Unauthorised Internet Usage at Work

In the early days of the internet, some companies and organisations instigated quite draconian policies concerning deploying office equipment for personal usage; using a computer for personal reasons was either banned or only allowed during defined periods like lunchtime.  However, this was before everyone was equipped with their own Smartphone or tablet.


It is almost impossible to totally lock down the internet during standard office hours to work reasons only without turning the office environment into a police state.  However, there can be safety and security issues if employees are left without any system of checks and balances.  Some internet access for personal reasons is inevitable and it is more practical to accept this and set out clear and reasonable guidelines for employees to adhere to regarding tech in the workplace.


The problem with the internet is that it is interwoven into people’s lives and it can be a huge distraction, just answering that Facebook message or monitoring an item on an auction site.  Mobile phones are never put away but are placed in full view on the desk ready for attention as soon as they spring into life although there are companies which ban the use of mobiles during the day.


Known as ‘cyberslacking’ or ‘cyberloafing’, this constant level of distraction can really eat into productivity and some studies estimate that the loss of work could be as much as 20% of the working day.


Spotting cyberslacking


There are a range of behaviours which are commonplace and these include:-


  • Messaging and chatting on a Smartphone whilst working
  • Internet browsing which can be very time-consuming and uses available bandwidth
  • Using company email accounts for personal or private communications
  • Posting on social media which is incredibly distracting and may also have security implications


Implementing systems of control


It is far better to accept some internet usage during work time rather than trying to ban it which only causes resentment amongst staff and can also be quite difficult to police.


There should be a clearly defined policy on internet usage whether on a company or personal electronic device.  The company’s assets don’t just include electronic equipment but also the internet bandwidth and time diverted away from the business in lost man-hours. 


The policy should be communicated at all new employees’ inductions and compliance should be incorporated into the company’s terms and conditions attached to the contract of employment.  This should include what would happen in the event of any transgressions and whether disciplinary procedures will be appropriate and in what specific circumstances.



As part of continual monitoring and assessment, awareness of this policy and the dangers of unrestricted internet usage can be incorporated into compulsory online training alongside other modules like equality and diversity and bullying in the workplace.


The IT team or department can block any sites which are deemed suspect, distasteful or not related to work.


The challenge of working from home


Working from home is something of an art form and can be particularly challenging at the moment when children are often at home as well as other working adults.  There are plenty of physical disruptions in addition to unauthorised internet usage for personal reasons.



There is a choice of ‘ work from home’ monitoring and tracking systems which can evaluate how much work is really getting done; introducing these systems requires tact and diplomacy although employees who are genuinely committed to their jobs will not be resistant to them.  They are also a good way to log daily activities and better manage work allocation amongst a workforce which may be largely remote during the current global pandemic.  Since the start of the lockdown, these systems have become incredibly popular.


Simple screen capturing software and other interactive elements can easily assess how much work is being done and it can help groups of remote workers who may be used to working together in the same location, better share the work between them.


Tracking systems allow employers and managers to offer positive feedback and praise; they can be a very constructive tool if used in the right way.


Setting the standard


Senior executives and managers should lead by example and not expect their employees to desist from internet browsing and messaging if that’s what they are doing.


Creating a culture from the top of motivating staff members particularly those in remote locations is important to keep the focus on work.  Motivational programmes and targets for employees with real-time feedback can work well.  Engagement with company objectives can make it easier to impose restrictions on tech usage at work without them being viewed as draconian and severe.  A demotivated and disengaged workforce are far more likely to browse online and resent any attempts to interfere with this.


The art is to create a balance between prescribed guidelines and trust so technology usage is permitted during downtime breaks and without a requirement to police unauthorised usage outside these times.


Life has never been more distracting with gadgets and devices constantly competing for attention and many people also facing the challenge of working from busy homes with other family members during the lockdown.  Some clear checks and balances can create a workable solution for employers to ensure they receive productive output from their staff and to help manage the enormous temptation and distraction that is present in the 24/7 digital age.


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