Research firm Gartner defines digital ethics as a system of values and moral principles for the conduct of digital interactions between businesses, people and things. Smart technologies like intelligent automation and robots have dramatically transformed how organizations transact and communicate within themselves and their stakeholders.
Due to the huge technological advancement, 86% executives anticipate this change will increase rapidly or at an unprecedented rate in their industry over the next three years. As a result, the vast majority believes that by 2020, their organization’s workforce will need to change as these technologies become more widely used.
No doubt all of the above puts organizations in the forefront of some great business, especially through increased digital influence. But what about the moral, ethical and human dilemmas that increased AI interactions are creating for businesses?
Decoding Ethics In A Digitized Workplace…
Digital ethics is not much different from business ethics in general. But due to the sensitive data available to all and the potential for missteps or mishandling of information generated in the digital age requires much more awareness, thought and process to protect those potentially impacted by it. While organizations have always faced ethical issues at some point or the other, the frequency of such issues has increased, with more and more executives experiencing a digital ethics issue at work.
In the wake of all this, it is clear that organizations would need to establish and adhere to digital ethics guidelines in order to be successful in the future. It won’t be wrong to say that we will see more interest in investing in digital ethics over the next five years.
Understanding The Building Blocks Of Digital Ethics!
Digital technologies need to be handled with all the more care due to the very fact that there is a tsunami of data available, which needs to be protected from thefts or fraud. As companies, it is essential to ensure everyone follows a strict code of digital ethics in the workplace, by focusing on three key areas:
One of the basic pillars of running a business is doing right by your customers, which can be achieved in today’s time of increased use of smart technologies, by setting the right tone with your employees. The organization should be thoughtful about how much data should be gathered, how it is used and how it will be treated. Their own culture and set of values will show their employees what is acceptable and what is not.
For example, when it comes to providing protection to the information generated about a customer, one can rely on customer data protection policies as a guideline. Such policies help build clear expectations for how employees should treat information they come into contact with.
One step towards appraising employees of various digital ethics issues that can potentially arise is to conduct an ‘ethics audit’. The audit can be chaired by influential executives from marketing, IT etc and ask the tough questions like what information are we gathering and for what purpose? Do we need all of this information to reach our desired business goal or can we achieve the same objective with less? What potential ethical pitfalls exist that we may not have anticipated?
Communication forms a critical part of today’s business. Organizations should be clear with their clients, customers, and partners what type of information they are gathering and how it’s being used. Once their intentions are communicated, they can take it one step further: give customers the ability to provide consent to use their data in the first place. This is what all customers expect out of all the companies today, to use their data to better support their overall experience.
For example, banks use our spending patterns to predict the likelihood that a transaction may be fraudulent – and take proactive steps to alert us when a purchase doesn’t seem right. Websites use online shopping behaviours to pitch similar products. Much similar to companies like Facebook, Pinterest, and Google that gather data every millisecond to make their algorithms smarter and more tailored to individual preferences.
Some of the biggest digital ethical issues arise because organizations fail to communicate better and stronger, making it one of the key area to focus on.
One needs to realize that sticking to digital ethics in a workplace is not a ‘once in a while’ thing but a regular phenomenon. Organizations are likely to get in trouble when they haven’t applied digital ethics standards and guidelines with the same rigor in every scenario. To avoid this, establish written policies and guidelines which gives everyone a roadmap to follow, which is not a ‘once in a while’ action, but an ‘always’ action.
Impact Of Digitization On Organizational Culture…
Culture is often seen as a key reason for the failure of ethics in the workplace. What can be done by an organization to assess one’s culture and values and its impact on digital ethics?
Assessing a company’s culture can be a difficult task, but what is important to note is that if an organization is practicing something and is driven from the top, the message passes on to the customers and the employees. In other words, strong leadership sets the tone of ethical behaviour in an organization.
No doubt going digital helps organizations with imprints, increases surveillance and mitigates risk, too much emphasis on the same can also lead to questions on privacy and trust issues.
Although digitization has many benefits, there are certain downsides too, to our technology-infused lives. While companies may gain in the short term from the increased productivity, they may have to bear the consequences of overworked and always-on employee’s diminished performance in the longer run. Below are certain digital hazards that can jeopardize workplaces:
There are just too many alerts and notifications to look into, both on the personal and professional front. Right from tracking the steps we walked and counting the likes, friends, and followers on a personal front, to the dozens of unopened emails in our inbox, filled with a sequence of meetings. Add to that the constant streams of emails, texts, and instant messages. While they may be helpful and informative, most of them do little than distract the workers from important tasks, lowering productivity levels.
In order to avoid and make-up for the lost time because of the above, the workers compensate by working faster, which not only leads to below quality work but also more stress, pressure, and effort. The result is less optimal business decisions due to the lack of adequate time to sufficiently weigh the pros and cons and consider and evaluate viable alternatives.
Also, blurred lines between actual work timings of a worker due to increased flexibility and remote working culture have led to fatigue and overwork. Just because someone has access to the internet 24/7 and a laptop with them, doesn’t mean they are expected to work round the clock.
What should employers do? There are softwares available to monitor application usage and time spent on various websites, at the enterprise level, solutions that track the time that the employee spends on each application, creating reports that include comparisons to other employees.
This should be done to discourage the ‘always on’ work behaviour and clearly convey messages about work-hour social norms. For example, an employee working for more than 50 hours a week could be sent a notification informing her that she has been working more than her co-workers, who average around 45-hours of work a week.
An individual’s privacy has also been compromised due to the development of technology. Companies can now easily monitor everything their employees do while using the company computer that is given to them. Ethical issues and privacy problems may arise when the employee uses the company device for personal use. Therefore, it is best to distinguish between the personal computer and company computer. Companies should set their policies regarding the use of company devices clearly.
Internal communication between employees is also often scrutinized and checked, which again poses an ethical dilemma. Employers should refrain from doing so in order to maintain basic respect towards each other’s private conversations. Though there can be certain guidelines and policies on the time spent on websites for personal use.
Employers need to encourage employees to go for a digital detox by unsubscribing to useless email threads and really spend their time in productive aspects. The leaders of an organization can play a crucial role in spearheading proper policies for following digital ethics.
To conclude, digitization has generally increased transparency and accountability. Ethics is a subjective issue, one that organizations should keep educating their employees about to ensure that going digital does not take away anything from the emphasis on ethics and professionalism.