Feel like you're working in a fish bowl?
Secure your privacy!

Keeping confidential information under wraps is a must. But in these days of open plan offices, this can pose a major challenge. Editor Penny Cottee suggests ways of protecting your valuable data from prying eyes

By Penny Cottee
  • Look on your workstation as a vulnerable area, where security can easily be compromised. Serious words, but revealing details of a take-over bid would also be serious! Move your desk if you sit with your back to a door or open area, or invest in a natty rear-view monitor mirror. Specially made to fit on a monitor (available from stationery and computer accessory suppliers), they allow you to see people coming before they can peek at your screen. (A mirror also allows you to click gracefully as the boss appears from your perusal of the latest in winter coats to the budget forecast you should be working on - but that's just a happy spin-off...)

  • Install a password-protected screen saver, so if you nip away, no-one else can access your PC. Ask too for a privacy screen filter, which allows only the person sitting in front of the screen to read the contents - vital for protecting info from snoopers. 3M has a good range (see our giveaway in this issue!). When working on a private document on screen, have another open behind it, which you can click to the front if someone approaches.

  • A clear desk policy is a must. Lock everything away at night, and also if you leave your desk temporarily during the day. While working on sensitive documents, keep them in plain card folders (don't be tempted to write 'Top Secret' on them!). If someone comes up, you can quickly scoop papers back into the plain folders. Use a paper clip to attach an innocuous document over the top of a private one, then if a workmate appears, you simply flip the uninteresting one over. Never put confidential documents face down - it's a massive temptation for the passer-by to turn them over. Taking notes in shorthand is also a barrier to those who are rather too interested in your desk.

  • If you use a shared printer, you have no choice but to hit 'Print' and then run to the machine to whisk away all documents. It's sometimes easier to stay late and do this when the office is empty. Confidential faxes are almost a contradiction in terms, but if they must be sent, phone ahead and instruct the recipient to stand by the fax and wait for it. As for e-mails, we all know how safe they are! What's that phrase again...? "Don't put anything on an e-mail, that you wouldn't mind reading on a six foot hoarding next to the M25"

  • For secret documents, ask your IT department to encrypt them for you. This scrambles them, and your recipient can only open them with your password, which you give them by phone. For major projects, ask if you can work in a spare office, or from home. Constantly looking over your shoulder, and opening and closing documents makes sensitive tasks stressful - and twice as long.

  • And the golden rule is, 'Keep it zipped!'. Workmates like to gossip, and bosses like to glean, so say NOTHING about ANYTHING. That way you don't have to remember what you can tell to whom and when. If senior staff come snooping, play dumb and say you'll ask your manager to fill them in - then let your boss know who was asking.

  • Remember, you're not only protecting company information, but also your reputation. Get a name as the source of juicy information, and you'll quickly lose your manager's trust. But once people realise that you're not going to sing like a canary, they will gradually stop asking you to.

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