How to protect yourself from snooping bosses

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we work forever, that much is clear. Many office workers have barely been in an office for more than a year, which has presented a new problem for their bosses. When your staff are all in the same room as you, it’s easy enough to make sure they’re working hard, but if they’re all in their homes, how do you know they don’t have their feet up and the TV on?

It’s been a challenge for businesses and many will have turned to using bossware - software that can be installed on work devices offering them the ability to monitor your internet activity, your emails, what you’re typing, what you’re saying to colleagues in instant messages and much more, including taking screenshots of your computer at regular intervals or even giving them access to your webcam.

Potentially you may not even know that bossware is installed on your device, but even if you are made aware, is there anything you can do to make sure you don’t fall foul of Big Brother? Surfshark has created a guide to employee surveillance with some crucial tips for each of the main tools we’ve all been using everyday while working from home:

How to protect yourself on Slack

Slack has been hugely important for communication through the pandemic, even at companies that didn’t previously use it. As well as offering easy collaboration, it also enables staff to replicate that watercooler chat, but it’s important to remember that while your boss might not be able to stand by the watercooler in the office to listen in on your chats, they almost certainly can read your Slack messages.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself. You can find out what data your company can export by going into Customize Slack, selecting Menu and then Workspace Settings, before viewing the Exports section. This will give you an idea of what your boss could see, and you can also potentially change how long Slack stores your messages by amending the message retention settings to just 1 day.

How to protect yourself on Google

If your business uses Google Workspace, anything you do within its network is potentially open for your bosses to see, including of course any emails sent from your work account, including drafts you haven’t even sent yet. Meanwhile, if you’re using Google Calendar to remind yourself of any personal events or (gasp) a job interview somewhere else, be sure to mark them as Private if you don’t want everyone to know.

How to protect yourself on Zoom

The obvious replacement for that quick off-the-record chat with a colleague that might have happened on a lunch break at the office, just how secure are your Zoom calls? Last year when it surged in popularity, Zoom had to deal with a number of privacy-related issues, not least the controversial ‘attendee tracking feature’ that let meeting hosts see if attendees are actually watching the meeting or have it in the background (while browsing Amazon or Facebook in a dull meeting). It had to be removed, but there are still things you need to be aware of when it comes to using a workplace Zoom account.

For a start, any meeting you arrange on there, your bosses will be able to see the details, including what it’s called and who is going, so be careful not to look like you’re planning to overthrow the board of directors (especially if you are planning to overthrow the board of directors) by not calling your meeting ‘Let’s Overthrow The Board of Directors’. Likewise, if you record any meetings, be aware that those recordings are available if you’ve saved them in the cloud, while any snarky comments you make privately to colleagues within meetings will be recorded in the transcription for the host to read afterwards.

How to protect yourself on Teams

Like Zoom, any calls you make on Teams are potentially available for your business to watch and any messages you send are also viewable, so the common sense approach is not to say or write anything you wouldn’t say or write in front of your boss. More worrying is Teams’ activity tracker which works in the background making records of your online time and activity during the working day.

There are apps like Caffeine for Mac and Mouse Jiggler for Windows that can help you demonstrate just how hard and constantly you are working for the benefit of those Teams stats, but don’t think that protects you from slacking off altogether. Teams also tracks your location, so if you plan to ‘work’ from the local bar and take your laptop with you to stay ‘active’, your boss will be able to find out where you are…

Bossware can feel intrusive, because nobody likes to be spied upon, but with these tips and some common sense (like be working when you are meant to be and don’t criticize your boss using company software) you should be able to stay out of trouble.
This new study examines the state of workplace privacy and surveillance software today.
The trend of remote-working has led to a rise in companies keeping track of their employees’ productivity through various tools and software, leading to some serious privacy concerns.
Read next: How to Create a Lighter and Happier Office Space (infographic)
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