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Should You Ban Personal Web/Emails In The Office?
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Should You Ban Personal Web/Emails In The Office?

Can workers be trusted to use it with respect?

When a business makes a decision to ban something - beards, for example - it needs to ensure it has a strong, clear reason to do so. When housing maintenance company Mears Group announced a ban on beards, there were understandably a fair few scratching of chins, but actually the reason was down to health and safety, the group arguing that in order for dust masks to be a tight fit, workers needed to be clean shaven.

Away from the construction site, the office has its own tool that’s a source of regular debate: the Internet. Since the Internet became commonplace in both business and the home, the issue of productivity has lurked in the background. We have written before on this blog about the need for a social media policy, but beyond Twitter and Facebook, should businesses be concerned about how their employees are using the web at work?

Within most office-based businesses, you expect to see employees browsing the web to organise their social life for the evening, catch up on the latest news, or send personal emails. It is accepted among reasonable employers that their staff are going to do all this to some extent, because having access to the Internet for business purposes is always going to result in some crossover on a personal level. Of course, this could, arguably, have an impact on productivity if left unchecked.

Companies can take action against personal web use, of course, blocking certain URLs from staff wanting to access external blogs and sites. In other cases, firms can monitor employees’ Internet activity, keeping a close eye on which websites are being visited and ensuring that staff are made aware (most likely in the company handbook or contract of work) about any such monitoring policy.


Man using a laptop, maybe for personal web use
If staff spend some of their day looking at non-work-related websites and email, it might cost you man hours, but it can be good for morale too. Finding the right balance is up to you.


Striking A Balance

Is monitoring web use generally considered a useful practice? As is usually the case with such things, there are pros and cons. While concerns about individuals abusing web access are understandable, it’s worth remembering that employees are far more likely to value an organisation that they perceive as valuing and trusting them. Monitoring web use in order to manage the small percentage of staff who might take advantage of that trust could result in ill-feeling among the entire workforce.

It’s all about balance. Employers should make all staff aware of any web/email policies and explain why those policies are in place. With clear and sensible policies, there is less of a requirement for monitoring activity and also a greater opportunity to develop trust and personal responsibility among staff.

One company famously took a more drastic approach.. France-based IT services company Atos took a bold step in 2011, as the company CEO, Thierry Breton, announced that the organisation was to ban internal emails. Recognising the problem of ‘email pollution’ and the subsequent impact on productivity, Breton (who had already been following a zero-email policy himself prior to bestowing it upon the whole company) felt that as the majority of his staff couldn’t keep up with the amount of mail received, and that the time and stress wasted in trying to do so was counterproductive, he simply took the bold step of banning it.

How did that work out? According to a Forbes article in 2016, pretty well. In fact, email wasn’t exactly banned, and the company failed to reach its zero-email target, but communication did still change dramatically. Atos implemented a social network for the organisation that would enable a more productive means of working - allowing users to engage in discussions but not feel forced to do so as any messages were not automatically sent to employees as with an email (employees could join discussions and see the whole conversation at a time convenient to them). As a result, employees reportedly felt more productive and collaborative.

Such a policy can work, then, and there is undoubtedly a case to be had for improving productivity by keeping online access for purely work purposes. But surely, in most cases, it’s better to develop a workplace culture built on trust and self-regulation?

If you need help setting up web and email policies in your business, TMB can help. Contact us today to find out more.