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What Are Your Employees Doing When You’re Not Looking?

Small businesses can benefit from employee monitoring, in the right circumstance.

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As adults we tend to have very strong opinions about privacy. A Pew Research Center study showed that 74 percent of respondents ranked the ability to control who can get information about you as being “very important” and 67 percent ranked “not having someone watch you or listen to you without your permission” as very important.

Context does play a big role, though. While more people may balk at online commerce or social media sites collecting personal information, tools that allow parents to monitor the children’s activities, or even tools that allows employers to monitor employees, are more commonly accepted. While large enterprises with thousands of employees may be deploying sophisticated and costly monitoring systems, small businesses can often accomplish what they need with less expensive tools, often originally designed for parenting situations.

On the parental front, savvy parents must know that WhatsApp is now the communications tool of choice among young people and simply looking at your kids’ Facebook page is no longer enough. Parents want to know what their kids are saying on WhatsApp and that’s not quite as straightforward.

Today, many tools used by small businesses are also used by parents – basic website monitors and website blockers are standard equipment at schools and libraries and increasingly used by private businesses to reign in the incidence of superfluous Web surfing on company time.

Related: 11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

Despite its origins as a communications tool targeted at the youth market, WhatsApp is just starting to make some inroads as a business tool, and just as quickly as that is happening, tools like XNSPY, a tracking and monitoring app for Android and iOS devices, are appearing on the market with new features to track WhatsApp, giving employers (and parents, too) a way to look into whether WhatsApp and other communications apps are being used appropriately.

What’s up with WhatsApp in the workplace?

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It’s a real-time, cross-platform messaging app, often used by young people as a social communications tool, although some small businesses are starting to discover its utility as a tool for doing business as well.

Recently bought by Facebook for a record $19 billion in cash, shares and stock, the app is likely to be more popular with new millennial employees who are just entering the workplace.

“With the Facebook acquisition propelling WhatsApp into the limelight, corporate security managers are only just now recognising the need to address WhatsApp in their security policies, and update their monitoring tools accordingly,” said Sean Polinski, Manager of Product Development at XNSPY.

“WhatsApp is no more dangerous than any other instant messaging tool, and may even be useful as a business tool, but a monitoring policy has to be in place to ensure legal compliance, and promote a safe workplace.”

Currently there are only a small handful of web apps that monitor WhatsApp, including XNSPY, which lets employees view WhatsApp call logs, read chat threads, and view pictures, as well as check senders’ names and numbers, and view time and date stamps. It can monitor both Android and iPhone smartphones, and works by installing a small piece of software on every smartphone or tablet that needs to be monitored.

Is it legal to snoop?

Often, use of monitoring tools in the workplace isn’t a matter of snooping, or even a perceived need to keep employees off of social media platforms or offensive websites. It’s simply a legal requirement that could keep you out of trouble if, at some point in the future, the government demands to see your electronic records.

Many employers are motivated to monitor employee activity over concern about potential litigation. Lawsuits, compliance with government mandates and the potential for government investigations all require companies to create more of a digital paper trail than ever before, and security experts will always tell you that more is always better. At some point, you may be called upon by a judge to produce documents and if that happens, you had better be able to produce all of them. Saving some – but not all – employee emails, for example, would eliminate any possibility of using emails as evidence in a court case.

The lesson – if you’re going to electronically snoop on your employees, do it across the board, for everyone (including yourself), save your files and document your actions and have a written policy documenting precise procedures for doing so.

Related: As An Entrepreneur, Be A Motivational Leader To Your Staff

The need to retain electronic documents – including emails, text chat threads and even WhatsApp threads – became more important with the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act of 2002, made into law in response to high profile court trials in which companies participated in fraudulent financial reporting. SOX attempts to put into place a set of practices designed to prevent the alteration of digital documents, including emails and messaging threads.

Most employers do some sort of monitoring – whether it’s MBWA (Management By Walking Around), or installing software on desktops, notebooks and cell phones – but XNSPY recommends a written and uniformly applied security policy in order to ensure full compliance with the law. Regulations regarding employee monitoring are surprisingly light, and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is really more about what to do with and how long to store electronic records such as employee emails and chat threads, rather than asking whether it should be done at all. That it should be allowed is seen as a given from a legal perspective.

According to XNSPY’s best practice guidelines, employers wishing to monitor employees’ online behavior must follow a few basic rules:

  1. Apply monitoring uniformly. When electronic records are demanded by court action, if you have not retained records strictly according to policy, you may not have the proof that you thought you had when you face the judge. If you monitor one employee, you must monitor them all.
  2. Approach employee-owned electronics with caution. Although the practice has become more common, employees may still have a reasonable expectation of privacy on their own devices, and installing XNSPY on an employee’s personal device is not advised. However, it is fully within the law to install it on the employer’s equipment. For that reason, some companies are embracing the practice of employer-issued smartphones.
  3. Create a written policy manual. Lay out expectations and rules in writing, and advise employees that use of electronic equipment may be monitored.

Other questions as to legality arise when using GPS to track employees in employer-owned vehicles. Many of the software tools on the market have multiple features, as does XNSPY, which also includes a GPS tracker. But using GPS may be done for more reasons than simply knowing whether your employees are stopping off at the donut shop one too many times, it can be very useful as a dispatch tool as well as a safety tool in case of accident. But regardless of the reason for deploying the GPS feature, courts have generally held that use of GPS in company-owned equipment is allowed.

California, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas do have separate laws that prevent mobile tracking devices to be used to track other individuals, but even those statutes will not apply to GPS software installed in employee-owned vehicles or employee-owned equipment.

Employers love it, but will employees?

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The need and desire for privacy has to be balanced against compliance requirements, the need for workplace safety and the financial considerations of the employer. And while, as the Pew survey revealed, consumers will bristle at commerce sites that collect personal information, employees are more likely to accept monitoring by an employer.

Related: Want to Lead Your Staff? Serve Your People

According to the survey, only 28 percent ranked “not being monitored at work” as very important to them, with 22 percent saying it was not very important.

Small businesses can benefit from employee monitoring, in the right circumstance – so long as it is transparent, employees understand that it is being done and for what reason and that it is used uniformly across the board. In addition to satisfying the needs and concerns of employees, doing so will also satisfy legal requirements for electronic document retention.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Dan Blacharski is a thought leader, advisor, industry observer and PR counsel to several Internet startups. He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, fintech, cloud computing and crowdsourcing. He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife Charoenkwan and their Boston Terrier, "Ling Ba."

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Managing Staff

Why Uninsured Employees Are Bad For Business

Often businesses assume that their employees will take the necessary steps to insure themselves, but in reality, many people don’t. By covering your employees you’re not just insuring their financial futures if something happens, you’re covering your business too.

Anthony Miller

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Entrepreneurship is not for sissies. It involves dreams and risks. Cash flow is crucial and often thin on the ground, as owners juggle the challenges of overheads and growth. An entrepreneur or SME owner cannot fall back on the financial cushioning that is characteristic of much larger corporate businesses.

That said, as an entrepreneur have you ever thought what would happen if one of your staff members were suddenly unable to provide for their families due to death or disability? Would their family be left destitute? Would you as a business owner feel obliged to contribute to cover funeral costs and offer support to the family concerned?

If so, you should be considering a group life policy as the financial and emotional strain on the business can be significant. Group cover is generally far cheaper than retail cover. In many cases, employees can even cancel their individual cover and, in so doing, save a significant amount of money.

Recognising both the need and the opportunity, our business, Simply Financial Services, recently introduced an online Group Cover product. These are our top five questions asked by business owners when considering employee benefits.

Related: The Simple Way To Pay Wages When Your Staff Don’t Have Bank Accounts

1. Why is group life cover better for my employees than their retail alternatives?

Group life insurance holds numerous benefits for individuals. First, since the employer pays the premium, persistency is typically better and dependants are more consistently protected. Second, the cost of group cover is often far lower (for equivalent cover) than the individual could get directly. Third, better cover may be provided for people with impaired health. And finally, waiting periods are often waived or shortened. We’re convinced that good value group cover is a net positive investment for a company.

2. Is group life cover affordable?

Group life cover starts at very affordable levels. Meaningful cover can be obtained from about R49 per employee per month. Also, there are ways to structure the payment of premiums in such a way that it becomes part of your employees’ total remuneration package. You may for example want to structure it so that the employee makes a contribution, which is matched by the business.

Affordability is obviously important to SME owners and entrepreneurs. Costs need to be weighed against benefits both in terms of increased loyalty and job satisfaction from employees, and the potential cost to the business if a key member of staff is disabled or dies.

3. What does group life cover typically include?

Cover varies a lot from provider to provider and ranges from very simple funeral policies to very complex death and disability cover. Cover can be a multiple of annual salary or a fixed amount of cover for both life and disability, and a fixed amount of cover for family funerals. You should look out for the following when selecting your product:

  • What’s included in the cover? What benefits does it include? In our view, you should look for a product that provides good value protection products (eg. life, disability, family funeral). This caters for as wide a range of scenarios as possible. Be careful you don’t end up with a bundle of value added services (eg. free airtime) and very little life or disability cover.
  • Free cover limits. Is there a guaranteed amount of cover (the ‘free cover limit’), up to which your employees are covered for death and disability from both natural and accidental causes (full cover), irrespective of employee numbers?
  • Waiting period. How long would you have to wait, from when you take out the policy, before your employees get full cover, rather than just accidental-only cover?
  • How does the price compare with your alternatives — both group and retail — and how are premiums likely to change over time?

Related: 11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

4. What’s hidden in the fine print?

It’s really important to check the fine print, to ensure there are no nasty surprises when there’s a claim. Many providers have complex policy rules and documents, and SMEs only discover the details when it’s too late. A good barometer is to look at how simple and transparent the sign-up process is, and how user-friendly the policy documents are.

5. What provider should I choose?

Make sure your insurance provider has a reliable track record, and is underwritten by a recognised insurance provider. There are a lot of fly-by-night players out there and you need to ensure that the policy you are buying has the backing of established and well-recognised market players. You need to be confident that your insurer can be trusted to pay when it comes to claim time.

6. How do I go about buying and administering the policy?

Traditionally, brokers have sold group life policies and provided admin support to their clients. Since quite a lot of work is involved and commissions are limited, brokers have not typically been available to SMEs. As such, there is a long tail of SMEs who don’t have group life cover and their employees are at risk. Fortunately, there are now options available that allow SMEs to do it themselves online and for brokers to serve SMEs cost-effectively.

You need to decide whether you want the peace of mind of working through a broker or the speed, control and convenience of doing it yourself online.

In conclusion, we believe group life insurance offers much value and peace of mind for SMEs. While many South Africans have funeral cover, very few have life or disability cover.  As an SME owner or manager, you can show you care by taking a policy for your employees.  Not only will you probably save money relative to an equivalent retail product, you’ll be amazed at how much your employees will appreciate your care and generosity. And you’ll be able to sleep easy, knowing their families will be taken care of if they die or become disabled.

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Managing Staff

Day Zero And Your Employees – What An Entrepreneur Needs To Know

With Day Zero pushed out to 2019, entrepreneurs in the Western Cape are still left with one concerning question: “What will happen to my business should the water supply still run dry?”

Jose Jorge

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Depending on their reliance on municipal water, entrepreneurs could potentially find themselves without the ability to generate revenue in the absence of water. During this time, they will still be expected to pay staff a salary, creating a potentially untenable situation for certain businesses.

It is imperative that entrepreneurs in the Western Cape region start early discussions with their employees to find possible solutions that can be implemented should Day Zero actually hit. CDH provides the following possibilities to consider:

To pay or not to pay, that is the question

The duty of the employer to pay remuneration continues as long as the employee tenders his or her services. This is also the case where an employee is prevented from working, due to an unanticipated or unpreventable act such as a natural disaster.

Related: SME Survey: Day Zero Warning Hits SMEs Hard

An employer would have to pay its employees that tender work even if it cannot provide them with any work. Fortunately for employers, labour law recognises certain measures that can be taken to minimise this burden. The two most common are short-time and the temporary suspension of payment of remuneration. It is also important to note that these two measures can only be implemented if all parties concerned have agreed to it.

Short-time is a system of work that is used for periods when there is little or no work. The system recognises that paying an employee for periods when he or she is not working places undue strain on the financial position of the employer and the employee.

Employees may either agree to short-time in a contract of employment, or an employer may enter into a collective agreement regulating short-time with a union representing the affected employees.

A temporary suspension of payment of remuneration may be implemented when there is some prospect of the work situation improving in the near future and the employer being able to provide the employee with work. This may be implemented as an alternative to a dismissal.

Where there is no agreement to these alternatives an entrepreneur will have to engage with his or her employees, explain the company’s position and attempt to secure an agreement in this regard. If an employer is unable to do so, he or she may have to consider retrenchments.

Can you retrench employees as a result of Day Zero?

This is a difficult question. An employer will have to consider whether employees’ inability to work will be for a prolonged period.

There is no way of knowing how long a drought will continue. With the unpredictable effects of global warming, the weather has become increasingly difficult to forecast. The World Wildlife Fund anticipates that if the Western Cape region receives the same rainfall pattern as last year, the drought will continue for six months.

Related: Why Innovative Employee Benefits Are Your Competitive Advantage

The Labour Relations Act, No. 66 of 1995 allows an employer to retrench employees for ‘operational requirements’. Operational requirements are defined as requirements based on economic, technological, structural or similar needs.

In order to establish that an ‘operational requirements’ dismissal is substantively fair, an employer must determine that genuine operational requirements exist. If the anticipated consequence of the drought is that a business may not be able to continue with its operations – without access to municipal water – this would constitute an operational requirement.

In conclusion, CDH advises entrepreneurs in the region whose business is heavily reliant on water to consider entering into working arrangements with their employees for the duration of the drought. This will ensure that the entrepreneur and the employee are both in agreement regarding available options should Day Zero occur. It will also help provide a sustainable alternative to retrenchments.

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Managing Staff

10 Corny But Undeniably True And Inspiring Quotes About Teamwork

As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships.” He ought to know.

Blake Snow

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With two games remaining, my daughter’s soccer team is in second place. They’ve won nine games and lost only one – to the team in third place.

Although that team doesn’t not have as many star players as our side, they beat us on the admittedly widely held but elusive principle that sharing the ball leads to more goals (and better defense) than impressive dribbling or individuality.

In other words, their 11 played better as a team than the three remarkable players on my daughter’s team. Granted, the third-place team probably dropped more games than we did because playing as an effective team in consecutive games is harder to do. After all, it’s easier for a few great players to show up to every game (as we have mostly done) than a reliable team.

Related: 7 Team Building Ideas To Create An Engaged Team

In any case, my daughter’s “club” will square off against the first place team this weekend. I suspect they’ll lose unless they listen to Michael Jordan: “Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships.”

The same is true in business and life in general.

If we want to “win championships” in both of those, we have to get others involved, pass more, risk failure, allow teammates to learn from their mistakes by letting them commit them and putting the needs of the group above our own selfish aspirations.

To that end, I encourage you, my daughter’s soccer team and everyone else interested in winning to consider and internalise my 10 favourite quotes on the importance of competing as a team. Some are a bit corny. All are true.

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