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Emphasize accountability for personal tech use at work

Although the practice of attending to personal matters on company time has been around forever, with rapidly advancing technology, employers need to be sure to set out clear rules and expectations around the use of smartphones and social media during work hours, Toronto legal management consultant Mark Dormer tells Lawyers Weekly.

“People used to make a lot of personal phone calls and send personal e-mails, and that’s grown with handhelds, texting and various social media platforms. These can completely draw people in, taking the focus away from their work,” Dormer, owner and president of Cosgrove Associates Inc., explains in the article.

When it comes to ensuring employees work productively during the hours for which they’re being paid, Dormer recommends employers set clear rules and an equally clear expectation that the rules be followed.

“Your policy manual should cover personal use of social media and other platforms,” explains Dormer, adding that policies be backed up by supervision and discipline if necessary.

He says employers can also be creative, as some companies have even adjusted the layout of desks and work spaces to make it harder for employees to disguise illicit activities.

On the other hand, Dormer tells Lawyers Weekly that he is loath to endorse a culture where surveillance is paramount.

“We don’t want to go there. Nobody wants to work in a firm that’s oppressive,” he says.

Instead, he suggests employers opt for a softer approach.

“Make sure there’s lots of interaction. If the supervising lawyer notices a staff member spending a lot of time on social media we encourage them to remind the employee to be productive, that they’re there to work.”

At the same time, Dormer advises against drawing hard lines in the sand, and suggests employers should recognize that people want or need to keep in touch with friends and family, and that modern technology has enabled this. There are also occasions when employees need to be able to make personal calls or deal with urgent private matters, he says.

“It’s about getting people to be accountable and making them understand they can text family and friends but just keep it to a minimum,” he adds.

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