Thanks to the Internet and computers, the work environment has changed dramatically in recent years, and to varying degrees, we as employees may still be grappling with what might be appropriate practices with the resources that have been provided. This post outlines 6 tips for computer, Internet and email use in the workplace.
Earlier this week, the BBC published an article on plans by IT giant, Atos, to ban internal emails by 2014. As expected, the plan, which was announced earlier this year, has been receiving wide debate. However, some of the reasons behind the proposal, specifically those on productivity, had been discussed in our earlier post, Are ICT and productivity at odds with each other? This post can be considered a follow-up, where we now suggest six practices you, as an employee, should adopt regarding computer, Internet and email use in the workplace.
1. Be wary of connecting external storage devices to office PCs
Similar to diskettes in their day, USB flash drives and other highly portable storage devices offer a convenient way to carry large volumes of information. However, these same gadgets can be a hotbed for computer viruses and other threats. Contaminated devices can infect machines to which they are connected, and continually re-infect them, which ultimately compromises your office’s data and network security.
2. Exercise care when installing software on the PC in your care
Typically, people can get quite excited by software – be it new or updates to existing applications. They are eager to download (as applicable) and install them. However, do double-check the source. Is it a reputable business? Could it harbour some kind of threat to your workplace’s equipment or data? Other questions you should be prepared to answer before proceeding include:
- Can you foresee any difficulties with the installation?
- Is it convenient to execute the installation?
- What will you do if the installation does not go as expected?
- Do you have a backup of all key programmes and files, should you have to format the hard drive?
Although these questions might seem a bit extreme, they are legitimate. For example, those of us who have worked extensively in the Microsoft Windows environment would, at least once, have had the experience of a seemingly routine software update going horribly wrong. The moral of this tip: be circumspect about the software that you install on office machine.
3. Limit the amount of personal data that is stored on office machines
Although at the office, you and your colleagues may refer to the PC/laptop that you are using as “your machine”, it does not mean that the device is your personal PC to do as you please. Unless otherwise specified, the PC is and remains office property. Further, your employer has the right to access at any time, and may even remove from your care as it sees fit.
We therefore strongly recommend that you limit the amount of personal information that you store on your office’s PCs, along with the software or applications that you wish to install for personal use. Furthermore, it is important to remember any feeling that your privacy has been violated, could easily be overshadowed by disciplinary action you could experience, depending on the material that found on such devices.
4. Avoid using business email address for personal purposes, and vice versa
Following from the previous point, it is important to try to maintain some distinction between information that is the property of your employer, in this case emails, and that which is your own. This is particularly the case if your organisation has assigned you an email to use for its communication. Although occasionally it may be necessary to use your personal email address for work purposes, e.g., if you cannot access to your work account, this is not an ideal situation. Depending on your organisation’s privacy, Internet and/or email policy, use of your private email account could be in breach of those instruments, as well as any specific provisions on confidentiality that might be applicable.
5. Limit personal use of the Internet at the office
This point has been causing considerable concern in the workplace in recent years. Employers have been observing noticeable decline in employee productivity, which has been largely attributed to excessive online activity of a personal nature, e.g. web surfing and interacting on social networks and instant messaging sites. Although some employers have sought to prohibit access to the social networking sites in particular, and where such freedoms still exists, it is advisable to exercise some discretion in when and for how long (if at all?) you use your workplace’s Internet connection for your personal activity.
6. Appreciate that computer and Internet use might be subject to local laws
As Internet access and use truly become ubiquitous, many countries either have, or are in the process of, introducing legislation to govern various aspects of this environment. Critical areas that are being addressed include computer misuse, cyber crime, cyber security and Intellectual Property. Although your office’s internal policies might prohibit certain content being accessed, and using the office’s resources to engage in criminal activity, for example, contravention of those provisions might also place you in breach of local laws. Hence again, you might find yourself not only facing disciplinary action from your employer, but also being accused of committing criminal offences, which could lead to incarceration.
In summary, the above practices are widely recommended, but many of us do not think about the implications of how we use our workplace’s resources. We are thrilled to have access to those amenities, but we do not always consider our obligations to our workplace. However, with “efficiency” and “productivity” being key buzzwords at the office environment, we, as employees, must become more vigilant and responsible in how we use the computing and Internet resources that have been provided to facilitate the work we are required to do.