Why you need a company policy on Internet use


By Kim Komando

When you're running a small business, there's not a lot of time for personnel management. After all, you have clients to meet and projects to complete. So you let employees work independently, unless or until it's evident there are problems. Then you step in.

This is how I run my company and I bet you do the same.

In order to give staff members the feelings of autonomy and ownership, they need to know the rules. These go beyond what time to show up, vacation time, and health benefits. You need a written company policy that covers computer and Internet use.

Put the policy in writing

Every company that uses computers — from the smallest to the largest — should have a written policy on computer and Internet use.

I make all employees sign our computing policy on their first day of work. And you should, too. This way, they know that you mean business and that the computers and Internet access lines are intended to further the company's goals. But this isn't to say you won't have problems, even after they sign a computing policy.

I make all employees sign our computing policy on their first day of work. And you should, too. This way, they know that you mean business and that the computers and Internet access lines are intended to further the company's goals. But this isn't to say you won't have problems, even after they sign a computing policy.

I didn't know this was happening while she was working for us. After she left, it was all on the computer she was using, in plain sight. No wonder she always looked busy.

Get the evidence, secretly

If you suspect that someone is abusing your computer system, what do you do? First, talk to them and send e-mail reminders. Tell employees that they are there to work, not to shop or to tend to their personal business. But that is not always enough. And there's another problem.

Yes, you want to trust your employees — but you don't want them to take advantage of you, either. As a small-business owner, you don't have the time to look over everyone's shoulder or check temporary Internet files to re-create their surfing activities. So maybe you should look into a "snooping" program.

These "snooping" applications — specific brands are listed below — hide on the employee's computer and keep a record of what he or she does. They can be set to e-mail you a regular report. And they are difficult to detect, unless the employee is suspicious, computer literate, and knows where to look.

In addition to logging keystrokes, these applications can take screen shots. So it is possible to see exactly what the employee is viewing. Or the applications can keep logs of Web sites visited. If you want, they can give you transcripts of chat sessions. Obviously, a busy employee could produce a monstrous log file. Most programs allow you to search for keywords. You could use sexual slang, for instance, to search for pornographic sites or downloads.

This assumes that you want to snoop on your employees. We're all pretty busy without spending our spare time probing someone's foibles. If you have good grounds to suspect an employee, perhaps a heart-to-heart talk would be effective. If that employee is marginal, termination might be preferable.

Let employees know they're being monitored

If you're seriously concerned about employee surfing, these logging programs can display a warning at boot up that they are present. That way, the employees are on notice and are probably less likely to stray. But they may resent the spying. You might be better off trying to pinpoint individual miscreants, rather than aggravating your entire staff.

Deciphering the snoop reports can be time-consuming. Think how many times a day you hit the keyboard. Do you want to know every single time an employee presses a key? That's another reason to focus on problem people.

Numerous programs track keyboard activity, including, NETObserve, Spector Pro, and TrueActive Monitor.. You also can install these programs secretly. But a knowledgeable computer user could find them in the Windows configuration utility, which tells the operating system to start them automatically. The applications do use aliases, so the employee would have to know what to look for.

These programs generally can send you reports via e-mail. This is transparent to the employees. They will not be aware of the e-mail traffic.

Suspicious employees can take countermeasures. Programs such as SpyCop and SpyDetect can find snooping programs on a hard drive. They also can identify files created by the programs.

The employee would have to be both suspicious and well informed on computer issues. But keep that in mind if you are targeting someone.

Also, there are hardware snoopers. Most attach to the keyboard cable and record keystrokes. They probably are less effective than software, because they are more easily spotted.

What the courts say

Courts have given employers wide discretion in watching what happens on their computers. Rulings have even upheld the reading of e-mail by employers, as long as it is sent on company-owned machines. Be sure that you have a written computer policy in place. If you have any doubts, check with a lawyer.

Personally, I don't see an ethical problem. Again, you should make your surfing policy clear. If your employees know they can be watched, they have no expectation of privacy. Most will have nothing to hide and will not abuse your policy.

You want to be reasonable, too. An occasional visit to a shopping site isn't going to kill your business. It's the obsessive time waster that you want to stop.

Porn is a different story. Many people are uncomfortable around it. Failure to stop this kind of stuff could drive other employees away. Act quickly to resolve the problem.

You hear tales of employees burning up time surfing the Web. Online shopping continues to grow. And guess when people do their shopping? They do it on your time, that's when. For these reasons and more, you have to establish computer and Internet policies for your business.

 
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