How and why do companies monitor employee's internet usage?
There are various reasons why a company may choose to monitor emails and web use of their employees, but one of the most common prompts to do so is a desire to increase productivity. If a team is under-performing, or not being as productive as they should be, monitoring or even restricting internet usage is often a go-to option for employers, but is that always the right answer? Here are some of the solutions available for monitoring web access with suggestions on how to manage the issue with your team.
We have previously discussed why we love Office 365, but it also has some useful features with regards to company emails. In-Place Hold or Litigation Hold in Office 365’s Exchange ensures that employee emails are stored indefinitely (or for a set duration) even if they are deleted. This is useful as it allows an employer to easily access their team’s emails, and in the event of a legal issue, retrieve deleted emails. There is also the ability to search by user, keyword and date. Thankfully, as this feature is part of Office 365, the amount of set up and maintenance required is minimal. Microsoft have instructions on how to enable Litigation Hold here.
Admins also have access to the Security and Compliance Centre which allows monitoring and management of documents, including being able to see which users have accessed particular documents or purged items from mailboxes. The audit logs allow for quick and easy access to this information with search functions to make the process as simple as possible. Full details of audit logs in Office 365 can be found here.
Many companies have in-house instant messaging platforms so that team members can communicate quickly when emails are not necessary. There is a stigma attached to instant messaging for businesses though, as there is the notion that employees may chat to each other about things other than work, reducing productivity. And while that of course happens, it’s important to try to see the benefits.
First of all, productivity can actually be increased with instant messaging, as questions and problems can be resolved in a matter of seconds as opposed to writing out emails and waiting for responses. Also, by offering a platform for all employees to talk, you are removing the temptation for them to do it elsewhere; on sites like Facebook for example. If conversations during work time take place on third party apps or sites, control and administration of the conversations is out of your remit. In this instance it would be better to have access to any conversations that do occur for security and HR reasons. Office 365 has Skype for Business and Teams which performs these functions, and provides chat logs for auditing purposes.
Many businesses suffer with low productivity due to online distractions. It’s easy to become tempted to quickly check Twitter or Facebook when there are few spare minutes, but this can quickly turn into lost hours over the course of a week or two. It is possible to filter the content available to employees though, allowing you to block specific websites or categories of sites. There are 2 types of solutions when it comes to filtering the content that can be accessed by employees online, both of which we work with regularly...
Web based proxies
Once this is set up, all internet requests are routed through an external website. There, you can filter, manage and view all attempts from a web interface. The good thing about web based proxies is that they don’t require on-site hardware (such as servers), and they are extremely easy to set up.
These exist in the form of dedicated servers. Onsite servers allow for more flexibility, and can be very powerful. You are not beholden to a third party that has access to all of your log-in information either, which is particularly beneficial if privacy is important to you and clients. We use Force Point or Fortigate for some of our clients. These types of systems are much more complex to set up and maintain though, and are better managed by dedicated IT Support teams.
Be Open and Honest
People will generally be more appreciative of being allowed freedoms online while at work, especially if an atmosphere of trust is created. Don't try to use an IT solution for an HR issue; if productivity is waning, trying to enforce it through email monitoring and web restrictions may not be the best way to improve efficiency. These practices do have benefits, particularly when it comes to security, but they aren't suitable for all businesses. If you do choose to monitor emails, it is important to keep your team informed. They do not necessarily need to know the reasons why emails are stored and monitored, but they at least need to be aware of why it is happening.
If you would like to discuss email monitoring in more depth, we'd be happy to chat to you about what we can offer your business. You can get in touch with us on our contact page.