Technology usage in the workplace has grown exponentially over the past decade, opening opportunities for more dispersed teams and better collaboration. However, these new apps and systems also bring potential risks with them, including the misuse of technology by employees.
Learn about the dangers of technology misuse at work, common ways employees may misuse technology and five strategies to prevent misuse of technology in your organization.
Dangers of technology misuse at work
While it can often be harmless to access personal sites or apps at work, misusing technology creates the potential for cyber attacks, including phishing or ransomware. Phishing scams, sites with malware and social engineering attacks come from unauthorized websites, personal email accounts or social media messages. If your company handles sensitive data such as credit card information or private health information, employee misuse of technology can put you at further risk for a data breach, whether intentional or not.
Employees may use company computers and internet access to download or consume illegal content such as unlicensed videos, which can be a liability for your organization. Plus, employees may find these technologies are a distraction that keeps them from being productive. Some employees may use company time or resources to work on side projects or contracts, which is time theft and a misuse of resources. This could include using company printers for purposes outside the scope of their work, like side jobs or personal issues. If employees use the company internet to stream entertainment or use their company email to subscribe to personal email newsletters, they may take up bandwidth and storage that could be better used for business purposes.
According to research by CyberArk, more than 80% of organizations discovered their employees misusing or abusing business applications. Their research also showed across half of U.S. businesses, a typical employee may access anywhere from 11-20 software applications. And at 62% of U.S. businesses, an average employee has access to at least five applications that contain sensitive data. According to the Internet Data Corporation, 30-40% of employee internet use is estimated to be non-work related, meaning they spend up to 16 hours a week using company technology for personal purposes. Yet in spite of these high numbers of access and possible misuse, fewer than half of all U.S. organizations have a full view into their user logs or audit their employee internet activity.
Common types of technology misuse at work
It’s important to give your employees access to technology at work to complete their tasks effectively, collaborate efficiently and stay in communication with each other. Team members may need access to social media, digital content creation and design services, software development tools and forums or chats where they can discuss issues with other professionals. But access to these tools and systems creates the potential for employees to misuse the technology at work.
The most common types of technology misuse at work include personal use or entertainment, such as:
- Scrolling social media
- Using company printers for personal issues
- Streaming videos or content
- Participating in chat rooms
- Playing video games
- Sending or receiving personal emails
- Shopping online
- Conducting side business
5 strategies to prevent misuse of technology at work
While misusing technology is a common issue at most workplaces and can have serious consequences for organizations, there are several steps employers can take to prevent technology misuse by employees.
1. Define technology policies and educate employees about them
The first step is to define what “misuse” means for your organization. It may be harmless for employees to stream music or watch TV shows while they work if they’re working remotely and are using their own WiFi, but it may drain bandwidth if they do so in the office. Other employees may need access to social media accounts to handle customer service issues, monitor engagement or place ads. Some employees can benefit from communicating with their friends and families throughout the day as long as it doesn’t distract from their regular work. You may also provide access to printers for personal use as a perk of working in the office.
Define clear policies based on your organization’s needs and what makes sense for your employees. Create a full written policy that explains what constitutes proper use of company technology, including internet access, email systems, computers, printers and more. Ensure employees are fully trained on these policies so they understand the risks of misusing technology, how you will determine misuse and the consequences if they misuse technology at work. Get feedback from leadership and employees and tweak the policy so it suits your business needs.
2. Manage access to technology and accounts
You can also set limits on what technology or applications employees can access while at work or using company resources. Strong firewalls can prevent employees from accessing unauthorized websites from their company computers or on company WiFi. Set up a VPN to help protect employees who work remotely. Make sure teams use licensed software with their own secure logins, and don’t share passwords to prevent unauthorized access.
3. Monitor employee activity data
Taking stock of how your employees use technology can help inform your policies and provide you with opportunities to spot misuse before it becomes a problem. You can use employee productivity monitoring software like ActivTrak to monitor app and website activity and stop unauthorized technology use to prevent compliance risks. You can also monitor employee productivity by location, workload management, and burnout risk whether they’re in the office with you or halfway across the world. With this data, managers can make data-driven decisions about technology, real estate and staffing investments.
4. Discuss violations with employees and take corrective action
As with any company policy, it’s often best if the misuse of company technology is an ongoing conversation. If an employee violates the policy, it’s important to discuss the issue. You may uncover issues within your workflows or policies that reveal it’s time to change them, or that other employees have the same issues. If an employee has used company resources to perform illegal or unethical activity, you may need to dismiss them or turn over information to law enforcement.
5. Provide approved internal apps and tools to prevent abuse
Sometimes employees may use unauthorized technology to create a workaround for workflows or processes that aren’t working for them, such as using personal chat services or file sharing to collaborate with other employees. In this case, it’s better to provide employees with approved apps and tools so they don’t need to resort to outside technology to get their jobs done.
You may also let employees use personal technology or entertainment on their lunch breaks or at other approved times or spaces such as break rooms, so they have an outlet throughout their workdays. This also provides an opportunity to get away from private information or work computers and use their own devices or data to access technology for personal reasons.
Use ActivTrak to detect and prevent misuse of technology at work
Don’t be one of the 48% of U.S. companies with no insight into their employees’ use of technology. Get ActivTrak to monitor employee technology usage, including time spent on non-work related websites or apps compared to their usage of company-approved technology. Make informed decisions about policies and procedures with real data, and help your company ensure your employees are compliant with legal regulations on technology use.