You’ve arrived at work a little early, poured a cup of coffee and logged into the company network. It’s a good time to ask Betty about her blind date last night. But wait! Do you know who will read that E-mail?

“A recent survey by the American Management Association shows that about 78% of companies in the U.S. monitor their employees in some way. Employee Internet use is monitored by 63% of employers; 47% store and review employee e-mail messages; 15% view employees by video; 12% review and record phone messages; and 8% review voice-mail messages.”[1]

This quotation is from a 2007 report. Since then, employee surveillance software has become even more sophisticated. If my iPhone can sense the steps I take, it’s a small Long-shadowmove to monitoring the motions I use while working. Cruise the Internet and you can find vendors hawking snooping software, hidden cameras, miniature microphones and consulting services from ex-CIA types.

Why do companies snoop? Some are trying to prevent transmission of illegal or unacceptable material, such as pornography. Others want to make sure that company secrets are not divulged to competitors. Some just want to make sure that employees aren’t wasting time or company resources. Companies that run service desks usually monitor phone calls of service reps to make sure that customers are getting the best service. The latest twist aims to measure employees’ productivity.

If your company spies on its employees, there’s a good chance that you’ll know about it. Eighty-four percent of the companies report that they let employees know that they are being monitored. Whether you know about it or not, you’ll need to adapt your work habits to the new environment. Here are some strategies:

  • Assume you are being monitored

There’s no need to get paranoid, but your best strategy is to behave as if your work is open to everyone in the company. Write your E-mail messages as if they will be public property. Avoid foul language, slanderous remarks, or other statements that might be injurious to you, your team, or your company. Remember that most E-mail systems keep a copy of every message in the server.

  • Keep your personal files separate from those that belong to the company

Whether the files are kept in a file cabinet, your hard disk, or folder on the company’s Intranet, remember that the space is the property of the company. If you need to have your private files at work, store them in a private place. Carry personal electronic files on a thumb drive, or your personal secure space on the Internet. Store your personal paper files at home. They are far safer there.

  • Be a prudent user of the Internet

We all need information to do our work, and the Internet has opened up vast new opportunities to find what we need. But, we all know how the web can suck us in. It’s easy to check on the news, latest sports scores, or order from L. L. Bean. So watch your time and Internet use. If you don’t, someone else might do it for you.

  • Become sensitive to video cameras

drone-cropppedVideo Cams are usually just part of the company’s general security program. Nevertheless, they’re watching you. Learn to detect these cameras and
you may be surprised how ubiquitous they are. I’ll have to admit that my reaction is to make a funny face or to give a finger to such a camera; but it’s probably best to avoid such reactions and simply look normal. You can’t tell who is at the receiving end.

  • Be careful with telephone calls

Unless you’re at a service desk, your phone conversations are probably not being monitored. Yet, act as though they are. Work is not the place for long, gossipy phone calls. Even if someone is not listening to the call, your colleagues and team leader will notice. Besides, such calls detract from your own accomplishments.

Mobile phones are relatively easy to tap, and electronic devices sometimes do strange things like projecting your call into someone’s flower vase. I think of my mobile phone as a broadcasting microphone. Maybe you should, too.

Almost all companies look at their long distance charges, and, of course, receive reports by telephone number. If you must make personal long distance calls from work, get a personal phone credit card to use on such occasions.

  • Protect your company’s intellectual property

Keep your personal files separate from company information. The reverse is also important. Don’t put company confidential information in your personal file space. Also, treat company information like crown jewels. Observe the company security guidelines, and, in addition, use your good judgement to make sure that company secrets remain secret.

  • Talk to your manager about surveillance

If the company’s surveillance policy bothers you, don’t just fume about it, talk to your manager. If the system is too intrusive or is interfering with your work, tell him/her about it. Perhaps enough feedback may change the system.

If you do your job well, and stay away from time-wasting activities or materials, you don’t have much to worry about, regardless of your company’s policies.

So go ahead, send the E-mail. But take the time to be careful. On the other hand, you might just want to push the ‘cancel’ button.