Beyond Emails and Texts: Safely Modernizing Team Communication Tools

Let's dive into a modern-day conundrum: our relationship with our smartphones. For most of us, they're like an extra limb, always within arm's reach, and we owe some of this attachment to those nifty apps that simplify life. Gone is the 9-5 workday of old; these sleek gadgets can feel like electronic leashes, tying us to our workplaces and, in turn, expanding our office space beyond the safety of our business walls. These devices mean we can be in constant touch with each other—and constantly in touch with organization systems and files, making them attractive to hackers and data thieves. 

As texting and emailing on smartphones have become the norm, employees have had to adapt to an “always on” business model. Employees today are taking advantage of the freedom smartphones provide and can be found checking and responding to emails, using public Wi-Fi, texting and chatting on business platforms likes TEAMS, taking video calls (sometimes with groups of employees), and, of course, speaking on phone calls within public spaces. Which means that your employees can hold in their hands, on a brightly lit screen, at any time of day and in almost any location, confidential organization information and access to corporate servers and systems. The risk associated with smartphones is huge!

While HR grapples with the increasing mental and physical health strains caused by “always available” employee phone relationships, it’s up to CIOs and IT to consider how to best protect our organizations as we communicate and collaborate with our teams. To help mitigate risks, no business today should be without employee protocols surrounding smartphone use. A Mobile Device Security Policy is an employee use directive that outlines what is and is not acceptable smartphone use, including location, travel, and timing. For example, a Mobile Device Security Policy may bar employees from carrying organization smartphones during international travel or it may prohibit taking video meetings in a public space.

Smartphones can be an easy gateway for hackers, which is why your Mobile Device Security Policy should also cover items like applications and scannable access codes. All it takes is for one employee to install a shady application on a work smartphone or click on the wrong email attachment for hackers to have an opening to your business secrets. Simple, everyday scenarios such as an employee downloading a car service app to reach a meeting or scanning a menu QR code that had been covered by a hacker’s code could make that work smartphone an entry point for destruction.

The Mobile Device Security Policy is the starting point for employee education, but it’s up to IT to carry our additional security protocols. Organizations can protect themselves by:

  • Installing remote wiping software on any business smartphones
  • Maintaining data encryption and installing antivirus and secure connection software such as VPNs with threat protection on smartphones.
  • Forced updates and backups. 
  • Locking features such as app and non-business software installation.
  • Limit access to business systems on employee personal phones.
  • Require strong passwords and, for direct business access points, multi-factor authentication.

Email may still be the primary tool for interactions beyond your organization, but for internal teams, collaboration tools have evolved to make information readily available. While it would be nice to always conduct meetings in-person and within a secure building, today’s workplace has moved away from that model. Smartphone-accessible platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Basecamp, and Asana offer centralized communication, structured task management, and organized collaboration spaces. They maintain detailed audit logs that track activities and changes, which are vital for accountability, investigating any issues, and team transparency. They may also have the advantage of being separate from your organization’s systems, creating an additional barrier against hackers. 

Of course, the best security approach is to encourage the employees to use any of the numerous alternatives to constant availability for team communication and collaboration. These tools not only improve efficiency and accessibility but also prioritize security, protecting sensitive information while promoting a healthier work-life balance for team members. By adopting secure communication platforms, organizations can foster a collaborative environment without the burden of opening themselves up to hackers.

However, it's important to note that these tools offer more than just efficiency gains. They also free up valuable time for fostering more meaningful interactions among team members. While digital communication is undoubtedly convenient, it should serve to complement, not replace, genuine human interactions. Seek out opportunities to meet with colleagues face-to-face whenever possible or utilize virtual meetings when needed. These personal interactions are invaluable for brainstorming, fostering creativity, and building a strong team culture.

The bottom line is that smartphones have dramatically changed our business approach to cyber security. By enforcing a Mobile Device Security Policy and encouraging employees to rethink their relationships with their phones, we can enhance our organizational security and strike a better balance in everyone’s work lives.