Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Open the Internet at the office, or shut it out ?

What should be the “internet policy” in companies ? Not so easy a question to answer.

Companies have one of the following approaches

- Complete ban (would be very unusual these days)
- No internet on your desktop, but internet kiosks available
- Internet access for limited hours at the desktop
- Wide internet access, but personal stuff like e mail, blogging, youtube blocked)
- Complete free for all

What is “right” to do ?

Only one thing would be universally agreed – no porn. After that everything is fuzzy.

Arguments against a very open access are many. Firstly it costs hell of a lot. If you have 10000 employees in your office, the cost of providing internet access to everybody will be a fortune. Why should companies foot the bill for you doing your personal stuff in the office. At least some employees will goof off having fun online rather than doing what they are supposed to be doing. More serious is that companies face big law suits and possibly massive liabilities if some employee does crazy stuff online via the company’s network. Monitoring internet traffic raises all sorts of privacy issues. And if you dispassionately think about it, the number of people who really need unrestricted access to the internet to do their daily jobs is rather small.

Arguments for open access are equally many. Today’s workforce is inextricably linked to the internet. Blocking that is a prehistoric practice. And so what if an employee does some personal stuff during office time. Doesn’t he do office stuff in his personal time ? – take calls, answer emails fro home and so on. In today’s life, work and personal times are closely intertwined – the days of a 9 to 5 job are over. Liability on account of employee action exists even today – if he uses the phone to sexually harass somebody outside, its no different from using the internet.

So what is “right”. Obviously no easy answer.

My suggestion is triggered by a very interesting report from a 15 year old Morgan Stanley intern, on online habits of teenagers. It’s a cracking read – he claims, for example, that no teenager he knows uses Twitter for real. But one thing he said triggers my suggestion – he said teenagers don’t want to pay for anything.

So my suggested internet policy is – give the option to the employee if he wants unrestricted internet access or not. If he wants access, charge him 50% of the cost an ISP charges. And only ban porn or anything else illegal in law.

Everything else is upto him ! Including reading this blog !!


Adesh Sidhu said...

By asking employee to foot internet bill you are giving another cost cutting avenue to companies ;-)

A journey called Life said...

now this is what i call a novel approach..actually it can be included as perks in the salary (me and my ideas, tch, tch)

Ramesh said...

@Adesh :)

@AJCL - Nice idea :)

Preeti Shenoy said...

Your suggestion is very good. But then people might start using it to the fullest for 'paisa vasool' . Lots of my friends (esp in twenties) RESENT it when Internet (especially g-talk) is not allowed at work. they hate the organisation and it de motivates them and makes them resentful. I think organisations should allow Internet (obviously not porn) and trust employees to use it 'wisely'. Output from satisfied employees is so much higher. i don't think they need be monitored as they know what they have to deliver and are accountable for that.

Ramesh said...

Yes, the paisa vasool is a risk, but I'm betting on nobody taking this up since they have to pay for it !

Unfortunately the free for all won't work I think. Given a chance to goof, many people will.Therein is the dilemma.

le embrouille blogueur said...

I agree with your solution .. though according to me ...if an employee is really piled under work ... he/she should not be checking out status messages on FB etc ....he/she has the time outside of work to pursue other interests....great post as usual Ramesh !!

Ramesh said...

@blogueur - Thanks. The lines between work and outside of work are blurring heavily. All 24 hours, you are now both "on work" and "not on work".

Satish said...

Do not think in both cases there are rights or wrongs. When I worked for Cadbury's there was a policy that you could eat as many chocolates in the factory but could not take them out. As a result for the first week you would eat like a pig and then get so sick that you would stop eating completely. However in the case of internet this does not really work that way. In office you do see people checking out personal mail, applying for jobs and doing a lot of personal stuff. Within limits that is fine but where does one draw the line normally. As a result there is this ban. I believe Ramesh's idea is a moderate way of handling things. My view is a bit extreme of banning it completely since you are getting a salary and should devote time to work and not the net. However that poses the problem of delays in looking at Ramesh's blog (only after getting back home). Hmmmm you cannot win every battle I guess.

Ramesh said...

I was also in the ban completely camp, but have changed views recently as I am realising that work and personal time are completely intertwined and can no longer be separated.

Ajay said...

Hi Ramesh! Just catching up now. Last week was a killer. I am of the opinion that internet access should be there at work. Social networking sites and porn and youtube etc can be blocked. This is the way they do it in my office. Charging for internet may be a good idea and might act as a deterrent too for some. Blanket ban is definitely a thing from the past. I guess "treat your men greatly and they shall prove themselves great" should be the motto.

Ramesh said...

Sensible balance you have Ajay. But why should social network sites be banned. Browsing say a sports website or posting on a blog are not that much different. I am veering to the arguement that if the employer expects me to take calls at out of office hours, then why should he have a problem if I do non work browsing during office hours ?

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Ramesh - re this snotty nosed kid whose memo is being touted as the new wisdom. If the good AK Jain and MN Vora (for the uninitiated, two excellent professors of marketing and marketing-related quantitative methods at the school Ramesh and I went to) heard about this, they will be at our doorsteps at midnight asking us how the hell did we take as received wisdom ONE opinion. They would asked us to design the research - what is the null hypothesis, what is the research method, what kind of controls are built in, what is the sample size, how will responses be interpreted, etc etc.

Ramesh said...

Sure - it beats all the fundas of MR and AK Jain would roast me alive. Still ....

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