Browsing articles from "December, 2011"

A Worthy Goal – Zero Interoffice Emails!

Do you cringe in the morning while your computer boots up – anticipating the onslaught of emails that demand your immediate attention?  Or maybe you’re a late night replier – too tired to think – but trying to clear your inbox so you can sleep like the rest of the world.  Could a world without emails exist? 

One company has received press for attempting just that – a ban on interoffice emails.  Atos, a French business technology company, implemented a “zero email” policy to end internal emails within 18-24 months.  Atos declared its “aim is to eradicate all emails between Atos employees by using improved communication applications as well as new collaboration and social media tools.”  Describing the volume of emails sent and received amongst its 74,000 employees as “unsustainable”, Thierry Breton, chairman and chief executive officer, plans on forcing Atos’s workforce to communicate via instant messaging tools, online chat systems or wiki-like documents that can be modified by multiple users. 

“We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives,” Breton declared in a corporate statement.  “At Atos we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.” 

Breton estimates that only 10% of the 200 messages Atos employees receive daily are useful, and at least 18% are spam.  Furthermore, Atos managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week just reading and writing emails.  Therefore, Atos is “encouraging the use of tools such as Office Communicator and has set up social community platforms to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation and Lean Management through sales.” 

Caroline Crouch, Atos spokeswoman, reported to ABC News, Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy, that Atos has already reduced internal emails by 20% within six months.  According to CNN Tech, Tech firm wants to ban office e-mail, trends may prove Atos right.  CNN reports that “recent surveys have found e-mail use declining rapidly among younger people who prefer faster, less formal means of communication such as texting or instant messaging on Facebook or Twitter.”

Do you still delight, as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan did so long ago, in hearing the ping of “You’ve got mail”?  Many do not, including Atos’s CEO, Breton.  He recently told the Wall Street Journal, The IT Boss Who Shuns Email, that he has not sent a work email in three years.  “If people want to talk to me, they can come and visit me, call or send a text message.”  Breton said.  “Emails cannot replace the spoken word.”    Now that is something to talk about – no pun intended.

I wholly endorse the perhaps old-fashioned idea that we all should personally interact with co-workers on a more regular basis.  I also agree that interoffice emails clog up my email box, which I am always trying to clean out.  I also admit that I often email co-author Norah Olson Bluvshtein – she is only three offices away – rather than picking up the phone or, heaven forbid, getting up from my chair and walking to her office.  Yet, when I do, we often solve the issue within that discussion instead of an email thread six pages long.  (I once had over 200 emails from Norah in my inbox…)  I think I will make in-person communication with my colleagues one of my new year’s resolutions. 

That said, I don’t know that instant messaging or texting with co-workers will make me any more efficient, nor will it solve the “clutter” phenomenon.  Instead, it may just be one more place that I have to look to make sure that I have responded to everyone trying to connect with me.  I welcome your input though as I am always striving to find efficiencies in my workday!

As we look to the new year, will you try to remove some of the clutter in your life?  When was the last time you evaluated your Company’s policy on internal emails, if ever?  Is there a better way to communicate company-wide messages and/or communicate with your colleagues?  Is excessive email communication polluting your work environment and making you less efficient?  I welcome your comments! 

NLRB Extends Employee Rights Posting Deadline To April 30, 2012

Remember our recent posts about the National Labor Relations Board’s new “employee rights” posting requirement?  If you don’t, I will remind you, since it is the day before a long holiday weekend and you all deserve a break!  The rule mandated that all employers post an 11-by-7 notice advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”.)   The last posting deadline had been extended to January 31, 2012 due to several legal challenges to the rule.  (See, Amidst Controversy NLRB Postpones Effective Date of Employee Rights Posting Requirement and The NLRB’s “Employee Rights” Posting Requirement – Will it Withstand Judicial Scrutiny?)  If you recall, the legal challenges include the following:

  • The “Employee Rights” notices, as framed, “lack neutrality and unfairly encourage and promote unionization.”
  • The notice requirement constitutes a “massive, unprecedented and unlawful expansion of the Board’s jurisdiction.”
  • The Rule “adversely affects nearly six million businesses by forcing them to promote unionization of their workforces upon pain of otherwise committing an unfair labor practice.” and
  • The Board’s promulgation of the Rule exceeds the NLRB’s “statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations.”

The legal actions seek to declare the Rule void on its face, and also seek preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to “prevent the Board from implementation, enforcement and application of the Rule.”  No decision has been made yet on the motions before the various tribunals. 

The litigation is having an impact though.  Because of the pending litigation, the NLRB has again extended the effective date for the posting requirement to “facilitate the resolution of the legal challenges that have been filed with respect to the rule.”  The new date?  April 30, 2012.  We will keep you posted as the litigation progresses.  As soon as we hear about a ruling, we will let you know. 

In the meantime, please enjoy a safe and happy holiday.  Cheers.

Ready to Dump Facebook?

Have you ever thought of quitting Facebook?  Are you one of the holdouts who never started using it in the first place?  Well, you’re not alone, and if you want some moral support, check out the New York Times article, The Facebook Resisters

I was struck by the article’s opening example of a pre-med student who “had a chance encounter on an elevator.  He found himself standing next to a woman he had never met – yet through Facebook he knew what her older brother looked like, that she was from a tiny island off the coast of Washington and that she had recently visited the Space Needle in Seattle.”  The student said that after realizing this he thought, “maybe this is a little unhealthy.”   

It is odd, isn’t it, how much information we sometimes learn about other people online?  Often so much more information than we would learn the “old-fashioned way.” 

Another reason people are quitting Facebook is because rather than feeling that Facebook connects them more closely to other people, some feel it “can have the opposite effect of making them feel more, not less, alienated.”  According to a graduate student interviewed by the NY Times, “I wasn’t calling my friends anymore … I was just seeing their pictures and updates and felt like that was really connecting to them.”

Facebook, for its part, is focused on keeping its momentum going – especially in markets in Asia and Latin America– and on its upcoming public offering.  Per the NY Times, Facebook is also “working on ways to keep current users on the site longer, which gives the company more chances to show them ads.”  The worry for Facebook, according to an analyst interviewed by the NY Times, is “about the novelty factor wearing off. … That’s a continual problem that they’re solving, and there are no permanent solutions.” 

So, has the novelty of Facebook worn off for you?  What does that mean for businesses who are focusing major marketing efforts on their Facebook presence and betting that Facebook will continue to have a major influence over our lives?

Social Media Usage Increases Cyber Risks – A Competing Point of View?

This post is the last in a series of three addressing recent social media surveys.  If you recall, last week we discussed the findings of a new survey conducted by TELUS and the Rotman School of Management.  That survey concluded that an outright ban on social media usage increased a business’ risk for cyber intrusion by approximately 30 percent.  (A New Twist on Business Security – Banning Social Media Can Increase Security Breaches?)  Well, as you may know, there really is no definitive answer to the question of how much access employees should be given to social media.  Case in point, another study conducted in July 2011 by Ponemon Institute, a research firm, and Websense, Inc., concluded that as a company’s social media usage increased so too did the firm’s risk for viruses and malware.  Don’t these two surveys appear to conflict?

The Ponemon study, as reported in Bloomberg Law, Facebook, Twitter Increases Companies’ Security Risks, found that more than one-half of the businesses surveyed reported an increase in cyber-attacks as a result of employee’s usage of social media networks.  Approximately, 25 percent of the companies experienced a 50 percent increase in attacks.  What drove the results of the Ponemon and Websense survey?  The global study reported that as social media usage played a larger role in a business’ practice, many organizations found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the accompanying security risks.  Researchers discovered that only 35 percent of the firms worldwide had a social media usage policy in place, and of those with a policy, only 35 percent enforced it. 

“A lot of the organizations still didn’t have an acceptable use policy,” said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of Ponemon Institute.  Of those businesses with a usage policy in place, Mr. Ponemon told Bloomberg Law that “a policy that isn’t vigorously enforced isn’t meaningful.”  As co-author Norah Olson Bluvshtein noted about social media training (only 27% reported conducting social media training to employees) in her post New Statistics on Social Media At Work – Who’s Using It and Is It Effective? – employers still have a long way to go on implementing appropriate and effective policies.

How did most of the attacks reported in the Ponemon study occur?  The study found that the attacks were “socially engineered driven“ – Bloomberg called it the “click-trick.”  What does that mean exactly?  Patrick Runald, a researcher at Websense, Inc., explained that users may be enticed to click on a video pop-up, for example, “which takes you to a page off of Facebook, where they trick you into downloading something.”  With the download comes cyber viruses and malware. 

So, do the surveys really conflict?  No, not really.  The Ponemon study simply confirms that a workforce which does not understand the dangers beneath the surfaces of many legitimate social media network sites poses a great risk to the business’ IT safety.  As we discussed last week (A New Twist on Business Security – Banning Social Media Can Increase Security Breaches?)  a workforce educated on the importance of cyber security and adherence to legitimate social media usage policies remains the best alternative to protect a business’ IT future.  Not just a companywide review of the company’s cyber security policies, but a discussion with the employees of how, why and where the security breaches occur.  A demonstration of how things like the “click–trick” work in the cyber-world, and that the malicious packages are simply waiting for the uneducated worker to download its viruses or malware. 

We may sound a bit like a broken record here, but we have often preached that sound social media policies, a workforce educated about the importance of cyber security, and vigilance in the appropriate use of social media will put a company’s security risks in check.  I believe the two studies discussed support this important point.

What do you think?  Drop a line and let us know.  

New Statistics on Social Media At Work – Who’s Using It and Is It Effective?

To continue our conversation about recent studies on social media, I recently ran across a survey done by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on Social Media in the Workplace.  SHRM surveyed a wide cross section of industries and a range of company sizes and locations.  Here are some of tidbits from the survey that I found interesting: 

1. Are organizations using Social Media? 

The answer is a solid, yes.  68% of survey respondents reported their organization currently engages in social media to reach external audiences. 

2. Which social media platforms are they using? 

The usual suspects show up here, and, not surprisingly, Facebook takes the lead.  45% of respondents use Facebook to engage with external audiences, 34% use LinkedIn, 28% Twitter, and 18% YouTube.  Company blogs (17%) and webinars/webcasts (16%) are also used. 

3. Who in the organization is using social media? 

Again, some of the usual suspects show up here – marketing (67%), human resources, (44%) and public relations (38%).  What I found interesting, however, is who is not using social media.  Only 20% of respondents reported that their company’s CEO used LinkedIn and 17% of CEOs used Facebook.  

4. How long have the organizations been using social media?

Another interesting finding from this survey is how recently most companies have jumped onto the social media bandwagon.  47% of respondents have only been using social media for 1-2 years, and 19% have been using social media for less than a year.  Congratulations to the 22% of respondents who have been using social media for 2-3 years, and the 11% who have been using social media even longer! 

5. What about general employee use of social media? 

For the rank and file, the study looked at whether employee use of social media is being tracked and/or blocked.  Overall, the study found that 31% of companies track employee use of social media and 43% block access to social media sites on company-owned computers and handheld devices.  Larger companies were more likely to track and/or block social media than smaller organizations. 

I was also interested to see that the survey asked whether companies were providing any social media training to employees who engage in social media on the companies’ behalf.  Unfortunately, the answer to this question was a resounding, “No.”  Only 27% of respondents said they provided social media training; 73% did not.  I’d say there was some room for improvement! 

6. How effective has social media use been? 

This question was probably the most interesting one to me because a fair number of companies – especially smaller ones – are feeling pressure to have a social media presence because everyone else seems to have one but questioning whether it will be worth the time and expense.  Well, according to SHRM’s study, it looks like engaging in social media is generally either “somewhat effective” or “neither effective nor ineffective.”  Perhaps this isn’t exactly glowing praise for the effectiveness of social media, but then again, only 3-7% of respondents found social media to be “very ineffective.”   

The SHRM study is an interesting peek into the ways companies are (and are not) using social media to engage with external audiences.  I’m hoping they repeat this study next year so we can track how the statistics change.  In the meantime, how do these statistics stack up against your organization’s use of social media? 

A New Twist on Business Security – Banning Social Media Can Increase Security Breaches?

In the next week, we will write a series of posts on recent studies about the impact of social media use on business.  The first involves the impact of banning access to social media sites on system security.  As we often discuss with clients, it is important to consult marketing, human resources and IT (at the very least) when making decisions about social media use.  We think these studies will demonstrate why. 

TELUS, a leading provider of security research, and the Rotman School of Management conducted the study regarding computer security breaches.  The study found that companies which banned employee use of social media sites, such as Facebook, were 30 percent more likely to suffer an IT security breach than those with a more lenient policy.  On average, the firms which blocked social media sites experienced 10.3 security incidents over a 12 month period compared to 7.2 breaches for more lenient companies.  Doesn’t seem to make sense does it?

Apparently, the director of security and risk consulting with TELUS agrees.  He reported to itbusiness.ca (Facebook bans at work linked to increased security breaches):

It might seem counterintuitive, but the survey results confirm what we have been tracking over the last two years.  No social networking policies are actually forcing users to access non-trusted sites and use tech devices that are not monitored or controlled by the company security program.

Do you think an outright ban on social media sites would actually work?  Do outright bans ever work?  I think not.  According to an expert in the field, Walid Hejazi, professor of business and economics at Rotman, it’s the proverbial shut one door and a window opens.  Professor Hejazi told itbusiness.ca, “[i]f users deem their actions are justified they will find ways to circumvent firewalls or bring their own devices to surf sites or even access files that they are not authorized to.”  The study showed that a policy banning access may actually “force” users to access non-trusted sites. 

Sounds like what we predicted in our posts Time Suck or Morale Booster? How Does Social Media Impact Employee Productivity? and So You Let Your Employees Use Smartphones For Work? Are You Being Smart About It? – that an outright ban on social media, or an employee’s use of a personal mobile device for work, is not necessarily the right answer.  What is?  Employee education and trust in your employees.  A workforce educated on the importance of cyber security and adherence to policies remains the best alternative.  Experts agree. 

According to Etges (as reported to itbusiness.ca and supported by the study) :

True buy-in to security policies can only be achieved by educating employees and explaining to them the impact of unsecure practices.  Our survey showed that when it is explained to workers that breaches impact the bottom line, customers and themselves, as much as three quarters of the employees were prepared to comply with security policies.

Are you surprised that an educated workforce would “buy-in” to security protocols if management explained the financial ramifications of a security breach?  The logic seems pretty clear.  By and large, I believe educated employees will normally do the right thing – whether it relates to cyber security, use of personal mobile devices or simply safe cyber practices.  Certainly, however, the possible financial toll to employees’ compensation should be a potent reminder to the workforce that cyber security breaches cost money.  Education and pocket book economics should drive the majority of workers to comply with security policies and procedures.   (I just heard on the MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) that money motivates people to stick with weight loss plans, so why wouldn’t it work for following company policy?)

What do you think?  Have you had success in educating a workforce on cyber safety issues?  If so, let us know what you did, and how it went.  We remain interested in how this will pan out.  Look for our next posts, which may provide alternate views on this issue! 

Contributing Authors

Teresa Thompson

Teresa Thompson Teresa is the Chair of Fredrikson’s Non-Competes and Trade Secrets Group, and an MSBA Certified Labor and Employment Law Specialist. She counsels business clients on risk management and policy development relating to employee use of technology, and also litigates their business and employment disputes. Teresa trains, writes and lectures extensively on legal issues arising from business use of technology and social media.

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Norah Olson Bluvshtein

Norah Olson Bluvshtein Norah is an employment law attorney representing businesses both in and out of the courtroom on employee issues from hiring, to firing, and everything in between. She writes, speaks, and consults on employee use (and misuse) of the Internet, social media, and technology.

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