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Employee Media Usage—Positive or Negative?

by Jim Martin

During the upcoming NCAA basketball playoffs, offices everywhere will deal with the annual problem of how to keep the games from affecting their team’s productivity. When employees can watch games on phones, tablets or desktops (and click off quickly), internet control becomes a concern? The dilemma of how to regulate employees’ on-line time isn’t limited to March Madness. It’s an ongoing struggle for small businesses. Even if you can control and monitor employee desktop use, can you do so when they’re out of the office on business or when they’re checking their smartphones at their desk? Employees’ unregulated Internet use can have serious consequences for a business, whether their streaming games overloads your Internet connection so that real work slows to a crawl, or whether they’re posting items on social media that you don’t want your competition to see. How do you draw the line?

Through experience, I learned that treating employees like children gets bad results, but treating them like adults works. I suggest being honest with your team in some simple steps:

Focus on results. Acknowledge that most people will waste time Facebooking, shopping online or checking sports scores. That’s how we take breaks today-and many studies have suggested that these types of breaks (within reason) actually boost productivity. What matters most is whether employees get their work done. If the Internet starts to interfere with that, then you must have a conversation about it.

Set ground rules. You should set some ground rules for Internet use, especially when it comes to your business’s sensitive data, keeping your network and customer information safe. You install as many firewalls as you like, but human error is still the main way computer viruses spread and data leaks occur. Ensure your employees know what type of information can and can’t be shared, what protections you have in place and what common-sense rules to follow.

Be vigilant about technology. If you don’t have a staff IT person, retain a freelance IT consultant who can make sure your business has the right software patches, firewalls and network security measures. You can’t expect to keep your business safe if you don’t keep your technology up to date. This is an important part of your job.

Stay aware of internet interests. Employee interest will soon shift from the NCAA to the NBA playoffs. (Go Warriors!) Maybe your employees are following other issues or events on line. If you know how your workers are using their non-business online time, you may find ways to creatively funnel their interests into increased work productivity. By making your awareness (and your willingness to accept reasonable diversions) known, you may be taking the first step toward controlling excessive use of media access.

Events like March Madness can be team-builders or catastrophes, depending on how you approach them. If you’re struggling with this kind of management or technology issue, a meeting with a SCORE counselor might help. Visit the SCORE website to get matched with your mentor today.