Make sure ‘workshopping’ doesn’t lead to cyber threat

With the rise in online shopping, especially during the holiday season, employers need to be proactive to ensure if workers are shopping on company time and devices, they aren’t putting the company at risk.

For the past several holiday seasons, retailers have made it nearly impossible to resist grabbing online deals, even — or especially — while at work. New research from Robert Half Technology shows 64 percent of professionals plan to shop online while at work (or “workshop”), with 36 percent saying they’ll shop at work as much as a few times per week.

When asked how often they expect to shop while on the clock, here’s how workers responded:

  • Only on Cyber Monday: 20 percent
  • Once a week: 35 percent
  • A few times per week: 36 percent
  • Nearly every day until they finish their lists: 8 percent

Understandably, tech leaders aren’t too thrilled with these habits: More than half (53 percent) of IT decision-makers surveyed by Robert Half Technology said they’d prefer employees didn’t grab deals on company time or devices, even though 76 percent said their company policy allows for it. Security risks (59 percent) and loss of productivity (35 percent) are the top concerns among tech leaders of staff using company devices for personal purchases.

When technology leaders were asked to describe their company’s policy regarding employees shopping online at work:

  • 69 percent allow access, but monitor for excessive use
  • 24 percent block access to online shopping sites
  • 7 percent allow unrestricted access

An unscientific poll of IB readers shows 47 percent of Greater Madison business leaders allow employees to do some of their holiday online shopping during normal business hours as long as they don’t abuse the privilege, while the other 53 percent don't allow it, believing employees have ample opportunity to shop on their own time.

Top 10 cities with the most “workshoppers” planning to snag online deals a few times a week during the holidays:

  1. Los Angeles (56 percent)
  2. Nashville (47 percent)
  3. Pittsburgh (47 percent)
  4. Salt Lake City (47 percent)
  5. St. Louis (45 percent)
  6. Denver (44 percent)
  7. Minneapolis (44 percent)
  8. Boston (39 percent)
  9. Detroit (39 percent)
  10. Des Moines (39 percent)

“Technology leaders are constantly assessing risks, and now is a great time to reaffirm company policies and best practices with teams,” says Ryan Sutton, a district president for Robert Half Technology. “It’s inevitable that some employees will use work devices for personal reasons, but with proper guidance on safe browsing practices and implementation of strong security systems, risks can be mitigated.”

Kimberly Bean, branch manager for Robert Half Technology in Madison, notes many local business owners and managers acknowledge the need for flexibility during the hectic holiday season and are starting to allow some online shopping at work, within reason.

“Giving employees the flexibility to do occasional personal errands at their desk, like holiday shopping, may keep them more productive at work,” Bean explains. “Instead of leaving the office during lunch breaks to do shopping errands, employees can take care of these tasks quickly online.”

However, Bean advises that if workers want to remain in the good graces of their employer, it’s important for them to know the company policy regarding completing personal tasks while on the clock. If you’re not sure, talk to your boss.

For workers who do plan to shop online on company time, Bean offers a few do’s and don’ts:

  • Do learn the rules. Before you shop, make sure you’re familiar with your company’s web policy. Most employers have rules about sites or hours to avoid.
  • Don’t assume. If the policy is unclear, play it safe and save your shopping for before or after work.
  • Do limit surfing. Unrestricted access to the internet doesn’t mean you should spend all Cyber Monday searching for deals at your desk. If you plan to do most of your holiday shopping online and want to snag deals that day, take a personal day off, or conduct your browsing away from the office and limit your shopping activity to quick transactions when at work.
  • Don’t visit sites you aren’t sure about. If the app or URL looks questionable or unfamiliar, don’t risk it. Most major retailers have applications that have been downloaded thousands of times. New, fake ones just do not have the credibility in terms of reviews.
  • Do log out of your accounts. After you’ve completed your online holiday purchases at work, remember to log out of your merchant accounts on your computer to protect your personal information.

For managers, Bean advises:

  • Be realistic. Expect that employees are going to do some type of online shopping at work during the holiday season — unless all retail sites are blocked.
  • Talk to your employees. Ask employees to be mindful of the time they spend shopping during work hours. Instruct employees not to download any programs to any work devices.
  • Encourage productivity. Have employees create a priority list to make sure their work gets done during the day.
  • Offer flexibility. Employers need to find creative solutions to allow workers to tend to personal responsibilities, which can’t always wait until the end of the work day. “I’ve found that the more flexible you are with your employees, the more committed they are to their responsibilities and getting the job done,” she says.

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Ensuring cyber safety

With employees hunting for the best deals online, particularly on hard-to-find items, it’s surprisingly easy to visit unsecure websites and introduce online threats to their company. With all the recent cyberattacks and security breaches this past year, many employers are on guard to protect all company information and employees, notes Bean.

“In order to avoid any security issues, I recommend that tech leaders in Madison regularly make their employees aware of IT security policies, especially during this time of spikes in online browsing and activity,” says Bean. “Your security team should also be as proactive and equipped as possible to defend against any threat. That means having the latest software, as well as having a strong and knowledgeable team.”

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