Tuesday, July 14, 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 !!