Maintaining Pace with Changing Technology

Technology is on an unrelenting march. The question is, are you in step, or running to catch up?

Applications of technology are everywhere we look—with email, cloud computing, smartphones, desktop publishing, webcasts, and countless other innovations, businesses can now offer more and faster services, access new markets, collaborators, and outsourcing possibilities, and generally do more with less. But along with increased capacity for benefit come some serious technology-related liabilities. The multitude of devices and hi-tech capabilities that make employees more accessible to their bosses and clients also make them more accessible to their friends and families, personal lives, and opportunities for inappropriate interactions with coworkers. Disgruntled employees have an unprecedented capacity to leak confidential information or to damage the organization’s reputation online. Technology and the laws related to it are changing so rapidly that most business owners and HR personnel aren’t even aware of all the ways in which the company can become liable for what its employees are doing with workplace technology.

“Always on” technology is fraught with threats to employee productivity. Various surveys have consistently found that employees spend significant work time in such activities as writing personal emails, shopping, checking the stock market, and playing games. A 2005 survey of businesses found that 26% had fired workers for misusing the Internet and nearly the same number (25%) had fired them for abusing email access. In 13% of these latter cases, litigation followed closely behind the terminations.

Businesses that want to successfully walk the tightrope between leveraging all the power of technology and succumbing to the drawbacks have to learn to do two things well: make sure their managers and HR staff understand the cost-benefit tradeoffs of available technology and issues of productivity and legal liability; and develop long-term IT usage policies that take both the employees’ rights to privacy and the employer’s need to protect its assets.