Creating staff internet usage policies

Staff internet usage has always been a tricky issue to manage. Most companies now make much use of the web or email in doing business. Many staff members need constant access to both in order to carry out their daily tasks. However, no company wants their staff wasting time or viewing inappropriate material online.

Hence the requirement in companies of all shapes and sizes for a fair, balanced and easily understood internet usage policy.

Given the different ways companies utilise the internet, a policy that works well for one company may damage the business success of another. However, by clearly outlining what is and is not allowed for each staff member, and the penalties that will follow any misuse of internet privileges, a policy can both help your staff in using the internet to do their job and minimise the occurrence of unfortunate or damaging issues.

It is advisable to draft written internet usage policies with the help of human resources and IT teams and to include employee representatives in the process, so that everyone is on the same page from day one. The policy should clearly outline details of the company’s screening and monitoring procedures, bearing in mind that employees retain certain privacy and data protection rights while in the workplace. It is important that all staff members read and sign the policy so that both staff and employers are protected should disciplinary or legal issues arise. But what areas should such a document cover?

Usage policies: Internet

With the world wide web being such a treasure trove of information, many businesses now actively encourage their staff to spend time online. Companies will want their employees to regularly keep an eye on their own company site, for example, along with those of competitors, suppliers and customers, as well as sector-specific portals or online trade magazines.

Other sites such as newspaper webpages can be useful, but are unlikely to be regularly required during most employees’ working day. A policy can mandate that these sites only be accessed for specific work-related purposes, or during certain hours. Browsing of travel websites, social media (see below) or lifestyle sites should also be limited to appropriate times. Finally, there are certain sites, such as gambling websites or pages containing adult material, which should never, ever be accessed from the workplace.

A policy may cover these three levels of web content, while taking into account that it is not always possible to tell if a webpage or search result is relevant before the link has been clicked on.

Usage policies:  Email

Email can be a tremendously useful and efficient business tool. An email usage policy may set down a corporate email style (whether formal, informal or a mix of both) and include guidance on which emails should receive priority and the expected timeframe for responding to customer or client emails.

However, email can also be a troublesome nuisance for companies. Large attachments and spam can slow down busy networks. Dangerous malware and viruses may spread through email. Most email is also insecure, and can be read by third parties during transmission or even after having been apparently deleted.

Therefore an effective staff email policy would prohibit the use of work accounts for sending personal emails and the inclusion of information such as company bank account details or credit card numbers in either a work or personal email. It should ensure employees avoid sending large files by email unless strictly necessary and are careful about clicking on links or downloading attachments in emails from unfamiliar addresses.

Staff should also be advised not to check their own personal email during work hours, to consider whether a phone call or personal visit would be more appropriate before sending an email and – to avoid embarrassment – to be careful with the ‘reply all’ function.

Usage policies: Social media

Social media sites can provide great opportunities for companies. Many businesses now have their own Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter presence, which must be managed and directed by staff communicating directly with customers, colleagues and clients. Also, blogs can be a valuable place where staff members can discuss topics and learn new information relevant to their jobs.

Staff can be encouraged to share insights and post replies in areas related to their work; however, they should be advised to only comment using their own name and to stick to their own particular areas of expertise, avoid off-topic or offensive remarks and to never post confidential or copyrighted company or partner information online.

Finally, the likes of Twitter and Facebook also provide great temptation for staff to while away hours viewing or uploading holiday photos or playing games. Therefore your internet usage policy should direct staff as to when and how they may access such sites, perhaps by setting certain timeframes or occasions when they can be accessed.

In the next issue, we’ll take a look at IT solutions for monitoring and screening staff usage of the internet and email.

Usage policies: Useful links:-

Data Protection Commissioner guidelines

Intel’s social media guidelines

This article originally appeared in the eBusiness Live newsletter from Enterprise Ireland’s eMarketing Unit and was written by ENNclick.