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The Internet – Productivity Enhancement or Time Drain?

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Although companies have guidelines for Internet usage, the reality is that e-mailing and personal surfing can be abused. It is up to managers to incorporate policies on a day-to-day basis. You may view yourself as a hands-off supervisor who believes in giving workers autonomy, but there are cases when Internet time drains and abuses result in lost productivity. Instead of coming off as a Grinch-like manager who constantly monitors employees, there are pre-emptive steps you can take to make sure the Internet is used wisely and productively.

Set Limits

Everyone (especially new employees) on your team should be informed about how your workplace approaches the Internet. “Allowing recreational surfing within limits can enhance productivity and sends a message that you respect your employees’ ability to police themselves,” says HR Consultant Harold Snelling. In certain positions, using the Internet is a legitimate research tool that relates directly to a task. If you are concerned about it becoming a time sink during a specific project, it’s a good idea to set limits on how long an employee should be conducting research. When you are discussing a project, be clear about your expectations and get an idea of how and for how long people anticipate using the Internet.

Explain What Is Off Limits

Cyberslacking can quickly lead to online activities that are more serious and potential liabilities. Reiterate policies about circulating off-color e-mails and graphics and visiting Web Sites with sexually explicit content. Be aware that what is considered appropriate to some may be objectionable to others. “The gag about pornography is that no one can define it, but people say ‘I know it when I see it,’ ” says Snelling. “It’s better to err on the side of discretion and to make it clear that employees should not be surfing sites that are even debatably inappropriate.” When workers view and circulate sexually explicit material, they can be liable in a sexual harassment case. What some don’t realize is that if people are even aware of explicit material, they can be considered liable. Managers should also discourage team members from using the workplace Web for time consuming activities like gambling, shopping and Internet dating.

E-Mailing and Instant-Messaging

Intranet e-mail is a great communication tool that helps people within a company communicate and coordinate projects. However, personal e-mailing and IMing should not be done on an employer’s time. Because workers can check personal e-mail remotely from work, the potential for abuse is always present. The danger is a worker’s online social interactions can infringe on time they should be devoting to work. As long as employees remain productive, some managers are willing to overlook the fact that they access their personal e-mail. If you find that someone is doing too much workplace recreational Web surfing and you can document that they are visiting sites irrelevant to their jobs, discuss the matter in private. “Confront people as professionals in a non-aggressive way,” says Snelling. Employees may become defensive or deny that it is a problem, but if you have monitored their usage and correlated it with their output things will be clear. Studies show that when managers take preventative measures and discuss Web use issues, abuse drops dramatically. The bottom line is always your team’s productivity. “Even though you have to set limits, you don’t want to have an adversarial relationship with your employees that can cost you more in productivity than personal surfing does,” says Snelling.

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