Computer Ethics in the Workplace

Top view image of a computer on the table in officeTrust is an important part of a successful business environment. It’s also a two-way street; an area that must be maintained between the management and employees. Computer ethics in the workplace is just one of many areas trust comes into play.

When it comes to computer ethics, setting rules must be done in a way that brings the organization together, while still showing respect for employees. Today, we explore the benefits of rules, and how regulations and proper training can help create a positive environment, while also safeguarding your data.

Make Expectations Clear

You cannot expect your employees to follow rules they are not aware of. We all have different understandings and perspectives on certain situations. Add that to ignorance, and a company can be courting disaster.

usb-flash-driveTake for example flash drives. They’re portable and meant to store data to be used on different devices. However, home computers are notorious for hosting viruses. A well-meaning employee may think nothing of copying work files onto a flash drive in order to put in some hours while at home. A favorable device for the extra work is a home computer or personal laptop. Unknowingly, the employee might save a virus on the flash drive and bring the contaminated drive back to the office an infect the entire network.

This is where proper training can be important. When training new employees make sure to offer thorough, informative sessions with clear guidelines. Include common and more detailed computer policies to make sure all possibilities are covered.

Write it Down

While many competent employees will be proactive when carrying out their responsibilities, some may need constant reminding. Consider posting basic computer rules in a highly visible area. Each employee should also have personal copies of the rules, should they need to refer back to them at any time. The employee manual may be a convenient place to include company policies. Finally, it’s a good practice to have a written receipt (signatures) that employees have read and understand the computer policies.

Do Not Assume

It is easy to assume that everyone has the same moral compass. This assumption, however, will leave you surprised when an employee crosses a boundary. Include specific descriptions and examples about ethics when training employees. To minimize frustrations, remember we each come from unique backgrounds which may represent great cultural diversities and upbringings. It is the management’s job to get everyone on the same page.

virus-trojan-spyware-signpostMany employers like to assume the individuals they hire are the best of the best. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. And sometimes even those who start out following company policies may become lax when they are not monitored or reminded from time to time.

For some, if there is no fear of getting caught, breaking rules will happen more often. As such, you may want to keep close contact with your IT people to help determine what types of online activities employees are engaging in. As mentioned above, even the most well-meaning employees can introduce viruses into the network. For those without an IT team, there are tools available to supervise computer usage, which are discussed talk about at the end of this article.

Personal use of Computers vs Personal Devices

Years ago it may have been the norm for employees to  checking their personal email on an office computer. Today, people have a wide variety of technical devices and really should not need to use the company computer for such things. Smart phones and pads can easily be used by their owners on breaks if needed. Like other policies, usage of personal devices versus company devices should be clearly stated. Blocking some sites may even be a way to safeguard your network against malware and viruses.

When to be Flexible

Business communication objectsFor many employees, work is not their life. Though employees are at work to accomplish a job, personal issues can interfere with their mental productivity. Allowing some personal communication outlets can help employees resolve their worries and return to their  work tasks.

One example is in the case of parents. With the increasing number of parents juggling work and family duties, it is reasonable to allow open communication in some form. Employees without children in the home may have their own concerns, which can be alleviated with access to communication devices. This can be their own personal cell phone or desk phone. To avoid distracting co-workers, you might include a policy that requires cellphones to be put on vibrate or muted ringers. The ease and quietness of texting can make this even easier on fellow workers. Employers may find it easier to cut down on personal use of company computers simply by allowing employees to keep their own devices.

Set a Good Example

Management should not misuse their power when it comes to their own use of computers in the workplace. All employees should be expected to follow the same rules, regardless of position. A complete act of solidarity will help build a stronger workplace community. Remember, respect can be difficult to maintain if you do not adhere to and respect your own rules. Above all, try to keep the lines of communication open when dealing with your employees, as it can increase honesty and facilitate conversation about computer usage and other policies.

Common Violations

The most common issues that arise when it comes to computer ethics are personal communications and social media. While many employees may avoid using their personal email at work, many will allow friends and family to contact them on their work email. Inappropriate communication is probably less of a worry than social media. People tend to lose track of time when browsing sites like Facebook and Twitter. This can waste company resources, as well as infringing on productivity and deadlines. The best policy is to encourage employees to focus on their job duties during business hours.

Portrait of a beautiful businesswoman using smartphone in front of colleaguesA word of caution. It may be tempting to prohibit the use of personal devices in the workplace in order to increase productivity, while decreasing idleness on social media venues. A complete ban on devices is strongly discourage. Portal electronic devices, such as smartphones have become an integral part of society. Banning their use would be, as my mother says, “is fighting words.” Instead, find ways to integrate technology into the workplace. For example, you may encourage your employees to tweet or Facebook company successes. Think of it as free advertising. Or suggest having them setup their company email on their devices. It’ll offer one more way to stay in communication.

Computer Monitor

It may seem unethical to police the actions of competent adults. However, running a flourishing business is your first priority. Computer ethics are something that concerns most businesses in today’s work environment. Personal use of work computers should be kept at a minimum to increase focus on company projects and output.

Male photo editor working on computerFor companies who have employees with desk jobs, it may be advantageous to incorporate computer monitoring software. Computer monitoring software can be multipurpose. Not only can it help with monitoring employee productivity, but also help with determining billable hours. Computer monitoring software tends to come in two “flavors.” One type is covert, in that employees have no idea they are being monitored, which has ethical issues in itself and isn’t conducive to a mutual trusting environment. The other type of computer monitoring software is more transparent, where employees know and understand their computer usage is tracked. I encourage you to read my review of one particular monitoring system.

The bottom line: Proper training, monitoring, and behavior correction will help keep your business running smooth.

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