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Tips to consider before returning your company laptop or phone when you leave your job

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You’ve decided to quit your job and now it’s time to return your devices. But what should you do first? Recover all your personal documents and delete them? Do a factory reset to make sure none of your personal data gets forgotten? Or do you return the devices as is, with the photos and medical documents of your two-year-old child?

These are common questions workers face when changing jobs, which became increasingly popular during the Great Resignation. And that has become particularly tricky as the work and personal lives of many workers – and their corresponding data – have become intertwined during the pandemic with new flexible working styles. But properly navigating how to keep track of what’s yours, what’s not, and the best way to transfer your data can be the difference between an uneventful departure and one that could trigger internal investigations. or even civil or criminal prosecution.

“With the increase in people working remotely and more geographically dispersed due to covid, it comes up all the time,” said Mark Neuberger, labor and employment lawyer at Foley & Lardner, based in Wisconsin. “This is an important issue for employers and employees.”

But do not worry. Experts in workplace safety, software and law have offered us advice to help you through this transition. Before diving in, I would like to remind you that the help desk is there for you. We want to hear about your toughest technological challenges and curiosities in the workplace. Write to us and we will do our best to find answers for you.

What questions do you have about technology in your workplace?

That said, let’s get down to business.

Q: What should I do and avoid before returning my corporate laptop or mobile device?

A: To make your life easier on the way out, experts say it’s better to anticipate the problem than to spend your last days frantically trying to figure out where and if something is yours. The three best ways to do this are to keep as many of your personal documents, photos and files off company devices or alternatively in one place – like a folder on your laptop – so you can easily find your data. . Make sure you know your company’s rules and be transparent with your employer about what you’ll be taking with you. But beware: some things you think you own may be disputed by the company as their ownership.

“The safest and most conservative thing to do is to go to your employer first and not remove anything from company-owned devices that the employer hasn’t consented to,” said Mike Kasdan, partner who focuses on intellectual property law at Connecticut. law firm Wiggin and Dana. “But you should also have a broader idea of ​​what [might be considered] trade secrets. These are financial information and information about customers and suppliers. »

Transfer of contacts/data: A contact list can be thought of as a customer list for your business, which can be considered proprietary information that cannot leave the business. So it’s always best to check with your employer before exporting your contacts from Outlook, Gmail or your smartphone. (Search “export” in Gmail and Outlook to transfer contacts to a CSV file, which can easily be imported to another device. You can also export emails and calendar items. Android devices and iPhones allow you export contacts or directly transfer contacts to certain devices.)

The same can be true for seemingly innocent data transfers. For example, you might want to take a presentation that you would like to use as a model for the future. But if that presentation contains information about a private company, you could be in hot water. The same goes for occasional emails that you want to save or calendar entries that may contain sensitive information.

“It’s one of the easiest ways to get into a lot of trouble,” said Dan Wilson, senior analyst director, who covers digital workplace for Gartner. “So make sure you understand the context and content of the data.”

Even if you take what you consider unquestionably yours – perhaps you have personal medical documents or family photos on your devices – if you move, delete and export large amounts of data, you could trigger the security systems. business monitoring. Wilson said some companies monitor the data movement of employees who may have access to valuable information, are disgruntled, or head to a competitor. Large amounts of data movement could signal an unauthorized transfer even if it is not harmful.

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“You better get someone to agree to delete this data, whether it’s HR or a supervisor,” Wilson said.

Search data: Workers often forget where they can store personal data, even though they do their best to keep it together. For example, you may have downloaded some personal files and left them in your laptop’s “downloads” folder or your iPhone’s “files” folder. There may be photos in your WhatsApp or SMS. So be sure to check all apps and folders where you may have inadvertently stored personal items, said Mark Ostrowski, engineering manager at cybersecurity software company Check Point.

Deleting elements and connections: If you decide to delete personal photos or documents, be aware that your company may already have a copy. Deleting the emails probably won’t delete the company copy. The same can be true for items on your phone. But Ostrowski said it’s still worth deleting so there aren’t any extra copies on your devices. You can also view and delete items backed up to your cloud storage.

“Get a good idea of ​​what your footprint looks like,” Ostrowski said. “It’s super important.”

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You should also make sure you’re signed out of any apps, especially personal accounts like Amazon, Gmail or Facebook, and clear your web browser history and any saved payment or login information, Wilson said. . Sign out of your Apple ID and turn off the “Find My” tracking setting if you used a personal account.

Back to factory settings? When deleting data, be extremely careful as it could lead to legal issues. Experts recommend against performing a factory reset. Employers often have their own data retention policies and, in some cases, may be legally required to retain certain information for a specified period of time. So leave factory resets to your employer.

Forgotten data: Workers should also make sure they check anything they may have inadvertently kept. Have you ever downloaded a presentation or a client file on a USB key or an external drive to be able to work from home? Have you emailed your personal account with documents containing sensitive source code? These are all possible red flags for employers and could cause you problems at your new workplace.

“You don’t have to have the nuclear codes to get in trouble,” Neuberger said. “Worst case scenario…they can sue you with civil or criminal charges.”

The reality is that tracking and separating work and business data has become complicated. Although experts say the best practice is to avoid using work devices for anything personal, there is likely to be crossover. And often, employers are relatively understanding on the issue, experts note.

“Not everyone can have two phones and two laptops,” Kasdan said. “But it helps to be organized…and [honest] with your employer.