Peer-to-Peer: Stopping Web wasters

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


“Every time I walk by one of my employees’ desk, he quickly closes a window on his computer. How do I know if my staff are wasting time surfing the Web and sending personal e-mails, and can I really do anything about it?”

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Reader responses

Bill Kennedy, Serenic Software Canada:

Focus on the employee, not the Internet. There are an unlimited number of distractions to draw people away from their work. On the other hand, if the employee’s work is clearly defined, with measurable goals, the employee and the supervisor can rate the employee’s performance. Then the conversation will be whether or not the employee is meeting the goals, not whether they were on the Internet or not.

Les Faber, Faber & Associates:

You can assume right off the bat that almost all employees will spend personal time on the Net, especially if you have a fast connection at your facility. That aside, I would suggest a couple of ways to address this.

First, make sure all employees receive a copy of your “Code of Conduct,” which should include words pertaining to use / misuse of company property, systems, etc. This is only fair, and a method to make sure all employees are well aware of the “rules of the road.”

You didn’t mention what type of performer this employee is. If they are a poor performer, misuse of computing equipment could be only the tip of the iceberg. You and your HR person (if you have one) will have to address the situation in a clear and succinct manner. Do not single the person out publicly. It will only result in embarrassment for everyone around.

Another, less open method is to ask your IT person to monitor your employee’s computer use. There are plenty of ways to do this. Remember, you own the computer and the network it runs on. Hence you have some responsibility (and liability) for what goes on with it.

Laurie Walker, Knowledge Base Consulting Services:

Develop an Internet time usage policy and stick to it — which also includes the business owner, managers, etc.

Recognize that people will use the Internet for non-work, such as instant messaging, browsing, etc. Set up times when this is permitted, such as pre-work, during breaks, over lunch hour, etc. This shows you accept that people use the Internet for other than work-related things. It reflects, however, that you would prefer to have people actually working during working hours.

Use your system logs to track Internet usage, and make this part of your policy known to employees. Post total hours spent browsing, messaging, e-mails, etc., and then display that which could feasibly be work-related and that which is not. This should not be such a big issue and should be done weekly. Do not single out individuals in this process or list the sites visited. Non-work-related hours should not equal more than the total amount of breaks and lunch / personal time that the employees have. Do not include pre / post-work hours when employees are online, as this is permissible according to your time usage policy. If you do not have a network, require employees to send or print time logs or history pages each day from their computers. Savvy users will be able to erase, modify or clear their histories, so use your administrative tools to limit their permissions.

If you do have an employee who is Web wasting beyond an acceptable level, talk to that person and deal with the problem. S/he may have an explanation that is work-related, such as research that was not initially obvious. However, quite often it is a real problem — some people are addicted to certain sites or activities. If you have such a case, seek advice from an HR professional and/or a lawyer. You want to treat this case right and display that you have done everything possible to remedy the situation before the employee was fired.

Jim Green, City Freenet:

Before you start investigating your employee for using company time and equipment for personal use, you must be certain that your company has a policy that prohibits the acts in question and that you have communicated this clearly in writing to all staff. The policy should also indicate that computers used by employees are company property and subject to monitoring. The policy should clearly state that employees will be disciplined for contravening this policy.

Once it is clear that everyone understands the policy, then you can monitor for inappropriate behaviour. Check the Internet history and sent e-mail logs on each computer regularly, and notify each employee who contravenes the policy in writing of their error, that it is unacceptable and that further infractions will lead to sanctions as per the progressive discipline policy of the company. The employee should be warned that continued contraventions could lead to dismissal.

Jim Love, True North Consulting:

You are focusing on the wrong things, my friend. Don’t get me wrong. I understand how you feel. We run our own business, so every wasted hour is money we are paying for no results. But people have been wasting time in offices since long before J.C. Dithers caught Dagwood napping at his desk. And, despite all kinds of efforts to the contrary, they will continue to do so. If you are old enough, you remember somebody who was always at the photocopier, copying some dumb joke which was dutifully distributed to friends. Later it was faxes. Or how about the baseball / football / hockey pool? Or just yakking on the phone.

Nope, trying to stamp it out is a losing game. And in the process you will demotivate those who may be using the Internet occasionally to do things that, in former times, they might have called in sick to do. Does that mean you can’t do anything? Of course it doesn’t. But let’s walk on past that desk, go into your office, sit down, relax and think about this. Why are you mad? Not because some employee is wasting his time. Because they’re wasting your time. And why is it your time and not his time? Because you’re paying him to do something: to get results.

If the employee gets results, but still wastes his time, do you care? Not unless he’s keeping others from working. Chances are, the real problem is that you aren’t measuring him on results. Too many businesses spend their time managing the inputs. Who is working, how much time, how much do we spend on paper clips? My advice is to forget all that and measure results on a no-excuses basis. Don’t ask how much time a salesperson spent on the phone. That’s inputs. Ask how many meetings they have lined up for next week. How many of those will turn into full prospects? How many into sales? And by when?

It’s not easy. Despite the challenges, those who do it effectively not only get results, but every once in a while, they stop by the employee’s desk, and that employee shows them what they were looking at instead of hiding it. They build trust and maybe even commitment.

For his answer, Jim Love will receive a copy of Breakthrough: Stories and Strategies of Radical Innovation, by Mark Stefik and Barbara Stefik (MIT Press).

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com