What To Include In A Company Email Policy

Email. Its one of those tools we have a love/hate relationship with. We know it’s something we have to have, yet its become such a regular part of our lives, we rarely think about all the implications it has on us both professionally and personally. So ignoring the potential impact often becomes the path of least resistance.

In the US, there are an estimated 130 million workers. Every day, they send around 3 billion emails. Yet studies consistently show that not all of those transmissions are business related; in fact, up to 40 percent of them are personal by nature.

There’s more. Studies also show that only 1 in 3 companies monitor their business email process on an ongoing basis. The very thing that could hurt them most, the easiest tool people have to release company information and cause irreparable damage, is also the one thing most companies spend little time thinking about and planning for.

By having a company email policy in place, you can easily evaluate your employees’ performance and productivity, while discouraging them from abusing the communications system. It can help you protect confidential information and protect trade secrets and policies, and also protect from illegal activity, such as sexual harassment.

Does your company have an email policy in place? If not, its time to create one. Here are a few things you should include.

Start with usage
What is considered business use and what is considered personal use? What is acceptable? Clearly define both sides, and list guidelines for each. For example, if personal email is allowed at work, you may wish to set limits on the times of the day they can be sent (during breaks), or how they are viewed and stored. Also have clear guidelines on what can be attached to email, such as MP3 or EXE files. You may also wish to include a maximum file size for attachments sent via email.

Monitoring schedules
Once you have an email policy in place, its important to follow through with monitoring. How will you judge if your employees are using email in the correct way? Will you evaluate email files and usage on a regular basis? Make sure you clearly define these policies to the individual users so they aren’t surprised by the consequences.

Waste of resources
Email can tie up network traffic in many ways, especially with larger files and increased content. If your employees are allowed to sign up for newsletters and visit newsgroups, is there an appropriate limit to what they can receive? Also consider limiting the amount of data they can store. Some files, especially those heavy in graphic content, can quickly grow in size. Saving these files week after week, year after year, can quickly escalate the amount of storage space you need to maintain this much data.

Email risks
While we like to assume that everyone is familiar with the risks associated with email, clearly that isn’t the case when we consistently see stories in the news about cases going to court over email privacy issues. Email has inherent risks every time you type in information and hit the send button. Harmful effects can occur due to their actions. If someone doesn’t want their information shared with the world, they shouldn’t hit send. The more your employees understand this, the more control you’ll have over your email process.

Email practices
While defining the risks involved with email should be at the top of your to-do list, so to should defining the best way to use and send email. It may seem redundant, but consider it to be company security. Share with your employees etiquette tips on how to create great email – write in complete sentences, clearly define your message, use a company signature, use proper punctuation. Also share instructions on sending attachments, and proper storage procedures.

Proper storage
When dealing with customers, it may be important to file and save correspondence for future use. If confidential data exists, make sure you have specific guidelines for handling it effectively. Create a company wide system for storing email – cloud base filing systems work best – and share how to properly store documentation so others have access too. Also define how long email will remain on the servers, and the appropriate action to take to retain documentation for longer terms.

Violations
Make sure your policies for violations are clearly defined. Employees need to see in black and white what is considered a violation, and the steps that will be taken when violations occur. The more specific you can be with actions taken, the more clear it will be with your employees both as they follow the rules, and if they run into problems and potentially break the rules.

How To Keep Your Telecommuters Motivated

How To Keep Your Telecommuters Motivated

There is an interesting thing happening with the way we work. Close to 3 percent of US workers now consider home their primary place of work. That’s 3.3 million employees, not self-employed or unpaid volunteers, that work the majority of their shifts from the comforts of their own homes.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While 3 percent might not seem like a very large number, the results show that this number is growing stronger every day.

From 2005 to 2012, the rate of growth of employees working at home multiple days of the week grew nearly 80 percent during that time frame. And while telecommuting only grew 3.8 percent from 2011 to 2012, the year was plagued with job growth problems, with the workforce actually declining 1.5 percent. Which means even as jobs decreased, opportunities for employees to have more flexibility and freedom increased, giving more people the opportunity to work from home.

Telecommuting has a lot of benefits. It can be a very strong recruitment and retention tool, can help business owners lower expenses, and can help maintain flexibility in the way employees do their jobs. It can expand your market share simply by having employees closer to client hubs, allowing them to build stronger ties with your client base without the need for travel expenses.

With all of these benefits and more, its no wonder more businesses are turning to telecommuting.

But what about the motivation side of things? Some people can work well from the comforts of their own home. Others, maybe not so much. And if you’re not there watching over them and tracking performance levels, how can you make sure your workforce stays on track, and stays motivated towards the cause?

Start With A Plan

When you hire an employee, they are presented with a job description and a list of expectations. The same should be in place when allowing an employee to move into a telecommuting position. These should be the ground rules of the relationship and give your employee an understanding of expectations. These rules should include:

  • How you’ll measure performance
  • How you’ll maintain professionalism and the company vision through communications made from home
  • Expectations for staff and office meetings
  • The communication process between you, other employees, and clients
  • The number of hours worked, and timeframes to be available

The key to a successful telecommuting program is flexibility. Which is also why you’ll have to determine what the most important part of your relationship will be – hours or productivity? Does it matter how many hours they work if they can provide productivity and complete tasks in a sufficient manner in their own timeframes?

Regular Communication

While regular staff meetings may not be a part of your plan, regular communication should be. If you won’t be meeting in person more than a few times per year, at the very minimum you should have regular phone and/or video conferences to determine how well your employee is working.

When you are in an office situation, you can pick up body language clues by being around them. Are they tired? Are they bored? Do they have fear over certain situations? Are they avoiding certain tasks? That becomes more difficult when you aren’t viewing behavior regularly.

Watch and listen when you meet to determine how well they are doing. This may take time to learn overall telecommuting management skills, as well as how to handle individual responses from each distinctive worker.

Foster Teamwork

Whether you are a company of a handful of employees, or you have hundreds of employees both in the office and out in the field, its important to remember that you are in this together, and you all have a common goal you are working towards. This may take time to build rapport and trust, and to allow all of your employees to come together and learn what they can about each other.

Make sure each employee stays active. If your employees are scattered across the country, do they live in certain regions or cities? Can they get together as a team within a smaller region, either with or without you present? Can they regularly visit client offices to maintain a good relationship with your client base? Can they attend regular training, or head back into the corporate office occasionally to mix with other employees? Make sure they get involved with others on the team, both employee and client based, in order to avoid feeling isolated.

And above all, make sure each employee is motivated to do the best they can do. While that may require different strategies for different people, the more skills you learn as a manager, the more you’ll see situations upfront before they escalate.

Yes, management styles are changing, and will continue to change in the future. But with a little creativity, you can have a happier employee base, a stronger company, and a more productive workforce in a very effective way.

Are You Compliant With HIPAA Laws When You Communicate?

Are You Compliant With HIPAA Laws When You Communicate?

 

Running an effective business and maintaining HIPAA compliance can sometimes be challenging at best.

On one hand, technology has made it easier than ever to get things done at the office. With a quick email, a text message, and sharing a few images, you can take action and get the best response for a patient in a very fast manner.

On the other hand, are you ensuring safe practices every time you hit the send button on that text or email?

Worrying about the implications of bringing the two together can often keep you up at night. But what else can you do?

One recent study showed that nurses waste as much as 60 minutes each work day tracking down physicians for responses. And this isn’t an isolated problem. In fact, I’m willing to bet it occurs in most medical practices around the world.

So in many cases, office staff start taking matters into their own hands. It starts out innocently with a simple text; and before you know it, that one simple text turns into an office wide practice.

Therein lies one of the problems. Have you ever sent or received a text message to/from the wrong person? Up to forty percent of text users have.

Which is part of why HIPAA laws were enacted in the first place. A person’s private, personal health information must be protected from non-secure eyes. And if communication practices – email, texts, etc – aren’t secure, they shouldn’t be used to carry on conversations about individual results. A single violation for an unsecured communication can result in a fine of $50,000; repeated violations can jump that figure up to $1.5 million in fines in a year. And that doesn’t take into account the publicity and the reputational damage that will follow.

There are actually two parts of the problem that you, as a medical practice, need to contend with.

  • Client communication
  • Internal communication

On the client side, you as the medical practice must maintain full compliance regardless of how your patients choose to communicate. Email is prevalent for communication – many patients don’t understand the vulnerability of email, and will send personal information without a second thought. While you can’t control how information comes in to you from a patient, you can take full control over how its handled the moment it reaches you, how its stored, and how it is communicated back out to patients or other referral physicians or practices.

Internally, all communications must remain secure, and meet several guidelines in order to maintain compliancy. Commuications must be stored in secured data centers, must be encrypted both in transit and at rest, must be delivered only to its intended recipient, and must have the ability to create and record an audit trail of all activity that pertains to the transport of personal records.

Because this is a new and growing field, your options are growing and changing all the time. The key is to look for applications that can provide you with both security and with enough options that make communication inside your practice and as you make referrals to the rest of the medical community a snap.

Like Mediprocity. They are a web based app that works just like texting; but it has the flexibility to also be used from a desktop or laptop, giving your entire office staff ease of use. And what I like about a system like this is it offers a simple solution that you can use through Internet access, without having to download software or worry about integrating with other programs you may already use. It takes control over security and compliance, which means you don’t have to think about it; its done for you.

In today’s increasingly mobile world, technology will continue to be the key to efficiency. Used properly, it has the potential to revolutionize not only the way we communicate in the moment, but also how we think of health and wellness and communicate that with patients.

How Necessary Is An IT Strategy?

How Necessary Is An IT Strategy?

Strategy. Planning. Purpose. Tactics.

Everybody talks about the importance of having each of these things in place. Yet how many businesses are upfront with what their strategies truly are? How many employees are on board with each key tactic, and know how to move forward when challenges arise?

Strategy is a strange thing. Everyone agrees that having a strategy is an important part of operating a business. But what should it include? Who should understand the policies in the plan? How well should they be monitored? How effective are they at running the business?

Is it a solid strategy that is used before every purchase and before every decision being made? Or is it simply something that looks good on paper, and is referred to only on occasion, and usually when problems arise?

Lots of questions, I know. But as you read through and asked each of these questions to yourself, hopefully you started to see a pattern. You either began nodding your head, knowing you’ve developed a strong plan that your company adheres to very well; or you’ve seen holes in your own approach to developing a strategy, and recognize that you need improvement.

A solid IT strategy is important for many reasons.

Provides guidance for your company and industry

We are in a world of change; keeping up is not an option. Not only is new technology being developed every day, government regulation is also changing quickly, putting more requirements in place for the end user. A solid strategy helps everyone in the organization understand their core capabilities, identify where the trouble spots are, and spot risks before they arise. It helps everyone stay focused on what truly matters, and helps deliver the best performance now and as things change in the future.

Operate in a changing world

Every day, new technology is being created, digital devices become available, and equipment and programs become more effective. How do you keep up with it all? In the world of IT, it can be very confusing. Especially if you run a large organization that takes months to get things from concept to implementation. How do you implement something that is out of date even before the final user is in place?

The key in many cases isn’t about the final product or system you choose, its about how well you adapt. Whether a change is implemented due to a new policy, a new regulation, or simply as a way stay on top of technology, the importance comes from seeing the big picture first. Technology will always grow and adapt; having the keys to allow you to do so effectively will keep you relevant in a changing world.

Creating direction for the future

What is your ultimate goal? All organizations need to make sure their staff understands that purpose, and what it will take to get there. Every business has a specific purpose, a specific “thing” they offer to their clients and customers. IT is only a part of the picture. Customer service, resources, operations, even engagement all play into perception. The customer is there for an end result; not for the way you use technology, or how fast you can implement. It all comes into play in the way you perform your ultimate task and reach your definitive goal.

While its important for your staff to be trained to be as efficient as possible, its equally important for them to remember what the end goal is, and how you use that knowledge as you move and build towards the future. Clients are your ultimate purpose. If you can find a way to keep them happy, while at the same time staying relevant in your industry, that’s the perfect union of a solid IT strategy.

5 Strategies For Creating New Productivity Habits In Your Project Team

5 Strategies For Creating New Productivity Habits In Your Project Team

As we head into the New Year, many people develop a long list of resolutions to put into place.

Resolutions are always about change; they are about putting things into your life that don’t already exist, and changing habits in such a way that they make your life better, such as losing weight, or making your life more productive, such as organizing your home and clearing out the “junk”. But resolutions don’t have to be on a personal level alone; why not take this time to build new productivity habits in your project team as well?

Studies show that almost half of our daily routines are spent performing habitual actions. If your team has been together for a while, they probably do many things out of routine more than because it’s the most efficient way possible. As a project leader, its your job to step back once in a while, and analyze your overall performance. Are you working the best way possible to allow innovation, and keep things moving at an optimal pace? Or are you getting bogged down in the “as-is” mentality when it comes to doing things just to get them done?

Make this New Year a time when you reevaluate your team’s productivity habits, and change things up a bit to set you on a new course for the coming months. Change is not something human nature enjoys; we all fight it along the way. In fact, research shows it can take up to 60 days on average to make a new habit stick. Here’s how to introduce new habits to your team, and how to make the transition smooth.

Lead By Example

Successful team leaders don’t issue orders and step aside; they lead by example. Have a clear vision of where you want to go and what you wish to achieve by implementing these new productivity habits. Set the tone for the project. Set expectations, and give your team updates to show how well you are working towards the goal as well. And when you have setbacks, don’t hide them from the team. Admit falling back to old, comfortable ways, and show your team how you personally overcame the setback.

Bring In The Support Team

Recognize the fact that in some cases, you may need additional support to make a change stick. You may need new software programs or apps to make your office more productive; that may mean training sessions to understand how the system works. Recognize what you and your team needs in order to make the most of your new direction.

Establish Structure and Strategy

Have you clearly defined what the change means to your team, your project, and your company? What are the implications if you don’t change? How will you hold people accountable? Change is difficult at all levels, but its even more difficult if you can’t understand the purpose of the change. In some cases, it may be easier to bring on a few team members who are natural leaders with a “get it done” attitude, and help them understand the strategy first. When you have more than one person on board, it can provide support for the people that are having a more difficult time. Support is everything when implementing change.

Act With Urgency

Remember, to bring a new habit into existence will take on average 60 days to make it stick. What are you doing each day to make sure you are on board with doing things the new way, and your team is following in your path? While you don’t want to hover and develop an “in your face” attitude, communicate and look for opportunities to share both your successes and setbacks with the process. Engage with the team and set timetables for meeting deadlines and overcoming hurdles. Possibly set up reward systems for when successes are met faster than expected. If you take the attitude that this is the direction, this is the future, with no turning back, your team will follow along.

Cultivate A Sense Of Ownership

It isn’t just you or your company that will win when change is brought on. It should also give your team members more flexibility and more freedom to grow as employees. People like learning new skills; it adds to their skill set and makes them more valuable as an employee. It can give them more opportunity to stretch and approach things in new ways. Throughout the change, listen to each team member’s opinions, questions and concerns. Don’t just map out how this is good for the company or the project, offer advice on how this will help a person expand their career goals. And when people see ways to improve or move forward in ways you may not have thought about, use that to help grow overall. At times of change, even the smallest of breakthroughs can have a big impact; use them to cultivate togetherness throughout the team.

Projects, teams and people succeed when change brings everyone together and on board in a manner they are comfortable with. Bringing on new productivity habits doesn’t have to be difficult; it just has to have purpose. Give that gift to your team this New Year, and watch how much you can accomplish in the coming year.