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Governing Corporate Email

Governing Corporate Email
By Joe Issid
Monster Contributing Writer

Admittedly, this article already feels ridiculously dated. Email has become a ubiquitous business tool and is such a cornerstone of the modern workplace that it seems somewhat foolhardy to write an article about its proper use in 2014. Nevertheless, I have personally seen this topic flummox many businesses and employees alike and I continue to be amazed at how many businesses still fail to grasp even the most basic tenets of internal communications and intellectual property security.
 
Usage policies
When email first entered the average workplace, companies were scrambling to implement proper usage policies as a means of educating their staff on how to manage this new tool and to define appropriate use guidelines. Back then, companies were afraid that email would offer an unnecessary distraction to their employees and sought to greatly restrict its use (the same could have certainly been said for internet access as well). As email has become common place, companies have become much more complacent about instituting appropriate usage policies, which can lead to longer-term problems.
 
Basic security
The wide adoption of mobile devices has revolutionized how we all work and has greatly facilitated how – and from where – we are able to work. However, with such freedom comes an increase security concern. When an employee accidentally leaves their mobile device on a city bus, the potential for a corporate security breach is greatly elevated. While many companies allow their employees to send and receive email from a mobile device, many companies are simply not implementing tight enough controls to prevent such a simple event from having far-reaching implications. Ultimately, there are many tools available to secure these devices; even simpler, however, is restricting access to emails to those who really need to access it outside of the confines of a secure office.
 
Intellectual property management
Many businesses fail to recognize that the average employee inbox contains a huge repository of sensitive and valuable intellectual property. With job promiscuity on the rise, companies are seeing higher turnover rates than ever before. As such, it is imperative that a company retains access to all mailboxes, even after employees leave. While it is usually implied that all documentation created for the company using company-provided tools belong to the company, this should always be explicitly agreed upon as part of any employee on-boarding process. Companies should be unequivocal that all emails created via a corporate mail account belong to the company.
 
Privacy policies
Many employees still steadfastly cling to the belief that their work emails are being monitored. While this may be true in certain specific companies or industries, the overwhelming majority of companies simply don't have the capacity – or the interest – in monitoring their employees' communications. No matter your company's policy, it should be made very clear to the staff what your policies are and to clearly establish all staff members' expectations. These policies need to be visible and accessible at all times. Being transparent about these policies can go a long way to establishing trust and goodwill within your workplace.
 
Who should use it?
Having worked in the publishing world for many years, I have managed very large pools of contractual workers and freelance writers. As freelancers are not, by definition, employees, I do not provide them with a corporate email account. However, I have seen companies insist on providing external consultants with corporate email accounts. But, why?
 
 In some cases, it can be a PR or marketing initiative to ensure that anyone representing the brand does so through an official platform. In other cases it can be a question of protecting intellectual properties or enforcing appropriate usage guidelines. No matter the reason, businesses need to determine who should have access to corporate email accounts and how to go about protecting their digital interests. Such determinations need to be well established and communicated to anyone who may be approached to perform contractual or freelance work.
As the cost for data storage continues to drop precipitously, companies are far more generous about who qualifies for an email account and how much freedom they are granted in using it. However, more and more companies are simply failing to clearly define proper usage policies and fully explaining their rights and obligations as an employer. Rather than face any uncomfortable discussions down the road, it is wise to establish clear guidelines regarding email use and to ensure that it is well broadcast throughout your organization.