A New Policy for Internet Use in the Workplace

My Position: I Don't Care What You Do on the Web

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Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
PJA recently completed a major office renovation to unify a number of disparate spaces that we have added over the years. In the process, we carefully considered how we wanted people to work and what kind of culture we wanted to create. A big part of the design was to trade personal space for collaborative work areas and places to socialize. While we've always had an open floor plan, we took the final step and got rid of all private offices, with the exception of one for our finance director. Whatever remnants we had of private space are now completely gone. People adjusted quickly with relatively little drama. Tearing down the walls, however, has produced one unexpected result.

Today, when you take a walk around the office, you can see exactly what people are doing online. We're talking zero computer privacy, and it has created some uncomfortable moments. Approach someone's desk, and you may notice a few quick keystrokes, the blink of a Facebook page, and an awkward smile. God bless Tony Zappos, but we've got compulsive shoe buyers around here, male and female. (You'd think our reception desk was a Zappos loading dock.) Other big online winners include, in no particular order, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Twitter, and a couple hundred blogs. That's not to mention solitaire, Sudoku, and the occasional glimpse of medieval battles on "WOW" in the IT department. We're talking epidemic levels of surfing.

The whole thing puts me on the spot and creates a real conundrum. Understandably, people don't want me watching their online shopping habits, and in this economy who wants to be seen goofing off? You've got to admit, I have a legitimate concern about productivity. So, I decided to take action. While I'm not big on rules and regulations, I absolutely felt the need to set up guidelines for the agency on acceptable internet use.

After some deliberation, I arrived at a policy that works for me. It's short, it's direct, and it's very hard to misinterpret. I don't care what you do on the internet. (O.K. no porn, fundraising for terrorists, and online scams.) I'm not a babysitter, and we're all responsible adults, for the most part. Plus, nothing will kill creative energy and a spirit of collaboration faster than distrust and paranoia. My message to all of my colleagues is this: Please don't hide what you're doing online. No one cares. In fact, if you've found some cool application or content, definitely share it.

As an agency, we encourage people to follow new technologies and experiment with social networks. I can't exactly talk out of both sides of my mouth and limit that exploration during business hours. Who cares if a few pairs of shoes and some books get ordered in the process? Big deal. I'm glad that we've got people who understand and use all the platforms that make up the new marketing landscape.

This topic also ties into two strongly held management convictions. One, we've done everything we can to assemble the most talented people we can find. We care intensely about the quality of their values, their ideas, and their work. As long as we honor our commitments to our clients and each other, how and when people get stuff done is their business. Second, we live in a world that is always on. People don't shut off when they walk out the door. Their curiosity and life experiences all contribute to the success of the agency. We want to respect that spirit in the office as well.

Let's keep internet surfing out in the open to the degree that it's reasonable. Please don't flip to that Word document just because I show up. Who knows? I may see a pair of shoes on Zappos that I want. More importantly, remember the pendulum swings both ways. Don't be too harsh if you see me posting to Twitter or slipping in a few games of FreeCell.

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You can follow Phil Johnson on Twitter: @philjohnson.

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