Issue: Instant messaging, or IM, has become the communication tool of choice in many companies.
Risk: Too many employees use IM for unauthorized reasons, which wastes time and may trigger lawsuits and security breaches.
Advice: Learn the risks and benefits of IM use, then draft a policy based on these tips below.
The casual, rapid-fire communication of instant messaging can be a great way for employees to interact with co-workers and customers. But it's also a simple way for them to chat with buddies as well.
In fact, when asked who they contact most via IM at work, 40 percent of workplace IM users said "co-workers," while 33 percent said "friends and family" and 21 percent said both groups equally, according to a new Pew Internet survey.
The danger of unauthorized use: lost productivity, data theft, virus infections and potential harassment lawsuits.
6 IM rules for HR
To get a grip on IM use in your workplace, draft a policy on appropriate use. It should outline the type of banned language and topics, plus which employees can use this tool and when.
To help establish your policy, consider the following six rules for IM workplace use, adapted from a new book, Instant Messaging Rules (AMACOM books).
1. IM poses significant risks to businesses. Millions of renegade employees have downloaded free personal IM software from AOL, Yahoo! and MSN directly to their business computers and hand-helds. But such consumer-grade IM tools can put your organization at great risk if it doesn't have technology and policies to prevent security breaches, protect confidential data, battle virus, reduce "spim" (spam instant messages) and retain archived records.
2. IM messages don't disappear. As a form of e-mail, IM creates a written business record that can be subpoenaed in lawsuits or regulatory investigations.
3. Assume your employees already use IM, without your knowledge, authorization or rules. Some experts peg unauthorized IM use at up to 90 percent.
4. Act to uncover unauthorized IM use. Test your network for the presence of consumer-grade IM software. Also, consider an internal survey to discover your employees' IM needs and current uses.
5. Don't instantly ban instant messaging. Although banning workplace IM use may appear a simple and effective solution to IM risk, it may not be so easy to enforce...or necessary. In spite of its risks, IM can actually help speed up communications, and, therefore, productivity, when used correctly.
6. Beware risks of standardized IM. Enterprise IM systems offer benefits, including anti-virus and encryption tools, as well as the ability to control user IDs, monitor content and save messages. On the downside, enterprise systems limit users to internal chat with other people on the same system. If you set up an enterprise system, expect some defiant employees to disregard it and attempt to download personal IM software for external use.
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