Lost In Cyberspace

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How To Handle Productivity Problems Of The Digital Age

Similar to other industries, the self-storage industry’s reliance on technology and the internet is intensifying. Self-storage facilities across the country are adopting cloud-based property management software, online reservation/payment options on advanced websites, wireless door alarms, mobile entry systems, electronic leases/signatures, and more, in an effort to remain competitive and offer the conveniences tenants desire.

While there are upfront costs associated with implementing these high-tech features, they can help storage operators save both time and money in the long run. For example, the internet has enabled self-storage businesses to reach more clients without having to break the bank on costly advertisements. Through social media, email, custom websites, and the like, self-storage facilities have been able to reduce their marketing expenses and increase the effectiveness of their efforts with messages tailored to their intended audiences. In addition, thanks to informative websites that list street rates, specials, and amenities, oftentimes managers can shop the local competition without having to make a phone call or leave their office.

Despite the numerous benefits, which includes streamlining operations by creating efficiencies, technology can actually put a dent in productivity. As a matter of fact, according to Staff Monitoring Solutions, American businesses lose up to 40 percent productivity due to internet usage unrelated to work.

What’s more, a survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam found the average office employee spends 56 minutes per day using their cell phone at work for non-work activity. That number jumps up to 70 minutes when focusing only on employees ages 18 to 34.

According to a Harris Poll that was conducted in 2016 on behalf of CareerBuilder, 83 percent of the employees surveyed reported having a smartphone, and 82 percent of those with smartphones stated that they kept them within eye contact at work.

Although that may not seem like a problematic statistic, 66 percent of the survey respondents said that they used their smartphones at least several times a day while working. Of the 66 percent using their smartphones during work, 65 percent were attending to personal messaging, 51 percent were checking the weather, 44 percent were reading the news, 24 percent were playing games, 24 percent were shopping, 12 were checking traffic conditions, seven percent were visiting gossip sites, six percent were on sales sites, four percent were on adult sites, and three percent were on dating sites.

Establishing Policies
In an effort to prevent employees from using company equipment for personal use and/or misusing company time on personal devices, many companies utilize internet and technology policies.

“We have written internet and technology policies in our employee handbook,” says Ann Parham, president of Bulverde, Texas-based Joshua Management. “It is very detailed and is several paragraphs long. The main idea is that all internet, computer, phone, or any other equipment is owned by the company and is only for company use.”

Joshua Management also has new hires sign the company’s computer usage policy acknowledgement form to document that they have received and understand the policy.

The company’s policy states: “I acknowledge that all electronic communications systems and all information received from, transmitted by, or stored in these systems are and will remain Joshua Management’s property. I also acknowledge that these systems are to be used only for job-related purposes, not for personal purposes. I have no personal privacy right or any expectation of privacy in connection with my use of this equipment or with the receipt, transmission, or storage of information in Joshua Management’s equipment. I agree not to access a file, use a code, or retrieve any stored communication unless I am authorized to do so. Further, I agree to disclose messages or information from electronic communications systems only to authorized individuals. I acknowledge and consent to Joshua Management’s monitoring my use of this equipment at its discretion at any time. Joshua Management’s monitoring may include printing out and reading all electronic mail leaving, entering, or stored in these systems. I further agree to abide by Joshua Management’s policy prohibiting the use of the internet and electronic communication systems to transmit anything offensive, lewd, racist, or sexist. I have been clearly informed that violation of this policy can lead to disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination.”

In addition to a clearly outlined computer/internet policy like the one above, some companies contain lists of approved websites within their usage policies. Approved websites may include the competitions’ websites, social media sites utilized by the facility, vendor websites, and other sites necessary for completing assigned duties. Conversely, you could also block access to specific sites that you do not want employees accessing. However, this could become an extremely time-consuming task.

Policies that tackle the usage of personal devices can be helpful as well. These policies typically either prohibit or limit employees from using their mobile devices during work hours. Some policies require employees to put their ringers on mute or vibrate to minimize distraction. Others prohibit employees from using camera and recording features for privacy protection. On the other hand, some companies, like FedEx, have completely banned cell phones from the workplace to eliminate potential issues altogether.  

While policies are beneficial to keep up productivity, there is no point in having a policy if you don’t impose disciplinary actions for violations of the policy. Employees should be made aware of the predetermined consequences for violating the policies, and infractions as well as any resulting disciplinary action taken should be properly documented.

Joshua Management has penalties in place for improper computer usage, with discipline ranging from a reprimand to dismissal, but Parham notes that she’s never had an issue that couldn’t be resolved with a verbal warning. “Most of the time it is a family member causing the problems with phone calls,” she says. “It usually doesn’t last very long.”

Parham adds, “I explain to all my employees that stealing time is like stealing anything else. They always seem to understand.”

Monitoring Usage
Indeed, policies and disciplinary actions are constructive ways to combat misuse of company time. But how do you ensure that employees are adhering to the policies you have in place? That’s were monitoring comes into play.

Parham states that Joshua Management monitors the browsing histories and call logs of its employees to ensure that they are using the company’s equipment and internet for work-related tasks as intended. Employees should be aware that they are being monitored and, as stated in Joshua Management’s policy, that they “have no personal privacy right or any expectation of privacy”.

There are several programs that track and log Internet usage on computers, such as Spytech, WebWatcher, and SniperSpy. If you decided to install one of these programs onto your computers, make sure to notify your employees that the programs are in use. The fact that you are tracking their internet usage will likely act as a deterrent.  

Unfortunately, these methods cannot be applied to employees’ personal mobile devices. Therefore, if you suspect that an employee is spending company time on his/her smartphone, you must catch him/her in the act. There are two easy ways to do this: make unexpected visits to the property or review footage from the facility’s security cameras. Then, approach the employee with a plan to correct the issue based on your company’s policy.

Maintaining Focus
For employees who seem inclined to sit and surf, Parham suggests finding ways to get them away from their desks. “Make them a list of something else to do,” she says. “Get them out on the property cleaning units, etc.”

Here are two other ways to keep your staff focused on their duties:

  • Schedule Breaks – Work with your employees to establish reasonable breaks during which time they can use their mobile devices or computers for personal use. For example, an employee who works an eight-hour shift could have a 15-minute break in the morning, a half-hour lunch break, and a 15-minute break in the afternoon. Obviously, the durations and frequencies of breaks will vary depending upon the employee’s scheduled shift.  
  • Reward Performance – Many self-storage companies have bonus programs in place for managers to encourage them to reach their sales goals. A similar concept could be created and implemented to motivate employees to complete their daily tasks without being distracted by the internet. As suggestions, employees who finish all their daily duties could leave a half hour early one day of the week or be treated to a free lunch.

In other words, figure out what will motivate your employees to be the most productive employees they can possibly be—not internet junkies. 

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.

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