Modern technologies can be a terrific asset for almost any business. The internet facilitates effective research and information management, email allows rapid internal and external communications, and social media can act as a great tool for engaging existing and prospective customers. The risks that these technologies can pose to a business, however, have led many companies to impose blanket restrictions on internet, email and social media use. While providing protection to businesses, these policies invariably impact on employee performance when effective company policies could help to unlock technology’s productive potential.
But what are the specific risks that technologies present and how can company policies mitigate these risks? One of the most well-known vulnerabilities of internet and email use is that it’s all too easy to accidentally download a virus or other piece of malicious software that could compromise computers across the network. This is often done by absentmindedly clicking on a link in an email that takes the user to a harmful website, and a company policy could easily help to deflect this threat. By informing employees of the potential threats and placing limits on the types of websites that they can visit, employers can lay out strict boundaries that minimise exposure.
Social media presents a number of complex and less well-known problems that companies sometimes struggle to deal with. One such problem is the way in which company social media accounts can be hacked, allowing a malicious attacker to sully the business’s reputation or spread misleading information. To combat this, companies should place a strong emphasis on password security and educate employees on what makes an effective password. Company policy should also make clear that users have to sign in to these accounts each time they use them, rather than enabling the sites to ‘remember’ passwords and sign in automatically. This reduces the risk of unauthorised persons gaining access to company accounts.
Sometimes though, security breaches are not the result of malicious intent. Employees could inadvertently reveal sensitive business information through social media, simply because they were unaware of what constituted ‘sensitive’ information. While it’s nearly impossible to prevent the occasional error, a clear policy that outlines appropriate social media use and the kind of information that should not be disclosed will help protect valuable information.
Finally, one of the greatest threats that technology poses is to employee productivity. Hundreds of hours are lost each year to employees checking their Facebook accounts, sending non-work related emails and procrastinating on the internet. One solution to this problem is to simply block access to any website that isn’t specifically necessary for work and to enforce strict penalties on inappropriate email use. However, this could have a detrimental impact on employee morale, so it may be worth considering more flexible terms in your company policy that avoid tough restrictions on use while making clear the limits of company tolerance.
Aside from the specific problems that company policies solve, they’re also important for more general reasons. Having strong policies that employees must sign up to creates a ‘security culture’ that increases awareness and caution. Furthermore, clear company policy is essential if businesses want to protect themselves from potential legal problems that arise from the actions of individual employees. The benefits of company policies addressing internet, email and social media use, then, are multifaceted and will help businesses to exploit the full potential of digital technologies.