Official internet guidelines and why they’re essential for the workplace

January 16th, 2018 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. AussieBB

Given the central role IT and computers play in everyday business operations, every organisation – including yours – needs an official internet policy. Helping employees understand what is and isn’t appropriate reduces uncertainty and helps you define acceptable boundaries when it comes to behaviour.

As you’ll see, having an official internet usage policy supports business security, transparency, compliance, and employee productivity. This in turn can support your business goals.

What are internet usage guidelines?

Your organisation’s internet usage guidelines (IUG) or internet usage policy outlines what your employees need to know about using your company’s resources. It’s a definitive statement about what’s acceptable and what’s not. Your guidelines can cover everything from your internet connection and email to software downloads and social media. It should apply to everyone at your organisation who’s able to access the internet and/or use the organisation’s devices.

Why have internet usage guidelines?

Your IUG is vital for compliance, risk management, and productivity. By reducing ambiguity, you can ensure everyone uses your IT resources responsibly.

Productivity

Clarifying the internet is primarily for work purposes lets employees understand time drains like social media and personal emails aren’t acceptable during work hours, unless work-related.

Reputation and culture

Your IUG is a channel for defining your company culture, since much of your internal and external communications occur through your IT infrastructure. Setting standards for communications could help your business avoid reputation damage.

Compliance, risk, and liability

IUGs are essential for compliance, especially with regulations like privacy laws. As a business, you deal with the personal information of your customers as well as employees. If you don’t observe the applicable compliance requirements, you could risk legal liability, and this would apply also to illegal activities like downloading pirated content.

Other possible risks, like sharing racist and offensive content, could lead to liability issues if you fail to provide a fair workplace for employees. In addition, you might have terms of service that require you to offer a level of confidentiality, privacy, and data security to customers. An IUG helps to build uniform standards across your organisation.

Certainty and transparency

An IUG, as long as it’s not overly restrictive, provides guidance and certainty for employees. Rather than surprising employees with warnings or disciplinary action for a rule they didn’t know existed, you can use widely shared policies to reinforce standards and make clear what’s acceptable. If things need to be escalated, you’ve “gone on record” – staff members can’t claim they didn’t know about the rule. In addition, you can use the opportunity to make clear any tracking and monitoring your business conducts on employee internet usage.

Online security

Online security is one of the core reasons you should have an IUG at your organisation. Hacking, malware, and ransomware are daily realities for businesses, and every workstation or device is a potential entry point for these attacks. With risk-minimisation protocols written into your IUG, you ensure a safer, uniform workplace that reflects security-conscious practices.

What to include in your internet usage guidelines

Your IUG will likely be broad in scope, covering everything from email usage to equipment and passwords.

  • Email, internet, and telephony – Outline what’s acceptable usage for email, internet, and telephony. For example, you can make clear these tools are only to be used for the organisation’s purposes. State what’s not unacceptable, like forwarding offensive, racist, or sexist content, or accessing pornographic materials on the company’s connection or devices.
  • Software – Prohibit downloading unauthorised software and apps, as these can compromise security or lead to the inadvertent sharing of organisational information. Make clear downloading, accessing, installation, and removal require approval.
  • Equipment – outline ownership and usage rules, including the need to return equipment when employees depart. It might be wise to forbid the use of BYO devices that haven’t been approved, as devices that haven’t been screened can pose security risks. If devices are taken out of the office for work, outline recommendations for security and data protection.
  • Social media – State your policy on personal social media, whether it’s permitted only on personal devices not accessing the company’s internet or permitted only during breaks. Let employees know if their social media use is monitored.
  • Passwords – Require employees to use strong passwords and have them change their password regularly.
  • Other safety tips – Include other basic safety tips like not opening suspicious attachments, avoiding risky websites, and allowing software updates for patching.
  • Unacceptable usage and content – Incorporate a list of examples to help staff understand what’s unacceptable use. Things to include may be downloading or uploading obscene, illegal, or offensive content.

Anything that leads to the breach of privacy of confidentiality of anyone could also be prohibited. Stolen and copyrighted content, visiting dangerous websites, and gambling and fraud could also be included.

Tips for implementing your internet usage guidelines

Involve your employees as you write your guidelines. They’re the frontline users and they can provide valuable feedback about what should be included in your IUG.

Additionally, make sure your employees read the policy. Display it on your intranet, refer to it in your employment contract, and share it every time it’s updated.

Along with making sure your policy is read and disseminated, you may be able to use software controls to enforce your policies. Software can be used to restrict or block certain sites at given hours of the day. For example, you could block social media during business hours. You can also use monitoring software to keep tabs on your staff’s internet usage, but be mindful of privacy laws and other related considerations.

Be ready to reinforce the policy and explain changes and additions. Task line managers with the responsibility of applying the policy. Apply it consistently to everyone. In cases that justify disciplinary action, make sure you do act.

The internet is essential to business, but left unmanaged its use can lead to risk and liability for employers. Your internet usage guidelines can reduce these risks while supporting higher productivity, transparency, and a positive working culture. Include your staff in the guideline development process and use software tools to help reinforce standards for best results.

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