In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Pro Forma Guideline on Internet Usage


There has been some discussion as to the time spent by employees surfing the net, during working time. The management of some companies are beginning to feel concerned that this is proving to be a time wasting temptation to some members of staff. These companies, in response to this perceived threat, seek to limit employees access to the internet.

I myself have had personal experience of an organisation where those members of staff who wished to have access to the internet, and email facilities, had to complete a form; stating why they needed it. This form would then be assessed by a committee, if you were lucky you may have the connection up within six weeks!

This is of course totally absurd. We live in the 21st century, the internet has become part of our lives; whether the “ostriches of 19th century management” like it or not. Specifically, it isn’t going to go away!

It is my view that knowledge of both the contents, and techniques, of the internet enhance the individual’s skill set; and hence benefit the company he/she is employed by. I do recognise that, at times, the systems offered to employees can be abused. However, if you treat people as adults; explaining where the boundaries of reasonable/unreasonable usage lie, they will in general act responsibly.

Therefore I have put together a simple, non prescriptive, pro forma guideline that companies could incorporate into their codes of conduct (to read my article Codes of Conduct click here).


This guideline is intended to form part of a company’s code of conduct. As such breaches of this guideline would constitute a breach of the code, and shall constitute a notifiable event; requiring registration and action (as deemed appropriate) by the management responsible for implementation of the code.

The company expects that staff will use the internet, email and telephone facilities in a responsible manner. The use of these facilities is encouraged, where the use is for business purposes and supports the goals and objectives of the company.

However, the company expects the following general principles to be adhered to :

 The above systems are company assets; and as such should be used for business purposes. However, personal use of the internet may take place during non work time so long as it does not interfere with an employee’s performance and does not contravene the other rules laid out below.

 It is in the interests of the company, and its employees, that individual members of staff are fully conversant with technological innovations such as the internet.

 A cost conscious approach should be adopted by users when determining which facility to use, and when to use it, eg email is less expensive than a phone call.

 The use of the facilities to access/distribute sexual, offensive, illegal, religious or political material is strictly prohibited.

 Employees shall not allow others (including family members) to use the facilities.

 Employees shall abide by the principle of privacy with regard to other individuals’ facilities, eg unless the owner has given permission, colleagues’ email boxes shall not be read.

 The nature of the internet is such that it accessible to all (including “quacks”). Therefore, information retrieved from the internet, intended to be used for decision making purposes, should be validated for authenticity before being used.

 It is a violation of company policy for any employee, including system administrator (other than for system maintenance) to access information of the system without the employee’s knowledge. However, access without the employee’s knowledge may occur where permission has been granted by senior management when they have taken legal advice.

 The company retains the right to access and disclose information in these systems in order to protect its interests, or when required to by law. Accordingly, employees should not have any expectation of privacy regarding the use of these systems and information stored therein.

 Employees who inadvertently access information or messages that are in breach of the above should notify their senior line manager.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The Implications of the Higgs and Smith Reports

The publication of the Higgs and Smith reports, in response to the major corporate failures of 2001/2002, will add to the responsibilities of both executive and non-executive directors of companies; in relation to corporate governance issues.

A number of the key points include, but are not limited to, the following:

 The audit committee should consist of at least three people, all being independent non-executive directors.

 Fifty percent of the Board will have to be independent non-executives.

 At least one member of the audit committee should have relevant financial/audit experience. It is further desirable that this member have a professional qualification, from one of the professional accounting bodies.

 The key role of the audit committee is to monitor the effectiveness of the company’s internal audit function and to review the company’s internal financial control and risk management system.

 Another key role of the audit committee is to monitor the integrity of the financial statements and significant financial judgements.

 A senior independent non-executive should accompany the executives to the AGM.

 Non compliance with the proposals will need to be explained in the annual report.

 Companies which do not have an internal audit function should consider the need for one annually.

It is currently unlikely that companies that are not listed in London will be obliged to follow these proposals. However, it can be assumed that as a matter of best practice these principles of good corporate governance will be implemented by ethical international companies (be they listed in London or not).

I am a firm believer in the maxim “it is better to be a leader than a follower”; and as such would recommend to any company wishing to enhance its reputation, and by definition brand value, that the recommendations of these reports be implemented sooner rather than later.

It is likely that the demand for non-executive directors will dramatically increase; as companies come to realise that the current “old boys’ network,” of friends serving on each others boards, simply does not fit with the requirements of the proposals.

However, being able to find suitably qualified, truly independent directors; willing to take on the responsibilities envisaged will be a challenge.