Editor’s note: Russ McGuire is the online director of Business Reform Magazine. Each issue of Business Reform features practical advice on operating successfully in business while glorifying God.
If you have invested to bring broadband Internet access into your business, you may very well now be consumed with fear that your employees are using that fast connection for all kinds of immoral activities. What can and should you do about it?
There’s a good chance that the equipment installed with your broadband connection is capable of tracking every web page any of your employees visit. For example, the wireless router that I installed for my home network cost less than $50 and yet here’s a small snapshot into the logs it collects and makes available to me:
[ALLOW:public.wsj.com] Source:192.168.0.2 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 12:41:04
[ALLOW:data.alexa.com] Source:192.168.0.6 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 12:42:14
[ALLOW:www.batesline.com] Source:192.168.0.2 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 12:42:35
[ALLOW:club.lego.com] Source:192.168.0.6 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 12:43:14
[ALLOW:www.tulsatoday.com] Source:192.168.0.2 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 12:53:48
[ALLOW:www.b-home.net] Source:192.168.0.2 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 13:04:34
[ALLOW:www.wnd.com] Source:192.168.0.2 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 13:07:24
[ALLOW:www.businessreform.com] Source:192.168.0.2 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 13:11:29
[ALLOW:www.habitat-tulsa.org] Source:192.168.0.2 Monday, 07 Jul 2003 14:01:57
This log includes records from two different computers in my home (192.168.0.2 in my office and 192.168.0.6 in our kitchen). It tells me every web site visited by either computer, and most tellingly, indicates that my son has been spending time on the Lego web site!
The equipment installed to connect your employees to the Internet likely has similar capabilities, meaning that, if you choose to do so, you probably can track every single web site your employees visit.
Is this the answer to your concerns?
From a purely pragmatic perspective, the number of web sites visited by your employees, even over the course of a single day, could consume hours of your time to wade through looking for improper content.
But more importantly, do you believe that secretly watching over your employees’ shoulders is truly the best way to manage them? I hope not.
An effective Internet policy is a much more valuable tool in managing your employees than web access logs. Instead of destructive, secretive spying, a clear and concise Internet policy provides open communication that should strengthen your relationship with your employees.
A well constructed Internet policy should clearly communicate the following:
- The reason why your business provides employees with Internet access.
- The appropriate ways that employees can use your business Internet connection for business.
- The appropriate ways and times that employees can use your business Internet connection for personal use.
- The inappropriate ways to use your business Internet connection.
- The ability, opportunity, and right that you have to monitor actual Internet use if it appears that the business Internet connection is being used in violation of this policy.
- Potential punishment for violation of the policy.
There are basically three risks that you run by bringing high speed Internet access into your business.
The first risk is that employees will become less productive. In many businesses, fast Internet connectivity should allow employees to perform their jobs more quickly and efficiently. However, some employees may be tempted to “surf the web” when they should be working. In many cases, it may be appropriate for you to allow your employees to use your high speed connection for their personal use before and after work hours, and perhaps during their lunch break. Employees that can’t afford high speed access at home will greatly appreciate this benefit and most will honor the time constraints you specify.
The second risk is that employees may consume most of the available bandwidth for personal uses. Even if they are doing it outside of work hours, employees using bandwidth intensive applications, such as audio or video streaming, or peer-to-peer file sharing services, can cause real problems for your business. If you run your web server, your e-mail server, or critical connections to other offices or business partners over your broadband connection, bandwidth shortages can have a direct impact on your business. If this is the case, then your policy should generally exclude the use of the business connection for bandwidth-intensive personal use and should specifically give examples including those mentioned above.
The third risk is the greatest. Your company may find itself in legal trouble due to employees’ misuse of your Internet connection. Employees downloading and displaying pornographic materials on their computer screens may create a “hostile environment” that could open your business up to a sexual harassment lawsuit. Also, the music recording industry has threatened to go after companies whose employees use their business connections for illegal file-swapping. The same threat could be extended to other cases of intellectual property theft including software piracy. Your Internet policy should clearly forbid the use of the business Internet connection for any illegal or immoral activities and should provide specific examples of forbidden activities.
Of course, these same risks exist even without a high speed Internet connection. Employees can waste their time reading the newspaper or making personal calls. Employees can steal valuable company resources and use those resources for their own personal benefit. Employees can bring pornography into the workplace or even operate illegal businesses out of their offices. As an experienced manager, you likely are prepared to deal with these issues. The Internet does not change the right ways to manage difficult situations.
However, the Internet does make it a little easier for employees to discretely make these mistakes. Thankfully, the Internet also makes it easier to investigate potential violations and build a body of evidence to confront the employee and hopefully get them the counsel they need to become productive contributors to your business.
If you or an employee find that the Internet creates a temptation that is difficult to escape, the Internet has also created powerful tools that you can use in conjunction with an accountability partner. An example of this is a product called Covenant Eyes. This service allows you to sign up with one of your closest, most trusted buddies. Each of you will regularly receive an e-mailed report listing all of the web sites visited by the other. Volunteering to be spied on by your best friend should provide strong incentive not to fall into temptation, and if you do, your buddy will be there to lift you up, to encourage you and to provide wise, loving counsel.
Boundaries, correction, and wise counsel trump destructive secretive spying every time. Act with wisdom as you introduce new technologies into your business and you will be blessed.
Russ McGuire is Online Director for Business Reform. Prior to joining Business
Reform, Mr. McGuire spent over twenty years in technology industries, performing various roles from writing mission critical software for the nuclear power and defense industries to developing core business strategies in the telecom industry. Mr. McGuire is currently focused on helping businesspeople apply God’s eternal truths to their real-world business challenges through Business Reform’s online services. He can be reached at RMcGuire@businessreform.com.