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Technology...the biggest distraction in the workplace?

August 30 2010 - Businesses are being warned to ensure they have guidelines in place for misuse of technology in the workplace after reports that people are spending more than half the day using technology.

Scotland's leading HR and employment law firm, Empire HR, say although computer technology has transformed today's workplace it's vital that a business is geared up for managing the impact upon staff.

The increase in technology usage has been blamed on the popularity of smart phones, the report claims there has been an 81% increase in the number of people owning a smart phone in the last year. These phones make it easier to surf the net which is fast becoming the most popular form of mobile media activity.

Although businesses are often quick to embrace the benefits of new technology, software and telecoms, Empire HR say many are failing to get to grips with the impact on their business and how much it distracts staff in the workplace.

Aberdeen based Empire HR, which provides advice to over 500 businesses throughout the UK, advises businesses to consider adopting a detailed change management plan prior to the implementation of new technology.

Businesses should provide clear guidance to staff on what is, and what isn't acceptable use of technology at work. For example, are they allowed to use the internet during working hours? Can they update their Facebook page whilst at work? Should they take laptops home? What about pen drives, disks, Company mobile phones? A business should consider all these issues.

Of course, it isn't just the technology at work that can lead to problems. External influences can also be a big headache. Social networking is a major issue, with many employees failing to realise that their social networking pages effectively link the personal and professional lives.

This has led to some employees being dismissed for posting something on a personal blog page, a practice now being referred to as 'Facebook Fired' or 'Twerminated'. With new technology and social networking very much a way of modern life, businesses clearly need to adapt to up-to-date workplace issues.

Steve Cook, CEO of Empire HR advises the following:

Have a clear, detailed Information Computer Technology (ICT) Policy

This should include details of what the rules relating to Company technology are. It should also outline the consequences of failing to adhere to the policy. Employees should be advised that an email is the same as a letter in terms of representing the Company, and presenting an image. Therefore, spend as much time and attention on an email as you would with a letter. Most importantly, circulate the policy! You would be surprised at how many businesses take the time to draft a good policy, and then forget to circulate it!

Make sure staff know what is, and is not appropriate

The increasing use of technology, and in particular emails, has led to a blur in the distinction between what is and is not appropriate in the workplace. It's all too easy for staff to circulate material that would not have previously been available at work such as pornography and insulting jokes. Although light hearted, these emails can lead to costly discrimination claims and bring a Company into disrepute. For example, the Empire HR bulletin recently highlighted a case where a Deliotte trainee had to resign after circulating a 'fittest man' email.

Include Social Networking

We come across a lot of ICT Policies that fail to refer to social networking. This should always be included because it's very difficult to take disciplinary action where there is no clear Company policy on the issue. It doesn't have to be long, but it should stipulate that social networking sites should not be accessed during working hours, and that negative references to colleagues, the Company or clients will result in disciplinary action.

Monitor IT usage

Put systems in place to monitor all usage. Some employers hesitate to do this because they are worried about privacy and data protection issues. However, it is perfectly acceptable to monitor all usage during Company time. It might be worth carrying out spot checks or instructing your IT provider to let you know when an employee spends an excessive amount of time on the internet. In my experience, this is very valuable. For example, an Empire HR client recently identified an employee who was setting up their own business during Company time by carrying out a spot check on his emails. Of course, a policy should stipulate that emails, internet usage etc are not private and will be subject to monitoring.

Include it in the Contract

If you are going to issue staff with mobile phones, laptops, pen drives or any other IT equipment, make sure refer to these in their contract of employment. If you don't, you might unexpectedly find your staff are entitled to keep this equipment during maternity leave, sick leave etc. You should also include a clause allowing the Company to recoup any losses resulting from damage caused to equipment, or a failure to return it once employment is terminated.

Seek specialist advice

ICT is a massive industry, and its impact upon the workplace cannot be underestimated. It's likely that ICT is your businesses b iggest asset, so make sure you protect it. Empire HR can advise and guide you on all aspects of ICT and people management. Call 01224 701 383 or email info@empirehr.com for further information.

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