By Keith Ross, Black Box Corporation

Keeping tabs on employee productivity can be overwhelming, especially for busy entrepreneurs. Today, guest blogger Keith Ross helps you make sure employees aren’t wasting valuable work time on personal Web surfing.

As your small business grows, management of employee conduct becomes more of a priority. With limited and expensive bandwidth service available for business communication and research, you need to think about employees’ personal Internet usage. Managing usage is a tricky subject, as you must balance the need to remain efficient with the desire to treat the employees as adults. It’s also difficult to completely restrict sites which are an integral part of people’s every day social and business lives.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become the main conduit for news about friends, family, and the world. Increased use of streaming or media-rich sites such as YouTube cost significant bandwidth, which becomes a broader problem when business-related tasks are slowed. More applications are moving “to the cloud,” which puts even greater importance on proper management of usage. The challenge for IT is to implement strategies for limiting the distractions of online surfing without restricting the performance of internet-based business tools.

With events such as March Madness costing hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity, sometimes Internet access needs to be restricted. However, to retain a good sense of employee morale, perhaps you could bring in televisions and offer employees basketball breaks or send out score updates. Providing employees with desired information without drawing large amounts of bandwidth can improve morale and lessen acrimony that could result from an outright ban.

Let’s take a look at some IT-related tips you can follow to limit workplace personal Internet usage:

  • Implement strategies to eliminate the distractions without restricting the usage of the Internet as a business and collaboration tool.
  • Use a secure Web gateway device to manage incoming malware threats that can be found on many sites – even the most popular sites.
  • Watch for staff members who use workarounds such as proxy servers to access forbidden sites. This is a case of one bad apple potentially ruining access for all employees.
  • Instead of following an older model of simply denying any access to certain sites, you can portion some bandwidth to certain sites. For example, you can allow 10 percent of the company’s bandwidth to be utilized for visiting Facebook, which allows access without crippling the network.
  • If your organization is governed by regulations such as PCI, it’s critically important to put Internet access controls in place to be sure you stay within compliance.
  • With a sophisticated monitoring tool, you can easily see the heaviest bandwidth users and groups, and can set custom bandwidth rate and applications for these groups.
  • Implementing best practices and a control mechanism is a cost avoidance strategy as opposed to simply providing more bandwidth to meet demand.

With a balanced usage monitoring tool, you can lower operating costs while increasing employee productivity. Implemented correctly, Internet usage rules can foster a better and more efficiently working environment and help protect employees from inappropriate content.

Keith Ross is product manager for Networking products at Black Box Corporation.  His product line includes Ethernet switches, media converters,  network security and WAN optimization products.  Keith has over 10 years experience in telecommunications and data networking.