The government office is changing. Emails and memos are no longer the sole means of communication as messaging and collaboration tools have become crucial to coordination and teamwork within a department or organization. However, record laws haven’t changed. State and local government agencies still need to comply with their public record laws and enforce capture and archiving for all work-related electronic communications.
Fortunately, agencies and employees can balance collaboration while staying compliant with records retention laws. Mike Pagani, Smarsh Director of Product Marketing, and Brian Aebi, Smarsh Product Manager, explain how in a recent webinar.
What are collaboration tools?
IM and collaboration applications are a growing category of communication technology that include:
- Instant messaging (IM)
- Persistent chat
- Collaborative file editing
- Video and audio calls/online meetings
- Workflow and application integration
Common collaboration tools currently used by government that enable one or more of the above include:
- Skype for Business
- Workplace by Facebook
- Microsoft Teams
Microsoft recently reported that more than 500,000 organizations are using Teams, which has surpassed Slack with 13 million daily active users (DAUs) compared to Slack’s 10M. For many, the choice of collaborative tools is not limited to a single platform.
While an increasing number of government workplaces are adopting collaboration tools, email isn’t going away.
“We’re not getting fewer emails,” says Brian Aebi. “We’re just communicating more overall.”
“I’m not paying less attention to email; I’ll just catch up on my email messages later,” adds Mike Pagani. “But with instant messages, texts, and chats, I’ll respond right away. It’s about using the right tool for the job.”
Compliant productivity in government
While instant messaging and collaboration tools enable employees to work more efficiently with their team, the messages and content still need to be archived in compliance with records retention laws.
“A recent headline asks, ‘Are Slack instant messages subject to FOIA requests?’” says Pagani. “The answer is 100% yes. No matter what medium is used to communicate, the law remains the same.”
State laws may differ in their language, but many leave no doubt that any form of communication must be captured and archived. Here are some examples:
California has a comprehensive definition of “writing,” which includes “transmitting by any electronic mail or facsimile” and upon “any form of communication or representative.”
Florida defines “records” as “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.”
Washington law states, “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.”
If the conversation is about government business, all related content needs to be captured and archived and must be made available to the public. Responding to records requests are solely the responsibility of the agency.
“Although these tools have business value by allowing employees to collaborate and stay up-to-date on projects and tasks, they create another silo of information that needs to be captured and archived,” says Pagani. “Everything from discussing vender selections to prospective hires to procurement has to be made available to the public upon request.”
Automating electronic records retention
Government agencies need to have a foolproof method for capturing all electronic communications including collaboration messaging. Organizations are faced with a large volume of records emanating from their employees, many of whom are using multiple applications to communicate.
Unfortunately, many agencies fall back to traditional, and often manual, means to retrieve records:
Traditional records request response process
“It takes a long time to retrieve content the old way, because there’s no index on unstructured data,” says Pagani. “There are a lot of steps and a lot of individual silos to go through.”
However, automated content capture and archiving tools enable county clerks to quickly respond to records requests. By integrating directly with the collaboration tools, content is automatically captured and archived, but more importantly, can be easily searched and retrieved.
“Automatic archiving of content means the content is automatically indexed as it goes into the repository,” says Pagani. “You can search and retrieve relevant content using phrases and keywords and filter your search by participants, date, or project.”
Simplify records request retrieval with powerful capture and archiving tools
Build a policy that includes collaboration tools
It’s important to remember that automation doesn’t replace a strong communication policy. When building a communication policy, it’s important to:
- Be explicit about what tools are allowed (and all others are not)
- Be clear about internal and external employee communications with these tools
Training is also critical for communications subject to records retention laws.
“A lot of compliance officers and records managers believe that everyone needs to be taught how to use collaboration tools,” says Pagani. “People tend to be more casual with the language when using instant messaging and may even treat it as the modern watercooler.”
Ultimately, collaboration tools are meant for government business and employees should act accordingly when using them.
This article is based on the recent webinar: Slack, Workplace, Teams, and Skype in Government: Public Records Best Practices. You can watch the full webinar here.
A global client base, including the top 10 banks in the United States and the largest banks in Europe, Canada and Asia, manages billions of conversations each month with the Smarsh Connected Suite. Government agencies in 40 of the 50 U.S. states also rely on Smarsh to help meet their recordkeeping and e-discovery requirements.
The company is headquartered in Portland, Ore. with nine offices worldwide, including locations in Silicon Valley, New York, London and Bangalore, India. For more information, visit www.smarsh.com.
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