Whether your employees work on a laptop, desktop or smartphone; from home, in the office or on the road, they are likely surrounded by distractions. Some employers reduce employee distractions by blocking certain websites. The goal of website-blocking policies is to increase productivity and minimize the business’s potential security and legal risks.
At the same time, other employers want more ways to encourage employee autonomy and balance in the workplace. In our modern hyper-connected work life, the easiest way to take a break can be online.
“No one can — or should — be working eight hours straight a day,” said Jonathan Prichard, founder and CEO of MattressInsider.com. “I have worked with many professionals who find their productivity increases when they schedule periodic breaks to use the web at their leisure while at work.”
As an employer, you decide whether or not to block employee access to any — or all — distracting websites. Before you make a company policy, consider the six different types of websites employers often block on company devices.
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Every business is different, so the web content you might consider blocking may vary. However, there are a few categories of websites that invariably present themselves as good candidates for blocking. Here’s a list of six categories of web content you might consider barring employees from accessing.
The most important websites to block are ones that are not suitable for work (NSFW), which could land you in legal trouble. There is no business reason for employees to be on adult or gambling websites during work hours. Furthermore, some of these websites pose a security risk to your network and devices, and can open your company up to hostile work environments and workplace harassment claims.
“These are offensive websites that we block to reduce legal liability in the workplace,” said Nishank Khanna, vice president of growth at Utility. “Things like pornography, gambling websites, etc.”
Business owners are split on whether or not it’s a good idea to block social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Social media is a clear distraction — 65 percent of employees believe Facebook hurts productivity, according to Udemy’s 2018 Workplace Distraction Report.
However, some business owners believe blocking these websites could paint employers as micromanagers or appear as if they don’t trust their employees.
“Instead of boxing in your employees by blocking social media, as a leader you should focus on results,” Khanna said. “As long as your people get the work done, there is no need to fret over them viewing social media accounts.”
Access to social media also enables more employees to serve as informal or formal brand ambassadors for your company. Brand ambassadors act as company cheerleaders who actively share news about your company’s products, services, and in some cases, its internal culture. Social media access is a necessity for employees who play this role, so consider limiting employees’ access based on their job descriptions and role in the company.
When you’re invested in a TV show, it can be hard to tune that out during work hours. In 2017, Netflix reported that 37 percent of its users admitted to watching the streaming service at work.
According to Statista, adults in the U.S. spent an average of 485 minutes (eight hours and five minutes) with digital media each day in 2021, an increase of 11 minutes compared to the previous year. The amount of time spent streaming Netflix has undoubtedly grown over the past few years.
When your employees are streaming movies, not a lot of work is getting done. If you notice employees watching videos, you may want to consider blocking websites such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and YouTube during work hours.
Wordle, Candy Crush and even Angry Birds are online games built to be addictive, keeping the user coming back. When your employees need a break, a digital game can be a quick break. But without limits, an employee can use their workday to rack up a new high score instead of meeting their work goals.
Alternatively, the best employee monitoring software offers features that can track employee software and application usage. If you want your employees to unwind during their lunch break with some gaming time, employee monitoring software can be configured to allow that type of web content while ensuring it isn’t accessible when employees are supposed to be working.
While blocking adult websites might seem obvious, some business owners have decided to block shopping websites as well. It’s easy for employees to get sucked into online shopping, so blocking websites such as Amazon, Target and Poshmark might improve employee productivity.
“We found that our employees were spending far too much time on these types of websites,” said Matthew Ross, co-owner and COO of The Slumber Yard. “After auditing the data, you wouldn’t believe how much time employees were wasting. In some cases, certain employees were spending over four hours a day surfing the net and shopping online.”
Whether your employees are swiping right or left on digital dating sites like Tinder or browsing profiles on Match.com, eHarmony and Hinge, they may be spending time more romancing and less time working. Blocking online dating sites from company work devices may also limit digital security risks from scammers or hackers — posing as potential romantic partners — who send messages and spyware to unsuspecting employees using work devices to check their personal messages.
Employee monitoring software provides website-blocking functionality for employers. In our review of these software platforms, we found a few solutions that offer exceptional web content filtering and monitoring tools.
InterGuard’s settings allow employers to set filters and block websites, or the type of content. It monitors a variety of communication channels, including websites, USB storage, email, social media and instant messaging, as well as programs, file transfers, printing and keystrokes. Plus, InterGuard offers customization by user role, so you can set access policies for different employee roles or departments. InterGuard is considered the best bet for monitoring remote workers because of customization features and compatibility.
Read our InterGuard review for more information.
Veriato’s offerings include a rarely found feature in employee software monitoring marketing — the ability to identify employees accessing dark web addresses at .onion URLs. It makes the distinction between users and devices, tracking the activity of one employee across multiple devices (i.e., a desktop PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet with a single-user license). The software offers URL blocking, document tracking, keystroke logging, email and app monitoring, as well as social media, printer and USB monitoring. This platform is considered the strongest for monitoring employee productivity, making it an attractive tool for employers interested in employee retention.
Read our Veriato review for more information.
ActivTrak allows employers to block and filter specific sites by specific web content types. It also tracks what users type in web browsers and applications, USBs, and advanced Slack and Microsoft Teams notifications for employers. You can customize your company’s own “unproductive” website or application, or use the default settings for 95 percent of user activities. This software is considered the strongest for analytics because of its reporting features and metrics available for managers and employers.
Read our ActivTrak review for more information.
Teramind can block, filter and/ or track employee access and usage by website or by category of site. The starter plan can track or block certain website and app visits, as well as file transfers, USBs, chats and social media. Customizable settings include unique profile settings for different user groups, and a freelancer mode for personal devices. Teramind is considered the best for security-focused companies and industries because it provides granular monitoring data to managers, including security settings and alerts.
Read our Teramind review for more information.
If you decide to restrict certain websites or categories from work devices, you should also create an internet use policy explaining your decision. Be transparent with your employees and explain what websites are being blocked and why. Or, if you want to give your employees more freedom, you can use employee monitoring software rather than blocking websites outright. This practice can ensure employees have some autonomy over their online break time in the workplace while adding guard rails to reduce any negative impact on employee productivity or company security.