Access to the internet is integral for employees in all modern Australian businesses. It’s expected and essential for many jobs.

Recent figures illustrate just how much we depend on the World Wide Web and how those resistant to technology were forced to engage with the internet during lockdowns.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s December 2022 report:

  • In 2022, accessing the internet became near-universal, with 99 per cent of Australian adults going online in the six months to June – a significant rise from 90 per cent in 2019.
  • Internet use for those aged 65 and over surged in 2020.
  • Internet use for 65 to 74-year-olds increased from 71 per cent in 2019 (pre-COVID) to 98 per cent in 2022.
  • The proportion of those aged 75 and over who are now online has almost doubled, from 52 per cent to 94 per cent.
  • In June 2022, 93 per cent of Australian adults had a home internet connection.
  • Most use mobile phones to connect to the internet (94 per cent of online adults), followed by laptops, smart TVs, and tablets.

With the rising reliance on the internet in the workplace, the issue of controlling staff internet use is a topic of ongoing debate. The argument for controlling staff internet use often stems from a desire to maintain productivity in the workplace. Distractions such as social media, online shopping, and personal email can all divert employees’ attention away from their tasks, resulting in reduced efficiency and output. By regulating internet use, employers aim to curtail distractions and enhance overall productivity.

So, how can employers best regulate staff internet use in line with current legislation and workplace standards, especially in the era of working from home?

Before you control staff internet access, check what the law says

Essentially, the law supports staff rights to access the internet.

The question of workplace communication and internet use at work – and whether an internet policy is necessary– raises important legal and ethical considerations. In Australia, employees have rights to privacy and freedom of expression, even within the confines of the workplace. The Fair Work Act 2009 outlines that employers cannot unreasonably infringe upon these rights.

On top of breaching their rights, there is retention of staff to factor in. Excessive monitoring of online activities could lead to employees feeling their privacy is invaded and could result in negative morale and reduced job satisfaction.

The rise of flexible working arrangements and remote work has added another layer of complexity to the issue of internet control. With many employees working from home or off-site locations, the traditional model of direct supervision is no longer as feasible. While remote work offers greater flexibility, it also requires a higher level of trust between employers and employees. All remote workers are reliant on internet access to communicate with their teams and complete tasks effectively, and so blocking access to certain websites could hinder their ability to research, communicate, and collaborate.

Here’s a helpful hint: as an employer, shift your focus from controlling internet use to assessing staff performance based on results and deliverables. This means that internet use can go hand in hand with productivity.

I need to regulate staff internet use – but how to do it?

There are multiple strategies that may be implemented to control staff internet usage, and these include:

  1. Internet usage policies: employers should establish comprehensive internet usage policies that clearly define acceptable online behaviour, outlining what constitutes acceptable use of the internet during work hours.
  2. Selective restrictions: rather than implementing broad restrictions, consider selectively blocking access to certain websites and platforms while leaving room for employees to access sites that are relevant to their work.
  3. The trust-based approach: build a culture of trust by focusing on results rather than micro-managing internet use. Trusting employees to manage their own time and deliverables can foster a more positive work environment.
  4. Periodic reviews: regularly review internet usage policies to ensure they remain relevant and effective. Technology and work practices evolve, so policies should adapt accordingly.

We create policies on all sorts of subjects every single day.

If you need to commence disciplinary action against one of your employees over their internet use, it’s best to check your policies within enableHR first to ensure you’re doing the right thing.

More widely, if you’re unsure about how to best implement control measures in your workplace or would like assistance in creating a tailored internet use policy for your employees, get in touch with enableHR. This easy intuitive software helps you ditch the paperwork and embrace automation and anytime access whether you’re at work, at home, or places in between so you can make your HR controlled, consistent and compliant –this means efficiency in things like sending your staff an Internet Use Policy, or updating on workplace expectations, or even revising contracts to specify agreed internet use.

To set up great contracts, policies, and customise many parts of your HR – with outstanding employee self-service – talk to enableHR today.