.”

Sign here
If you question whether employees will be able to stay on task, you might want them to sign a use policy when they accept their job. Robin Wright, a systems engineer, said such a policy would cover the Internet, e-mail, phone use, and other items.

However, taking advantage of new technologies is nothing special.

“When PCs and Windows first showed up, everyone was playing Solitaire or Hearts. Then e-mail jokes were going everywhere,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Now, it’s the Internet.”

Wright, who has set up Internet access at several companies, said the thrill of a new technology generally wears off in about a week with employees returning to their regular work ethic in about the same time.

Filtering software
Besides being a drain on productivity, Internet abuse also hurts a company’s bandwidth, said egreathouse. There’s also a liability risk for businesses that don’t have control of Internet use.

One way to ensure that employees can’t abuse their Internet privileges is to install filtering software that blocks access to certain sites. “Filtering software not only prevents abuse and its concomitant drain on productivity, [but] it is also part of a company’s defense against claims that it neglected to protect some personnel from the misbehavior of others.”
Does your business have a policy regarding the use of company cell phones? Interested in sharing it with TechRepublic? Send it to us in an e-mail.

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