We wrote about the prospect of getting back to the office back in March—but we spoke too soon. Depending on where you live, a large chunk of office workers who started working from home because of Covid-19 are still doing so. But right now, places like the U.S. are finally seeing a steadily growing number of workers heading back to their cubicles.
Whatever your work situation—in the office, at home, or in another capacity like a warehouse or delivery vehicle—now is a good time as any to take stock of how much your company and coworkers can know about you and take measures to protect your privacy in these spaces.
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Companies have increased employee monitoring
Employers are increasingly monitoring employees, partly spurred by the work-from-home trend. In May, ExpressVPN conducted a survey that revealed the alarming extent to which companies monitor remote workers—78% of bosses responded that they were using employee monitoring software to track worker performance or online activity, while one in three workers said they didn’t believe they were being monitored. Read the full survey results.
Workplace monitoring software, which has been dubbed “bossware,” can keep track of what employees are doing on their work computers, such as what apps they’re using and what websites they’re visiting. Find out what the most common bossware apps are and how they work.
It’s not just desk workers. Bosses have also implemented systems to monitor on-site workers in the name of contact tracing. The problem with these systems is once they’re in place, it’s hard to get rid of them.
How to protect your privacy at work
Don’t want your employer and coworkers knowing about your personal life? Don’t want to get in trouble with your boss by saying the wrong thing online? Here are a few tips to keep your work and personal lives separate.
Know how your company is monitoring you
The first step to staying private is knowing what types of surveillance your company has set up. Simply ask your IT department what it uses and what it can know—it shouldn’t be a secret.
This software helps companies know how productive you’re being and prevent issues like disclosure of confidential information. Companies can decide on how invasive they want to get when it comes to employee privacy. But know that this type of software can do a lot, such as take screenshots—even video—of your screen, monitor keystrokes, and send employees prompts on their devices if it appears they haven’t been working for a while.
Don’t mix work and personal devices
This is the obvious solution to the problem of monitoring software. If your company is stringent with how you spend your work hours, avoid sending personal emails or looking at social media on your work computer or phone. Anything with sensitive personal information should not be done on work devices. And always be careful of what you write in your work email—plenty have paid for indiscretions.
As for doing work on your personal devices, companies have their own policies surrounding that. Often, if you have access to work accounts on your personal device your company might require monitoring software on those devices, too.
Keep your physical office space private
Sure, there might be software on your computer. But what about your physical space in the office? Are you that unlucky person whose monitor everyone walks past to get to the water cooler?
We’ve written tips on protecting your real-life desk space and other ways to prevent curious coworkers from snooping on your office activity, from using a privacy filter on your monitor to disabling notification previews on your phone.
Use different passwords for work and personal accounts
The idea behind this tip is if your company has access to your work passwords, your personal accounts won’t be safe if you’re using the same passwords.
It’s also a good idea to use two-factor authentication for your personal accounts, in case you log in to your personal accounts on your work computer and inadvertently share those passwords with your employer. Also called 2FA or MFA (for multi-factor authentication), this system requires you to enter a one-time code sent to your phone by SMS or generated on an app on your phone each time you log in, in addition to your password.
Read more: The ExpressVPN guide to stronger passwords
How do company VPNs factor into privacy?
The short answer: A VPN provided by your company doesn’t help you stay private. The purpose of a corporate VPN is to allow employees doing remote work to connect to the internet as if they were physically present in the office. This is useful when remote employees need to access sensitive resources that are available only on the company’s intranet.
Corporate VPNs are meant to protect the privacy of the company and not necessarily the individual. When you use a corporate VPN to browse a certain website, your IP address may be hidden from the website, but your visit to that website will not be hidden from your company.
For your personal devices, use a personal VPN service like ExpressVPN to stay private by masking your IP address and encrypting your online traffic while connecting to servers around the world.
Read more: Home VPN vs. business VPN explained
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