Internet policy should be reasonable and balanced

Valerie Morton examines how to monitor your staff's internet use

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: Should I let my staff use the charity's internet for personal purposes in the office?

A: Access to the internet is taken for granted these days and the 'always available' culture that it provides has undoubtedly blurred the boundaries between work and leisure time. I feel that it is impossible to look at a policy on use of the internet without considering the knock-on implications for the use of personal mobile phones.

So let's look at some of the factors involved. The most important issue is whether any personal use of the internet, or mobile phones, affects the achievement of individual or group objectives. If people are interrupting their work to check Facebook, for example, or to read personal texts, are they still getting their work done? Responding to personal messages during meetings is becoming all the more common. Call me old-fashioned, but my view is that any use of the internet, email or a phone during meetings is unacceptable. No one needs to be that accessible and it is just plain rude - never mind disruptive to the meeting. If your accessibility is an issue, then I suggest your meetings are too long.

Q: Do you expect your staff to respond to work emails sent during the evenings or at weekends?

A: Even if this is not an expectation, has occasional emergency contact become part of working life, with the assumption that emails will be acted upon as soon as they are delivered? It is unusual to find an organisation where this is not the case, but I have never come across staff being paid for this availability unless it is part of a formal on-call responsibility. So occasional personal use during work hours and use of the charity's internet during lunch breaks would seem to be fair compensation.

So far, so good - but managers who implement any policy have to consider the potential for misuse and abuse. If a member of staff is being disciplined for poor performance and overuse of the internet is a contributory factor, how can you say you are treating that person fairly if they know others are doing the same? How are you going to define the 'blacklist' sites that are not to be accessed at work? (I was once blocked from accessing a wine merchant's site because it came under the 'alcohol' category, but was easily able to order wine from Waitrose.)

Q: How do you ensure the usage does not slow down your systems for people who are working? What monitoring will you need to put in place and how will your staff feel about that?

A: We need to accept that we live in a world that is very different from even 10 years ago, but work still takes priority from nine to five. The best approach would be to have formal policies in place and consult with staff to get buy-in: that way you will balance being reasonable with maintaining focus on the business.

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Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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