Working in HR can sometimes feel like nothing but forms, documents, and policies. It’s easy to forget they are more than words on a screen or paper. Many of these documents serve as a method of protection, but I’d like to point out a more significant function. It’s key that employees have the knowledge they need to be successful in their jobs.
In this post, I’d like to explore the Internet Usage Policy. It’s a legal document that sets boundaries for the use of the internet and machines connected to it. It explains what is expected of team members on a daily basis. You might be surprised to learn that a large number of employees would say they aren’t exactly sure what is expected of them. Gallup research puts that number at 50%!
Ready for another shocker? The same survey finds that the managers of the 2.2 million employees surveyed are just as hazy on what is expected of them.
One of the most important jobs of an employer is to go to whatever lengths necessary to make expectations of the team crystal clear, and here I will reveal what that looks like with an IUP.
But when you start using words like “legal” and “policy,” the general idea that comes to mind is a binding law that is restrictive, unreasonable, and out of touch. When it comes to implementing your own IUP, you can avoid those descriptors by first establishing WHY you are adopting it.
Why is an Internet Usage Policy Necessary?
Your underlying motivation behind any new policy has a profound impact on how you craft it. If your motivation is to tell employees what they can’t do because you don’t trust them, your policy will reflect that regardless of how hard you try to disguise it.
This policy is necessary in order to reach a very specific goal: To empower and equip employees to perform their best at work.
When you implement a policy, a team member knows what management expects of them. In this case, you equip a person with the knowledge of how they should access and use company property. By doing this, you are saving them from being discredited in the future.
The IUP is also a place where you can disclose that you may monitor internet usage or use a behavior analytics software like ActivTrak. You may even block some sites if considered harmful. With that transparency, you’re protecting the person from hidden traps set by management and “Gotcha!” moments. They’ve got full knowledge of your intentions, and unnecessary complications can be avoided.
I believe there’s something else that shouldn’t be overlooked in an IUP, and that’s a person’s mental and physical well-being. Cyberbullying, harassment and data theft need to be covered by the policy. There are many ways of attacking a co-worker using the internet, and it is essential that each team member understand what you consider unacceptable behavior toward one another.
With the knowledge that you as the employer are setting these guidelines up as a means to protect and empower each person, employees will have a more positive view of the policy.
BONUS FEATURE: In the event that an employee does something illegal or unsavory via the internet, the company could be held liable for their behavior. An IUP that is well thought out and written in plain language is a great preventative measure for any company. You’ll be covered, just as long as you can show proof that the offender knew what was prohibited
What should an Internet Usage Policy look like?
First, you need to establish what is essential for your company to address in the policy. The text should explain in detail what types of behavior are prohibited while using company resources, such as piracy, harassment, hacking or sharing company secrets. If appropriate, social media should be included, such as any restrictions on what can be shared on personal accounts with regards to the company. And, if you plan on doing so, the policy should make clear the employer’s intentions and right to monitor internet usage and what would happen if an employee violates the contract.
I want to be clear. The purpose of this policy is not to put employees in prison from 8-5 or whenever they are on the clock. Don’t forget that your ultimate goal with an IUP, as with any office policies, should be to empower and equip employees. You want to set them up for success, not try to set a trap.
Let’s take a look at the qualities your IUP should have.
1. An internet usage policy should allow for flexibility
You don’t want to put employees in a box. By implementing too many unnecessary restrictions, you’re not accounting for many situations that may arise simply because employees are real people with real lives. Expecting team members to use the internet ONLY for work-related activities is unreasonable these days. There are many situations when someone might need to take care of personal business on the clock. We’ll get into those shortly, but for now, focus on this: When you allow for flexibility in the policy you create, you end up creating an environment of trust.
2. It should create freedom
How does a legal policy outlining prohibited behaviors create freedom? Well, it’s kind of a two-step process that requires cooperation from two parties. Step one, as discussed above, is to make sure your policy allows for flexibility. This establishes an atmosphere focused on trust.
Step two is accomplished by the employee with a little help from management. It should be made clear by a supervisor or manager that a team member’s focus should be on output and value-add, not rules and restrictions. Knowing that, a person is free to navigate a computer, internet, or other resources as they choose, as long as their focus is on their output.
If we create and maintain a genuine culture of trust, true freedom should thrive.
3. It should reflect the company’s culture
Speaking of culture, what does yours look like? If it’s not quite where you’d like it to be, you can take steps to improve it. I previously wrote about a vital tool for crafting the ideal office culture. Also, you’ll need to establish your values before you can approach this quality.
Once you have a team of people who are happy, engaged and understand how they fit into the company’s mission, you can craft an IUP that is reflective of those ideas. For example, if your company truly believes that family comes first, would you implement a policy that restricts an employee from chatting with a family member across the globe in a different time zone?
In that instance, you probably wouldn’t restrict all computer usage to business-related tasks. Or let’s say that your company believes that every team member is a real person with a life and a story. Your policy should make it possible for employees to take care of urgent personal matters on the computer during work time.
When you set up values to guide your policy-making decisions, prove it by following through when you craft your Internet Usage Policy.
4. It should reflect the employees
This point is a spin-off of the previous one, but still worth highlighting. Here’s the connection: Your IUP should be reflective of your culture, and your culture should be reflective of the people who work in your organization. You wouldn’t establish overarching company values that don’t apply to the employees, and you shouldn’t create a policy that doesn’t consider the people it will be pertaining to.
People are different. They come from different upbringings, education, experiences, and cultures. You should craft your policy in a way that protects the employee and business, but still allows people to be who they are.
Let’s take two employees as an example. We’ll call them Sally and Alex. Sally’s mind is wired in a way that she can put her head down, blinders on, and dive into a task for hours on end. Meanwhile, Alex does his best work in bursts. He works really hard, but needs about a 5-minute break every hour or so to detach from his work. The best way he finds to do that is to watch one or two segments from the previous night’s Tonight Show episode. At the end of the day, they have both put out the same amount and quality of work.
If Alex truly needs REASONABLE breaks to watch YouTube for him to do his best work, it would be hampering his output to restrict his internet activity to “business-related” tasks.
How should I implement an Internet Usage Policy?
Once you’ve modified our sample Internet Usage Policy and you’re ready to implement it, or when new people join your team after its implementation, the document should be clearly explained to everyone it applies to. It should be given particular attention apart from other paperwork. Don’t downplay its importance by throwing it in a stack of papers. Some companies go all out and have full-blown training sessions to clear up any confusion or ambiguity.
Leave plenty of opportunities for questions or clarifications and remind everyone that this is crafted to empower them. And finally, team members need to sign and date the policy, showing they understand its contents.
Demonstrate your commitment to workforce improvement
Your Internet Usage Policy is a perfect opportunity for you to demonstrate your commitment to bettering the team and their performance. It’s a chance to be proactive. You’re getting in front of conflict by giving each team member the knowledge they need to be successful in their use of the internet.
Remember that employees need to know what’s expected of them in all aspects of their job. But since internet usage is the primary method of getting work done, that may be an excellent place to direct your focus before you explore other areas of your culture that need attention.