When Does ‘Reasonable Supervision’ Become ‘Big Brother’?

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith

POSTED ON MAY 30, 2010

(An amended version of a recent company wide memo concerning internet access policies)

A couple of years back, it was suggested that our company should ban access to Facebook and other social media sites, as these were obviously ‘personal use’ applications irrelevant to ’doing your job’. My reply was that I would support this when we also banned football pools – a significant Friday afternoon time waster at EllisDon.

Or this: A recently retired Senior Project Manager at EllisDon would often visit his stock trading site during work days; I was well aware of this. I also knew that he worked nights and week-ends; that he knew his projects’ plans and spec’s better than any sub or consultant; that his clients were always happy and that he made EllisDon a fortune. I am a firm believer in ‘ROWE’: a ‘results oriented work environment’.

But of course it’s never that simple. Along with freedom and trust, mutual respect and professionalism must also be core values. It’s about the right balance. No-one would suggest that we should allow access to porn or ‘hate’ sites. Go ahead and check your lottery outcomes on company time if you really must, but generally, internet gambling is clearly an unacceptable workplace activity.

And finally, many of our clients are beginning to insist that we have very tight internet access policies on their projects. Agree with them or not, they pay our salaries.

Our current firewall policies are extremely lenient in comparison to most large corporations. As a result, we are constantly cleaning up viruses which can threaten the entire EllisDon network. The virus activity we see is usually a direct result of inappropriate Internet browsing or people attempting to download unregistered software copies (for which EllisDon is legally liable). Many companies we work with have their systems completely locked down so they are not able to view any content that is not directly related to their position. And yet still we get complaints.

Creating the ideal, values-based work environment (freedom, trust, mutual accountability, mutual respect, professionalism) is like seeking perfection in anything. It’s a zen journey, always seeking, never quite arriving. With everyone’s help, we will keep striving, and balancing, and improving. There is no clear cut answer and we will keep working at it together. But above all we must always treat one another respectfully. That’s a core value can be never compromised.