Many of us get computers when we join a company, and when we work from home or in hybrid environments, it’s all too easy to use it like it’s actually ours.
“Laptops are great productivity tools in life, and the lines between personal and work productivity sometimes blur due to convenience,” said Jacqueline Pitter, a senior strategic consultant for Vantage Technology Consulting Group who has experience in corporate IT departments.
But it’s important to remember those work/life boundaries. Take it from these IT experts who shared the top actions they would never take on a work laptop, as lessons for us all to learn from.
They never treat the work laptop like it’s their own.
The IT experts we spoke to said, above all, they never forget that a work laptop is owned by the employer, and act accordingly with that in mind.
“However much you use and keep your work laptop in your possession, it never is actually your personal property, and yet it still is your responsibility to properly take care of,” Pitter said.
As part of that responsibility, employees should never disable security features like turning off the inactivity lock-out or deactivating your anti-virus features, she said.
They don’t leave a laptop unlocked when they’re not around it.
IT experts also understand that work laptops carry sensitive information and do not leave their devices unattended without security precautions.
“As a cybersecurity professional, I make sure to never forget to lock my workstation when I walk away from my desk, even when I really, really have to pee,” said Aviv Levi, cybersecurity specialist at Atera, a remote monitoring and management platform for IT professionals. “By leaving your computer unlocked, you’re giving others the option to gain access to your confidential information, login information, credit cards, or even just a good old-fashioned prank.”
They don’t have private conversations on a work laptop.
Part of knowing that the laptop is not yours means understanding that your conversations on it are not private. Employers can remotely surveil what you type through work messenger services like Slack that grant employer accounts access to see what their employees type.
“My number one rule is to never gossip using company property.”
– IT consultant Alex Ramirez
“Your employer can legally take [the laptop] back at any time for any reason and review the contents of the hard drive and/or activity logs, although that usually is only necessary when they are investigating an event that impacts the institution in some way,” Pitter said.
And this behavior is not an outlier. A large number of companies use employee monitoring software to keep tabs on what employees are doing online. In a March survey from Resumebuilder.com of 1,000 U.S. business leaders, a majority said they do so to track employees’ web browsing and app use, but more than one in three employers –– 37% –– even admitted to using live camera feeds to monitor remote workers.
“Work computers are generally heavily tracked for cybersecurity purposes. My number one rule is to never gossip using company property because someone in IT/executive-level role can see what you’re saying,” said Alex Ramirez, an Austin-based IT independent consultant.
They don’t do personal Google searches or send personal emails.
You want to watch not only what you type on instant-messenger conversations, but also in Goggle searches for anything that could be embarrassing if exposed like health conditions, said Safia Kazi, privacy professional practices principal at the IT professional organization ISACA.
“I would avoid saying/searching for anything on a company-provided device that would be embarrassing if shared at the next all-staff meeting,” she said. “While many employees may understand the risk of using work-related software for private conversations, not everyone understands that this goes beyond just employer-provided programs –– it extends to any service utilized on a work laptop, e.g., personal email.”
Kazi said that employee surveillance tools can track keystrokes, so an employer may know the contents of an email sent from an employee’s personal account like their email.
They don’t look up inappropriate content.
This one is more of a given but still worth mentioning. Oren Elimelech, the chief information security officer of Atera, said that employees should avoid accessing inappropriate or offensive content on their employer-owned work laptops like websites or content related to gambling, pornography or illegal activities.
“While this may seem like an obvious answer, you’d be surprised what I’ve witnessed throughout my cybersecurity career,” Elimelech said. “Accessing such content can not only put the individual at risk of disciplinary action, but it can also put the company at risk of legal repercussions —not to mention make you look unprofessional.”
They don’t keep personal documents saved on their desktops.
Many employers immediately remotely block an employee’s access to their work laptop after layoffs. Once you understand that the laptop is not yours, you also must accept the hard truth that you could lose whatever is on your work laptop at a moment’s notice.
“I would never keep any document that I require for my personal life as only a local copy on my work laptop,” Pitter said. “If I had a stand-alone password manager application –– i.e., not cloud-synced –– and I kept all my personal passwords in this application and then lost access to it, I would be devastated.“
And if it’s allowed by your employee handbook, cybersecurity experts advise deleting personal files, tax documents, contacts and personal photos off of your laptop before you quit.
“I would be crushed if my only copies of some digital family vacation photos or home movies were on this laptop,” Pitter said. “Make sure anything personal you access on your work laptop is at least backed up in a personal cloud storage space like Google Drive or the like.”
Even though it can be an inconvenient pain to not do or keep personal activities on your work laptop, it’s a necessary boundary if you want to limit what your employer has access to seeing.
“It is wise to remember at all times that a work laptop is never actually yours. You’re just borrowing it,” Pitter said.