Providing internet access at work can create some management issues. However, the correct solution to those problems is not to be overly restrictive on access to the internet.
Obviously, the most important thing is doing the work of the organization: there is no excuse for employees ignoring customers or pressing needs to IM with their friends or browse the web. However, if you hire responsible people and manage properly – maintaining a proper work culture, etc., you should respect and trust your employees.
Internet access does create the potential for abuse. And I think it may well require more management involvement to assure it is not abused (because the temptation is so great) but much of that management involvement is probably a good thing. Management, in general, is too far removed from what is actually going on (see Dilbert’s pointy haired boss).
So coach and work with your employees to make sure they behave responsibly. The information available on the internet can aid employees in doing their job in many ways. And it can also aid them in living their lives – don’t discount this benefit. It might be hard for many companies to match benefits like free food, free massages, on site day care, on site dry cleaning, volleyball courts… but providing internet access is very easy. Yes, it might well add some additional effort to supervisors responsibilities, but the benefits far outweigh the costs (and, as stated above, some cost of additional management focus and interaction will provide benefits because they are too out of touch now).
As the article below discusses how new entrants to the workforce do not see connectivity as something that is a nice addition to regular life (and something that can be turned off at work). Companies that don’t understand this are going to have a great deal of difficulty attracting and keeping workers. I know I wouldn’t work where my ability to use the internet was too restricted.
Internet Restrictions Turn Off Young Employees [the broken link was removed]
Comments from Fast Company web site visitors: Does limiting access to Web services make people more productive or less productive? [the broken link was removed]
Stifle Staff Web Abuse, Guidelines to Limit Worktime Surfing [the broken link was removed]