Not so long ago it would have been ridiculous to ask a new employer to give you free TV, free Movies, free Mail, free Music, and a free TV camera and crew at your house in case you wanted to work from home and conduct a meeting with coworkers. Yet, with the internet, all of these things and more are at the fingertips of most office employees. And a growing number of employees will use some or all of these services for personal use while under your roof and on the clock.

Many employees use much more bandwidth than is necessary to do their jobs. But as a business owner, what can you do about it? First of all, you’ve got to let your employees know that bandwidth is a commodity. Just like electricity, water, and leasing building space, bandwidth is a necessary expense you need to keep your business running. But unlike all the others, the amount of bandwidth you truly need varies based on the workload. But it can also be overused by employees who stream videos, stream music or play video games between completing company tasks. So who are these Bandwidth Bandits? Let’s take a look at the most likely culprits.

VIDEO: Does your company upload or store video content on a daily basis? Many companies do these days, especially for Marketing and Training purposes. But what about the videos that are being watched in-between company projects? Viewing TV shows or movies online uses about 1 GB of data per hour for standard definition video, and up to 3 GB per hour for HD video. Downloading and streaming consume about the same amount of data. And since just about everything online is HD quality, you can see that video content is usually the most guilty bandwidth abuser in your office.

WIFI: Everything that is available to your employees through their internet connection is available through Wifi. But the extra signal drainers Wifi puts on bandwidth are the users who connect their phones to wifi so they can save on their personal data plan. So at no extra cost to them, they can watch streaming video on their phones. Some people also use their phones to play streaming video games while on, (or off), their lunch breaks. Just being connected puts a small drain on your Wifi, but all the rest can slow your network down to a crawl.

THE CLOUD: Using the Cloud adds a lot of flexibility to your business. And the scalability allows you to tailor your bandwidth needs as your company’s needs grow or shrink. But the amount of bandwidth usage varies as more and more files and programs are shared through the Cloud. With subscription-based software programs becoming the norm, there’s data floating in and out of your employee’s workstations all day. And if you use heavy-hitting data drainers, like HD video files, that are shared between two or more employees, your Cloud gets weighed down fairly quickly. If not monitored properly, excess data usage through the Cloud can clog your system like hair in a bathtub drain.

FILE SHARING: Gone are the days when you had to copy a large file onto an external device, a CD or DVD if you wanted to share it with someone. Today there are no files too large to be shared through services like Dropbox. But these large files can slow down your network if you’re not careful. Even sharing smaller files, like documents, photos or audio files will each take a slice out of the bandwidth pie. Basically, every item that is shared with someone else will take away a chunk of bandwidth until the transfer is completed.

VIDEO CONFERENCING: Whether you’re working from home, meeting with clients, or even interviewing potential new employees, Videoconferencing is defiantly a tool that makes good business sense. Many business trips have been replaced by video conferencing, and that’s good for your budget. But now you’re sending that information through your internet connection, and that needs to be factored in. But the good news is that video conferencing costs a lot less than travel, so spending a little more on bandwidth is probably the most cost-effective way to meet with people one on one.

STREAMING MUSIC: Many people enjoy listening to music while at work, and if the company allows it, then it’s no big deal. Right? Well, mostly right. Problems may arise when the streaming music is left running 24 hours a day. And the more people stream music the more it will cause a drain on your bandwidth. Even though music streams at a low data rate, some services allow users to store their music files on The Cloud, and that causes a bump in the data flow. Accessing personal music files and streaming Internet Radio may not take up too much bandwidth, but the missing factor is the number of employees who are constantly listening to music. If most of your employees listen to streaming music then data usage should be monitored so you’ll know if this might be an issue for you or not.

EMAIL: Not too long ago, sending email was a big deal for businesses. When email was a new function, it was the largest drain on bandwidth business owners had to deal with. And if you attached a photo or a document to the email, guess what happened? It took forever for the attachment to transfer its data through the internet connection and get sent along with the email. But today’s much faster internet can handle multiple emails and attachments that were impossible to send just a few years ago. But even though email is a low data user by today’s standards, it still adds up in the overall data usage throughout the workday.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Humans are social creatures, and they search out ways to stay connected to people they are close to. Social Media gives us many ways to stay in touch with others, but in the office, that comes at a price. When business owners calculate the bandwidth requirements for start-ups, they often don’t factor in their employee’s Social Media habits. Sure, most functions utilized through Social Media don’t use much data at all. But, increasingly, video attachments are sent along with a text message. Even in a compressed state, video files are among the greediest bandwidth thieves.  

As you can see there are many ways your bandwidth is being used throughout the day. And it can impact your business in a variety of ways. For example, just a few years ago it was taboo for employees to spend time watching videos on YouTube or looking at pictures of their nephew’s graduation on Facebook. But today it is generally accepted that employees will spend some time doing these things.

As a business owner, you can place limits or controls on these habits, but these actions may cost you in other ways. Employee morale is linked to social media habits, and if employees can’t  stay in touch with their friends on your time, they’ll probably take more breaks than they used to so they can wish Aunt Edna a Happy Birthday.

It’s your challenge to find a balance between the bandwidth your business needs and the bandwidth your employees need. As the one who writes the checks, it may not seem fair that you’re funding someone else’s social media habits, but in today’s business arena it’s the price of doing business. And if you use Social Media sites as part of your Marketing Plan, well, you’re probably helping your business grow by letting your employees tell everyone online how much they enjoy working for you.