There’s little question that the Internet is the most significant technological innovation to hit the business world in the past handful of decades. Of course, as more than a few managers have discovered, it can also be a tool leveraged for counterproductivity as well. The past 10 years have seen companies struggle to find balance between the usefulness of the Web, and its capacity for distraction among the workforce. HR departments have wrestled with the most effective Internet usage policies, and if your company is in the same boat, there are a few things to keep in mind.

An official HR concern
It didn’t take long after the widespread adoption of in-house Internet for companies to realize that the instant access to information came at the price of equally immediate distraction and entertainment. Far beyond checking personal email, the Web is awash with online entertainment sites in the form of games, videos and articles designed to be instant time-wasters. As the Society for Human Resource Management pointed out, between 30 and 40 percent of time workers spend online at the office isn’t job-related. The research indicates that off-the-books Web browsing can run the gamut of anything from online shopping to browsing pornography. Regardless of the specific form online distraction takes, HR and management have a pressing need to monitor and control Internet usage to prevent productivity from taking too great a hit.

Understanding the behavior
While it may seem encouraging to adopt a scorched-earth policy when it comes to blocking all non-essential websites, the truth is that not all personal Internet usage is bad. As Human Resource Executive Online indicated, taking e-breaks during the day to check email and keep up with social networks may actually serve a productive purpose, akin to taking coffee breaks or even a lunch hour. Additionally, as the source stated, employees who work more sedentary jobs are more likely to succumb to the sort of boredom and disengagement that drives casual Web browsing than those with more physical jobs. Longer working hours can also put strain on staff’s ability to take care of functions like banking or shopping in off-hours as well.

What can HR do?
The task management is faced with is cultivating an environment where workers can blow off steam online without tanking productivity. HR solutions designed around increasing workplace engagement in general can help, as such solutions can remove a major motivator to hop online in the first place.