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Implement an email policy and increase productivity

If you’re worried your employees are spending too much time sending personal emails at work, or worse, that they are using your company’s email and Internet facilities to distribute obscene or defamatory material, there’s something you can do about it. Implement an electronic communication policy. An effective email and Internet policy can help cut down the time employees spend surfing the ’Net and sending messages to their nearest and dearest. More than that, a good policy can also help protect you should one of your employees ever come under legal scrutiny for distributing inappropriate material.

Business purposes only?

The first step in any electronic communication policy is to establish employees’ obligations and responsibilities when using email or the ’Net. From the policy’s outset, explain that the use of company email and Internet facilities is primarily for business purposes. It’s also normal to include words to the effect that any information sent electronically must not contain inappropriate material, including sexually explicit, defamatory or racist images and messages. Many companies specify that sending personal emails or accessing the Internet for personal reasons is against the policy, but in reality this is very difficult to police. It’s also na�ve to think employees will never use email for personal reasons – especially when the boss is fond of the odd email joke, as is often the case). On the other hand, companies need to curb personal emails; some studies show personal email use as high as 60 percent of all email communication. Instead of including a blanket ban on all personal emails, why not recognise in the policy that a limited number of personal emails can be sent on the company IT system before or after normal business hours. It’s also worth seeking feedback on a draft version of the policy from staff. This will help them take ownership of the policy, and doesn’t position the company as Big Brother.

Discipline

Although the policy can include some leniency over personal email use, other rules need to be explained in black and white. It’s important to spell out that sending confidential information is against company policy, and that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken if staff are found distributing classified or restricted data. Inserting a paragraph to the effect that theft of intellectual property is considered a criminal offence could also be considered. Also explain that the company has the right to access all emails sent and received on the company’s IT system. An acknowledgement that disciplinary action will be taken against those who contravene the policy is usually a standard part of an electronic communication policy. Make sure you explain to new and existing staff that adherence to the policy is a condition of employment. This means that those found in breach of the policy can be issued with an official warning, with the ultimate punishment dismissal. Criminal offences – such as perpetrating fraud using email or the Internet – can be prosecuted, and this should also be explained to employees in the policy.

Using the ’Net

Apart from stipulating that the Internet is to be used mainly for company purposes, it’s also important to communicate to staff that the ’Net isn’t to be used for personal gain. This means no share trading and no gambling at work. Some organisations authorise the use of company Internet and email for study purposes as long as it’s related to work. If this is something with which your company is comfortable, make sure you explain this clearly in the policy so that staff know where they stand. Allowing your staff to download freeware or shareware from the Internet poses quite serious risks to the security of your IT system, so make sure your policy prohibits the use of unauthorised software. It’s also worth investigating filtering packages that can scan emails for executable and zip files, or any type of file normally associated with downloadable software. If your web browser runs through a proxy server, this can also be configured to strip out these types of files. There are many books available to give you further guidance on your policy. Try E-policy by Michael Overly or Email@work by Jonathon Whelan, both available on Amazon.com. It’s also advisable to contact your legal counsel to ensure your policy is within the bounds of the law.

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Business Roadmap provides practical business advice for small to medium sized businesses that are trying to overcome problems, or are trying to achieve their vision and full potential. Visit the Business Roadmap website for further information.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to provide valuable, useful information, Blue Mountains Web Pty Ltd. (trading as Stralia Web), Business Roadmap Pty Ltd. and any related suppliers or associated companies accept no responsibility or any form of liability from reliance upon or use of its contents. Any suggestions should be considered carefully within your own particular circumstances, as they are intended as general information only.

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