Carnegie Mellon University

Man on video conference with smart assistant listening to his call

March 30, 2020

Be Aware of Your Surroundings While Working Remotely

Many of us are working remotely these days in open or shared environments such as the kitchen table, the living room couch, the back porch, or even squirreled away in an unused bedroom. We may have roommates, significant others, or kids coming in and out of our work area. We may also have smart assistants in our homes, such as Alexa, Cortana, Google, and Siri. These devices are always listening and reacting to your commands.

It is always good advice to be aware of your surroundings as you work, but even more so while working remotely.  If you work with information that is protected by privacy laws or covered under contracts, do your best to protect it from others who may be in or near your workspace. This includes both visual and audio protections.

If you’re working on sensitive information on your screen, position yourself so that no one is behind you, or could walk behind you. Is your screen visible from a window? You might want to consider drawing the shades or turning your screen away from the window. If you walk away from your computer, lock it with a screensaver and password.

If you’re discussing sensitive information via Zoom or on a phone call, make sure that no one else can overhear, whether indoors or out. This includes your smart assistants.  Unplug them while you’re discussing sensitive information; or turn off their microphone for the duration of the conversation.

When in doubt, avoid accessing or discussing sensitive information until you are in a more secure location.

With a little awareness and a precaution or two, you can easily protect sensitive information from inadvertent disclosure while working from any location.