When you take your work laptop and phone home, you may forget that these company-owned devices belong to your employer. But that would be a mistake.
“Don’t use your office computer as your personal filing equipment. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at a job, that equipment doesn’t belong to you,” said Joanna Grama, associate vice president of Vantage Technology Consulting Group.
Being laid off is a rude awakening to this fact.
As a layoff survivor who’s witnessed colleagues lose their jobs, too, I am familiar with how little time you are given between learning you’ve been laid off and losing access to years of work and priceless personal items you’ve stored on your phone and computer.
I once saw a colleague scramble to save a photo of his son off his laptop when we were given an hour’s notice before we lost access in a mass layoff. At one turbulent job, a co-worker diligently came to work like each day could be her last, saving her in-progress projects on a separate hard drive at the end of every shift.
The best time to prepare for your layoff is while you still have the job. If you know a company restructuring is imminent, strategize what you can take with you off your company equipment and what you need to erase.
1. Do be aware that IT security can monitor what you back up. Don’t take any information that’s proprietary.
Through Google’s Takeout service, you can download and export everything in your G Suite like Docs and Sheets, but be aware that your employer may notice what you are doing. G Suite Business and Enterprise allows administrators of audit logs to see who has renamed, created, edited, deleted, uploaded, downloaded or shared a Google Drive file, for example.
This same type of surveillance goes for Slack, a popular productivity software used by office teams. On company-owned Slacks, administrators can have access to private direct messages.
If you are wondering what you can or can’t save, Grama recommends reading your employee handbook. In these handbooks ― or in your employment contract ― you may see guidance outlining what information is proprietary, or confidential data related to your company’s “businesses, strategies, operations, financial affairs, organizational matters, personnel matters, budgets, business plans,” as Lawinsider defines it.
If exporting contacts is allowed, Gmail and Outlook each have detailed steps. For Gmail, you can go to Google Contacts, which keeps track of your frequent email contacts, and select “export.” It will save the contacts you selected into a .CSV spreadsheet.
For Outlook on a PC, go to “File,” select “Open & Export,” and it will guide you through the options of saving your contacts as a .CSV file on your computer.
2. Do clear out personal passwords and cached words.
Web browsers and social media applications like Facebook can save passwords and cached words to create shortcuts, but it’s a good practice to log out of those applications and clear cached words if you think a layoff is approaching. “You don’t accidentally want the IT team knowing the password or being able to get into any personal applications,” Grama said.
Grama also recommended requiring two-factor authentication on your devices to protect your personal data more even if the password is cached.
If you are suddenly laid off and have very little time before you lose access to your work devices, Grama said you can still ask your employer to get your private stuff back with language like, “Hey, I have some incidental personal material stored on the device, pictures and private calendar appointments. Can an IT person sit down with me while I recover these personal items?”
3. Don’t erase work files.
While you should remove anything personal that you wouldn’t want your company to have access to, like personal contacts and emails, Alison Green, founder of the workplace advice website Ask A Manager, said that “personal” means things that are unconnected to your job or your company.
Employees should not erase work files. “That can be considered a big deal and can affect your professional reputation if it looks like attempted sabotage,” Green said.
4. Do make sure your contact information is up to date.
If your layoff is immediate, you want to make it as easy as possible for the company to reach you regarding taxes and benefits information.
One practical step recommended by Ashley Watkins, a job search coach with corporate recruiting experience, is to make sure the address where your employer sends W-2 forms and financial and benefits information is correct.
“That’s how you have access to a lot of your financial information,” Watkins said. “If it’s going to your old address, you could catch hell trying to find out what you need to change.”
5. Do save anything related to your performance and ask for testimonials now.
Watkins said that her job search clients often regretted not grabbing documents related to their performance while they still could.
That’s why her top recommendation is to save evaluations and “anything that speaks to your performance” if you only have time to back up one thing. If you have more time, Watkins recommends checking to make sure everything related to your job search, like your LinkedIn account and access to job boards, is tied to your personal email address.
Green recommends saving performance reviews, work samples and contact info for people you’ll want to be able to reach in the future, as long as this action is not forbidden by company policy.
One discreet way to build those connections with your co-workers is through LinkedIn, so that you have a way to contact them outside of work. Remember that you may not be the only one who wants to network if your job feels unstable. “Chances are if you’re thinking about a layoff, so are your co-workers,” Watkins said.
Customer and client testimonials could also be useful to start gathering now, and there’s a way to ask without making it clear that you are preparing for a layoff. Watkins said professionals can ask for testimonials with language like “‘As I’m preparing for my next performance review’ ― or whatever may be the case ― ‘I’d like to have to have some real-life documentation of what people say about me,’” Watkins said.