The Pearl Jam song your employee streams while he works on company growth reports may help his focus, but it's most definitely slowing down your network. Video and music streaming, along with file and application downloads are killing your network and, in turn, hurting your business by clogging up bandwidth. Many employees may have no clue that while they are streaming Adele's newest video, they are also affecting the company. They might even ask, "What is bandwidth, anyway, and why should I care?"
Related: Are Your Employees Time Thieves?
Breaking down bandwidth
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transferred through a connection in a certain amount of time. The amount of bandwidth a company has depends on the Internet provider and network settings, notes WiseGeek. It is often described as being like a pipe that data is trying to get through. The more that tries to get through at once, the tighter the squeeze. If the squeeze is really tight, everything slows down, sometimes to a halt.
Video and music streaming are some of the biggest bandwidth bandits. Employees tend to stream music from sites such as Pandora and Spotify while they work. The higher the quality of the music, the more bandwidth it's using. The same goes for video. Just 20 minutes of non-work-related use (around four songs) can cost a 100-employee business around $8,000 a week, according to SurfControl and Gartner reports that non-work-related web surfing can cost a company a 40% loss in productivity.
Apps are another draw on bandwidth space. Skype and other video messaging apps that are popular for conferencing need a lot of available bandwidth to work properly. If the company bandwidth is "clogged," it can cause delays and even call drops from customers, colleagues and potential clients. This can result in a loss of productivity, and even possible business relationships.
A survey released by Internet management solutions provider Burstek estimates 20% of business bandwidth costs are due to personal use, not work use. Besides affecting the functionality of the applications an employee may have open, strains on bandwidth can also slow down the entire network, causing a giant slow-down to everyone in the company. Email and other websites will be slow to load, and some streaming sites won't work at all.
Related: Outsource your IT services.
How to manage your employees' bandwidth use
Every company should have a technology policy. Prohibit streaming, downloading, and other actions that you wish to keep from clogging the bandwidth. Next, give examples of the kinds of apps, sites and programs that are prohibited. The policy should also specify bandwidth and network use by department - if, for example, the marketing department needs access to YouTube. Lastly, there should be a statement that acknowledges the employee read and understood, along with the penalties for breaking policy.
Even with a policy in place, some businesses also utilize technology that can assist with controlling the bandwidth use of its staff. A few of the options include firewalls, security appliances and Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration Server. Certain systems will block access to popular streaming sites.
Some employees could find workarounds to get on the sites they want by using proxy sites or other hacking tricks, which could open up your network to viruses and malware. Viruses and malware will take down your network (and its bandwidth) faster than a few streamed videos, and bring you business day to a grinding halt.
Getting a handle on your company's bandwidth use can be fairly simple if you have the right tools to monitor, limit, and possibly prohibit certain uses. You also have to be fair and honest with your employees.
Do you have tips for managing company bandwidth? Share them in the comments.
About the Author: Katie Sluiter is a freelance writer and teacher who should probably be grading papers or changing diapers but is more likely blogging, tweeting, or just overusing social media in general. She chronicles all this on her blog, Sluiter Nation.