There is a lesson for us all in the continuing revelations from stolen Sony emails being splashed over world-wide media. It is a lesson that Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal could have benefited from before sending emails with racist comments about President Obama. Or an email calling Leonardo DiCaprio’s behaviour “Absolutely Despicable” when he decided to pull out of a planned Steve Jobs biopic. The lesson is a very simple one. It is that when you are writing an email (or any other corporate document), imagine that it will inevitably one day end up on the Internet for everyone to see. Even without the hacking episode, there have been enough horror stories of private emails being accidentally sent to the wrong people who have little issue with making the contents public. The emails of Amy Pascal and other Sony Pictures’ executives reveal damaging internal discussions about business practises and commentary on a wide range of people that the company relies on to do their business. It is hard to imagine how those involve retain their credibility as more of the emails become public. The dangers of emails being used against an organisation was something that former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates discovered the hard way during US antitrust investigations. After that point, Microsoft internally discussed a practice of not keeping any emails for longer than 6 months. In many other cases, emails have been obtained by journalists and others and used against the owners under Freedom of Information requests. Deleting emails after a set amount of time would have helped a great deal with Sony’s problems but it comes with its own issues. Many organisations, including universities, are subject to legal regulations governing how long official records need to be retained. Emails can be considered part of official records and so it is sometimes difficult to apply a blanket policy that requires all emails to be deleted after a relatively short time. The problem of email could also potentially be solved by using other forms of electronic communication instead. There have been suggestions that email could be replaced with instant messaging. This is certainly the case but many of these services keep records of conversations. Google for example, allows individual hangouts to be switched into “off the record” mode, but does not allow this setting as a default for all conversations. To delete the record of the conversation, it has to be done individually. Special software that automatically deletes conversations can be used such as messaging apps Telegram and OneOne but these require widespread use. In terms of the types of email exchanges that were highlighted in the Sony releases, it is unlikely that the participants would have had the presence of mind to use more secure communications in any event. Although companies should be advising all of their staff, especially the senior ones about good email hygiene, there is still a much easier way of avoiding all of these issues by not writing the email (or document) in the first place. If that is not possible, then there are a few definite things you should do when writing email: 1) Always keep it brief. The more you write, the harder it is to check you haven’t said something you will regret. 2) Never write email when you are angry or emotional. Leave it for 24 hours before writing, if at all. 3) Never write email when you have been drinking. 4) Never include personal, intolerant, or insensitive statements in corporate email. If it helps, it is also useful to imagine a prosecuting lawyer looking over your shoulder as you write every email you send. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
A lot has been said about how inefficient email is but not a lot has been done about it. Now, an Australian startup is hoping to shake up the way employees communicate with customers and each other in the workplace. Helloify, a startup based on the Gold Coast, is launching its messaging app today with the aim of allowing enterprises to boost their efficiency by leveraging instant team chat software. The startup allows businesses to install a widget on their website so people can send live messages or register a mobile number to have customers text them. All messages come through the multi-platform app and team members can then read and reply to them accordingly. Co-founder Dan Norris told StartupSmart Helloify will allow customers and staff of a business to access the same level of efficiency that consumers get from instant messaging. “The behaviour of people is changing now,” he says. “[With] email, people will send something long and detailed and not expect a reply straight away. “It’s much more efficient to message now – especially with mobile.” Norris says with the advent of apps like WhatsApp, people are used to instant messaging rather than sending emails and waiting for a reply. “I don’t email my friends… but it wasn’t long ago that people were emailing their friends,” he says. “Now people’s phone notifications are going off all the time and they have a natural way of managing that. People really like getting that immediate response.” Helloify is available as a web app and a native app on Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android. Norris says it might be hard to change people’s behaviour from sending emails to sending instant messages, but that is what the startup will be focusing on. “The first couple of months we are going to be focusing on existing customers and working out what exactly they need.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Half of Australia’s working population are now identified as ‘digital workers’, using the internet to work from home or on the go, with new research finding it actually enhances the productivity of employees through increased flexibility. Research released this morning from the Australian Communications and Media Authority found as of May this year there were 5.6 million adults who used the internet to work away from the office outside ‘working hours’, or to work from home rather than coming into the office. At the time of the research, 5.6 million people composed 51% of the total number of employed Australians. The percentage increased significantly when considering workers with a university qualification, with 70% saying they’d worked from home. The study, which also had a focus on SMEs, found 39% of employers with less than 20 staff allowed their employees to work from home at least one day a week. Businesses with 20 to 199 employees were more likely than small business to allow employees to work from home, with the percentage increasing to 55%. The ACMA communications analysis manager Joseph Di Gregorio told SmartCompany it’s likely more and more people will become digital workers. “Putting it into context, Australians are doing more online, be it commerce, entertainment or interacting with businesses and government, so working is just becoming part of that story,” he says. “It’s a broader picture with regards to the digital economy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers do increase. The internet is no longer on the periphery; it’s a core part of everyday life.” Di Gregorio says the majority of digital workers at the moment come from industries where employees have long needed to be mobile. “If you look at the nature of the industries where this is most popular, it’s communications and property and business services sectors, so having a lot of people on the go is a natural part of those work environments,” he says. “If you remove the internet, they would probably be a very mobile group of people anyway, so the internet in many ways is actually just keeping them in touch with their resources and improving their productivity.” The study of 2400 households and 1500 SMEs found the highest number of digital workers were from capital cities, aged 35 to 44, were male, employed full-time and had a university qualification. Almost three million people worked away from the office at least two days a week and 4.6 million worked from home when outside of the office. The survey found the major benefits of working from home were increased flexibility (55%) and more opportunities to get work done (30%), and 53% of digital workers identified no negatives of working from home. Of those who did perceive some negatives, 24% said reduced access to communication services was an issue and 20% found there was reduced access to colleagues. The chief executive of the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of Management, Tony Gleeson, told SmartCompany working away from the office isn’t suited to everyone. “With digital workers you must be clear with what the objectives are and have some sort of way for them to connect with business with where they’re up to, like a database,” he says. “Don’t expect them to work a standard 9am to 5pm day. In my experience they actually end up working longer hours and produce better quality work, but it isn’t for everyone.” He says working from home is best suited to people who are “well-structured”. “They should also be in roles with very clear deliverables, for example if a report needs to be created by a set time and dates,” he says. “It can be very lonely, so some form of instant messaging support helps… it can lead to cultural issues after a while and I don’t think you can do it for a long period of time.” Gleeson says people who are working in the physical office end up assuming those working from home are slacking off, when this is rarely the case, and they end up missing out on the “office politics”. “The third thing is the workers can be forgotten about after a period of time. The managers don’t get to know their personality and don’t know how far they can be stretched. From my experience, you end up being pigeon-holed into a certain kind of work.”
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