Internet policy can be a struggle for many small to medium businesses.

The rise of social media has made it necessary to craft a comprehensive policy that protects the company’s brand as well as its technology assets. Much of the difficulty in crafting a strong internet policy today is a matter of protecting the company vs. expectations of policy.

Decide how much freedom, if any, employees have on their work computers.
Most people agree that excessive use of a company computer for personal business or communications can be a real problem in the workplace that needs to be addressed by an internet policy. Some companies find it best to not allow any personal browsing or communicating to take place on company machines. Sometimes this is enforced by the blocking of certain sites or monitoring employee usage.

Other experts point out that allowing some usage may be beneficial as social networking has become the “water cooler” of today’s world. Some feel that allowing employee’s a small amount of time to create a post on facebook, or reply to an email on breaks or downtime is a valuable perk. However, it is essential that any internet policy discourages and prohibits excessive use that interferes with productivity.

Monitoring internet behavior.
Some companies find if beneficial to monitor online usage. Other companies rely on the honor system. This is a decision that each company has to make based on their needs and the employees who work for them. Many small businesses may feel that they know and trust their employees enough to not engage in monitoring or very little if they do. Other companies with low productivity may find it necessary to monitor more frequently.

There are a few things to consider in regards to monitoring. First is that all monitoring activities should be disclosed verbally and in the written internet policy. There is also a danger in losing productivity by over monitoring as well. Finding a balance and understanding the specific needs of monitoring to your company are essential.

Prohibit all non-approved downloads.
A bad download can introduce the network to mal-ware and viruses. There are the obvious downloads to avoid, such as games, e-books, and other non-business related downloads. However, there are many times where a well-meaning employee may download a piece of software to help them with their productivity. It may be a new font, a scheduling utility, or a faster browser. A comprehensive policy should discourage against this practice. If an employee feels that a download will be helpful, they should discuss this with the IT department and allow them to make any downloads and installations.

Protect your message, address social networking.
A strong internet policy should address employee’s use of social networking. A company’s message is carefully crafted to convey value to prospective and existing clientele. A simple tweet or facebook blog can damage this message in the matter of a few clicks. An internet policy should communicate to employees that it is unacceptable post in regards to the company. The post may even be well-meaning and positive, but if it is followed by a picture from a Saturday night best forgotten, a political opinion, or any other personal information, it can present the wrong image to the world.

This does not mean an employer should constantly monitor employee’s personal social media. A company could quickly lose valuable employees as well as fail to attract other employees if it has the reputation of invading personal privacy. It is a good idea, however, to keep an eye of public mentions of your company in online space.

Disciplinary actions and communication.
A company’s disciplinary actions for internet misconduct should be in alignment with the company’s existing disciplinary policy. The usual procedures of verbal warnings, written warnings and termination need to be clearly stated.

An essential component to introducing a new internet policy to openly communicate this policy with employees. Many employees will be concerned about invasion of privacy, or other issues. Openly discussing the needs of a comprehensive internet policy while listening and addressing the concerns of the policy will ensure a smoother implantation.

There will always be new challenges when dealing with your business and the internet. It’s important to grow with these changes and re-examine the policy on a regular basis. An effective internet policy can protect productivity and the company’s image. If your company does not have a policy in place or said policy is out of date, now is the time to change that.