Is personal use of a company laptop ever OK?

Personal use of company laptop

As more employees work remotely, at least part-time, on company-issued laptops, it seems the lines between the business world and our personal lives are blurring. A 2020 study from antivirus brand Malwarebytes Labs found more than half of employees use a company laptop for personal tasks. Some of these employees knowingly violate business policies while others think they're toeing the company line. But is using a company laptop for personal use ever OK? We give you our hot take on some common personal use scenarios.

Can you send and receive personal emails?

Sending and receiving personal emails is the most common way people use their work laptops for personal tasks, with 53% of those surveyed admitting to this personal use. If so many people are doing it, can we assume that's OK? Not quite. Many company policies state people shouldn't send or receive personal emails from business laptops. That means you shouldn't send and receive emails from personal accounts or email personal contacts from a work email account.

Only send and receive work-related emails from your work account to reduce confusion. You don't want your boss thinking you're stealing company intel by emailing it to your personal account! Even if there's no formal policy, courts often rule employers can view any emails sent from company devices. If you don't want your employer to know your personal business, keep it off their laptop. It can also be pretty distracting to get email alerts for your personal account when you're working on business tasks.

What about reading the news?

Reading the news is nearly as common as sending personal emails, with 52% of survey respondents admitting to catching up on the latest headlines on a company laptop. It's a fairly low-risk activity as credible news websites are virus-free. However, just like emails, your employer can monitor your browsing history so they'll know when you're checking the news and how much time you spend on news sites. If staying up to date is part of your job, reading the news on a company laptop is no problem. If not, you should probably only check news sites during your lunch break.

Can you check social media?

A quarter of employees say they've accessed their social media accounts from their company laptops. People have become so connected to their social media that many businesses have formal policies outlining acceptable use. If your company has a social media policy in place, it's important to follow it and only use the company laptop in accordance with those guidelines. Your employer may prohibit personal social media use on the company laptop or ask you to restrict these activities to break times.

Remember that your boss can monitor the posts and comments you make from the company laptop. You definitely don't want to use social media to slam your colleagues or complain about your duties.

Is it OK to hit to quickly order a bouquet for mom's birthday?

With nearly two in five employees admitting they've shopped online from a company laptop, you might think it's OK to order flowers for your mom or grab a great Cyber Monday deal. However, it's best to resist the temptation. Since your boss can see what you're doing on the company laptop, they'll know you're making non-business purchases. Often, online retailers store payment details to make future purchasing more convenient. That's fine for a personal computer, but storing those details on a company laptop could put your financial data at risk.

If you don't want your employer to know your personal business, keep it off their laptop.

Can you connect your iMessages to your work laptop for convenience?

It might be convenient to connect your iMessages to your work laptop, but it's not smart. Your boss doesn't want to see that you're spending time on the company laptop chatting with your friends. Even if you're not responding to messages, iMessage alerts can be pretty distracting. If you use iMessage or other instant messaging services for work, make sure you only add professional contacts to stay on track.

Is it OK to download or install software?

It all depends on what the software is and what device policies your employer has in place. Some businesses install all programs their employees need on company laptops and permit no downloads. Others allow employees to download only business software. Some are more lenient and allow game downloads for fun on breaks and after hours. Some employees need to seek permission before downloading or installing software.

Familiarize yourself with the business's policy and make sure you comply with download rules. If your employer has a formal policy, it's a good idea to ask your boss before downloading any programs. If you're allowed to download software, make sure it comes from a reputable site such as the software maker's own site, MajorGeeks, or Softpedia. Downloading from reputable sources reduces the risk of accidentally downloading viruses and malware.

Can you save personal files on the laptop?

If you're using your company laptop a lot, saving personal files on its hard drive can be tempting. However, there are some key reasons that security experts strongly advise against it. Every file you save to a computer is a security risk. You might think the new album your co-worker emailed you is fine, but it could contain malware or viruses.

Speaking of those nasties, business security programs can be pretty ruthless. If they detect a data breach, they'll start wiping foreign files, including your personal ones. If you're ever sacked, the company laptop is also one of the first things you'll lose, along with any personal files saved on it.

Can you work on a side hustle on your company laptop?

If your company laptop has higher specs and better software than your personal computer, it may be tempting to use it for a side hustle. However, using your company laptop to make more money is a big no-no. Your boss doesn't want to see you making money using resources the company paid for.

It can also be hard to prove you're only working on the side gig after hours. During slow periods, it can also be tempting to work on your other job if the resources you need are at your fingertips. If your performance starts to slide, evidence of your side job on the company laptop may convince your boss that you're not committed enough to the business.

Businesses have different policies dictating how employees can use company laptops. Some businesses don't have any formal policies at all, but this doesn't mean anything goes. When you use your company laptop for personal use, you expose it to security risks that could compromise the business. When you engage in these activities during business hours, your mind also isn't on the job they're paying you for. Unless you're confident you've got the green light and you're unconcerned about your privacy, it's always best to err on the side of caution and use your company laptop only for business activities.

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