While your work computer may double as a computer you use personally, if the company owns it, it's very important to remember that it's not yours.
That can be hard to remember when your laptop travels with you from office to home. But, just because a device feels like it's yours does not mean it is. If your company owns your computer, you should assume it knows everything you're using it for, even if it's not actually monitoring you.
You don't want to be the person whose secrets -- no matter how tame -- get discovered when the IT department needs to install an update or do some maintenance for you. No matter how convenient it is, it's always best to treat your work laptop as a benefit that's almost solely to help you do your job.
That means using it only for work, and for very benign personal use, like checking sports scores or catching up on mainstream news sites. Any of the uses on the list below should be avoided.
Don't use your work computer to job hunt
Even if you cover your tracks and erase your browser history, it's simply wrong to use a device provided by your employer to look for a new job. You should also not use a work computer to write a resume, work on a cover letter, or do anything else related to a job search.
Never visit inappropriate websites
In the late 1990s, I worked at an internet company with an open office. We were hiring at the time, and one of my co-workers had heard that a business magazine aimed at people under 30 had gone out of business. The magazine, named Swing, had posted contacts for its now-out-of-work staff members on its website.
I just assumed the URL would be adding .com to the name of the magazine. That turned out to be incorrect and my computer took me to a website for swingers, and then proceeded to freeze, leaving my screen on an image that was, to put it mildly, not workplace appropriate.
Fortunately, my co-workers and bosses knew what my intent was and the situation was funny, not embarrassing. Still, it illustrates how easily things can go wrong when visiting less-credible websites. You don't want your work computer getting a virus, then having IT trace it back to you visiting a site you shouldn't have.
Never install questionable software
Some companies use passwords to make it impossible to install new software without permission. When that's not the case, it's very important to be very careful what software you install. It's also critical that you make sure anything you install is actually what it's supposed to be.
For example, if you want to add a game or a streaming service app from well-known companies, make sure you go to their site, or an official app store. Don't just do an online search and follow it to a third-party download site. That could lead to you downloading a virus, or unintentionally stealing a piece of software.
Act like you are being watched
With any work computer, it's always best to act as if your boss may come at any time and ask you to hand over the machine. That may not be likely, but it keeps you from ever having to cover your tracks. Treat your work computer like your company owns it, and don't take advantage of your employer.
Of course, you should also know what your company's rules are. Some may allow entertainment apps or games, for example, while others may have a policy against them. Know what you're allowed to do, and err on the side of caution. Getting fired, or even reprimanded, because you downloaded something or visited a website you should not have is simply not worth it.
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