Modern technologies can be of great benefit to almost any business. The Internet facilitates effective research and information management, email enables rapid internal and external communication, and social media can be a great tool for engaging existing and potential customers. However, the risks these technologies can pose to a business have prompted many organizations to place blanket restrictions on their use of the web, email, and social media. While these policies protect organizations, they invariably impact employee performance when effective corporate policies could help unlock the productive potential of technology.
But what are the specific risks that technologies pose, and how can corporate policies mitigate those risks? One of the most well-known vulnerabilities of using the Internet and email is that it’s all too easy to accidentally download a virus or other malicious software that could compromise computers across the network. This is often done by absent-mindedly clicking on a link in an email that takes the user to a malicious website, and a company policy could easily help stop this threat. By educating employees about the potential threats and restricting the types of websites they can visit, employers can set strict limits that minimize exposure.
Social media presents a set of complex and lesser-known issues that businesses sometimes struggle with. One such problem is the way corporate social media accounts can be hacked, allowing a malicious attacker to tarnish the company’s reputation or spread misleading information. To counteract this, companies should attach great importance to password security and educate employees about what makes an effective password. Company policy should also make it clear that instead of allowing websites to “remember” passwords and log in automatically, users must log into these accounts each time they use them. This reduces the risk of unauthorized persons gaining access to corporate accounts.
However, sometimes security breaches are not the result of malicious intent. Employees could inadvertently disclose sensitive business information via social media simply because they didn’t know what constitutes “sensitive” information. While it’s nearly impossible to avoid the occasional mistake, having a clear policy outlining the appropriate use of social media and the type of information that shouldn’t be disclosed helps protect valuable information.
Finally, one of the biggest threats technology poses is employee productivity. Hundreds of hours are lost every year as employees check their Facebook accounts, send non-work related emails and procrastinate on the internet. One solution to this problem is to simply block access to non-work sites and enforce severe penalties for inappropriate email use. However, this could have a detrimental effect on employee morale, so it might be worth considering more flexible terms in your company policy that avoid harsh usage restrictions, while clarifying the limits of operational tolerance.
Aside from the specific problems that company policies solve, they are also important for more general reasons. Strong policies that employees are required to subscribe to create a “safety culture” that encourages awareness and caution. In addition, a clear company policy is essential if companies want to protect themselves from possible legal problems arising from the actions of individual employees. So the benefits of corporate policies on the use of the internet, email and social media are manifold and will help companies to realize the full potential of digital technologies.