Creating an Effective Electronic Communications Policy

Learn four key components of developing an communications policy to protect your company

We live and work in a totally separate time than our parents. While it has only been a generation or two since then, the vast differences between the business of today and the corporate world fifty years ago is striking.

For one, if you took a look back in time, you might see businessmen in creased suits and fedoras   scribbling furiously on notebook paper, typing madly at giant calculators, and wandering aimlessly through entire rooms of file cabinets.

And you might notice a few things missing too-IT departments, printers, even cubicles (they weren’t invented until 1967).

The reason for all this change in such a short amount of time rests solely on what has become known as the Digital Revolution.

Since the beginning of the Digital Revolution in the 1980s, corporate America has moved well past the days of landline phone calls and messengers-replaced instead by instant electronic communication through messaging, e-mails, command prompts, and more. But in many ways, technology has advanced too quickly for business (and social) rules and standards to keep up.

In the case of electronic communications, employees misuse and abuse these resources, which can cause a company significant embarrassment and liability. To combat this issue, every business should have an electronic communications policy.

This article outlines why an electronic communications policy is essential, and provides guidelines for creating one that is effective.

Why You Should Have an Electronic Communications Policy

We aren’t in the 80s anymore, which is why if your company doesn’t already have an electronic communications policy, it’s high time you developed one.

Technology is the main crutch of modern corporate America. Most critical business data is sent and received through e-mails, then stored using MDM software. Companies archive virtually every document and communication in order to maintain an accurate record of their organization’s dealings.

Unfortunately, this also means that employees may be surprised to find out that deleting an offending e-mail doesn’t necessarily mean it is gone for good, which is why it is wise to implement a strategy for dealing with these types of situations when they arise.

An electronic communications policy functions as a guideline for employees, instructing them on how to appropriately use the company’s electronic communications system, and specifying how the company will handle inappropriate use. It also serves as an important protective measure by shielding the company against liability for employee misuse and exploitation of their electronic communications system.

4 Key Elements to Include in Your Electronic Communications Policy

When writing an electronic communications policy, it is critical that it be done the right way-one that covers four key points. These main components to include in your policy are:

Introduction.The introduction is where the company briefly states why the policy is needed. You may also suggest the potential outcome of failing to adhere to the policy-i.e. disciplinary action and/or termination-and state that the employee has now assumed responsibility for understanding the policy and cannot plead ignorance.

Definition of Terms.Following the introduction, it may be beneficial to offer a definition of the terms to be used within the policy. For instance, terms that may require further clarity include: electronic communications, emergency circumstances, transmit, user, electronic communications systems, etc. Providing definitions assists employees when reading the document and hopefully avoids misunderstandings.

Scope.Fairly early on you will want to specify which electronic communications resources, users, uses, and records the policy applies to, and what it does not. This provides a clear “border” as to what and who the policy governs. 

Guidelines.The guidelines section is the core of an electronic communications policy. This is where you should state what constitutes as acceptable vs. unacceptable use of electronic communications resources, as well as the specific consequences for those who don’t comply.

Questions to answer in this section include:

  • Is personal use of company electronic communications systems permitted, and if so, to what extent?
  • What level of ownership or responsibility rests with the company for any messages and data sent on and received from company computers?
  • What expectations of privacy can employees count on, if any?
  • Which safeguarding measures must be followed when using electronic resources?
  • How will monitoring or audits be implemented, and what may be done with the information gathered?

You may also provide a list of potential abuses that are punishable, but be sure to include a disclaimer saying that the list in not conclusive and the company reserves the right to discipline other unmentioned inappropriate actions.

Personalize It

Lastly, add your company’s own personal touch to the policy by addressing concerns relating to your business and employees. Do this by using the names of specific programs and software that you-and more importantly, your employees-use on a regular basis. This will make the policy easier to follow.

You can also personalize your policy by writing it in a tone which reflects your company’s corporate culture. However, be careful not to imply a tone that seems too lenient. Remember, the purpose of an electronic communications policy is to protect a company from its employees.

Secure It

Once your policy is completed, consider filing it electronically.

At Innovative Architects, we can help you go paperless by implementing Click Policy-a complete, web-based policy and document management solution that lets you protect, organize, and edit all of your company’s policies and procedures at the click of a button.

Businesses nowadays may have switched from locked filing cabinets to more technical safeguarding tools like Click Policy, but maintaining corporate security is still as fundamental as it was fifty years ago.

Some things never change.