Don't be a victim Featured

9:34am EDT July 22, 2002

How much of your employees' online time is work related? Ninety percent? Fifty percent? Do you even know?

Cyberslacking is an enormous problem for companies in Central Ohio and nationwide. Fully 90 percent of the nation's workers admit to recreational surfing on company time, accounting for nearly one-third of their online activity.

U.S. business is estimated to have lost $500 million in workplace productivity in 1999 when Congress released the Starr Report and President Clinton's video deposition online. Some 13.5 million workers slacked off and logged on to see what the president, Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr had to say about the relationship between the commander-in-chief and the intern.

It's not just the Internet that's causing productivity problems. With 130 million U.S. workers sending 2.8 billion e-mail messages a day, it's no surprise that e-mail is a tremendous source of corporate waste.

Lockheed Martin's e-mail system crashed for six hours after an employee "spammed" 60,000 co-workers with a personal e-mail message, complete with a request for an electronic receipt. The defense contractor, which posts 40 million e-mails monthly, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars thanks to this employee's act of e-sabotage.

Your company may not post 480 million e-mails a year, but you no doubt have made a sizable investment in a computer system that is designed to enhance productivity and improve business communications. If your employees regularly make personal use of your computer assets, the return on your investment will be minimal at best.

Here are some tips for maximizing productivity, while protecting your company from spammers, cyberslackers and e-saboteurs.

1. Establish and enforce written policies about the use of e-mail, the Internet and corporate software. E-risks are as prevalent in the electronic office as e-mail is indispensable. In the age of e-communication and e-commerce, a written computer policy is the best way to protect yourself from inappropriate and wasteful use.

2. Install monitoring and filtering software. Don't leave e-risk management to chance. Software that flags key words, such as the names of competitors, products and trade secrets, as well as obscene or harassing language, will help keep you a step ahead of employees who are cyberslacking, spamming or engaged in e-sabotage.

3. Prohibit the use of the company system to send or forward electronic junk mail. Spamming is illegal in some states, such as California. A violation can result in a fine or possibly jail time.

4. If you receive a spam message, don't reply to the unsubscribe option. Your reply confirms your e-mail address, enabling the sender to reuse it or sell it to other spammers. The easiest, most effective method to battle this is to hit delete whenever you receive an unsolicited message or one with a subject line reading "money-making opportunity" or "get rich quick" or any other obvious come-on phrase.

5. Reduce the burden on your e-mail server and control your employees' online time by establishing guidelines to prohibit listserv participation. Consider outlawing listservs or restricting subscriptions to authorized, business-related listservs. Nancy Flynn (Nancy@epolicyinstitute.com) is managing director of the E-Policy Institute, based in Columbus, and author of "The E-Policy Handbook" and "Writing Effective E-Mail."

What you can do

For more tips on reducing your e-liability and protecting your corporate assets, visit www.ePolicyInstitute.com.

For a free copy of "Seven Secrets of Super-Effective -- and Safe -- Electronic Sales Letters," fax your request on company letterhead to 451-8726.