Next time you’re enjoying a cup of coffee or riding in a taxi during work hours remember to keep as much work information to yourself as you can — or risk being reprimanded or even sacked.

As the number of people taking work outside the office continues to rise, the issue of sensitive and private information becomes important.

Research by global workplace provider Regus found cafes top the list of places where Australian workers were putting sensitive company information at risk.

In a survey of 22,000 respondents from more than 100 countries, 67 per cent of Australian businesses believed people having coffee while catching up on work could risk privacy via visible documents or audible phone conversations.

Airport business lounges (50 per cent) and hotel bars (46 per cent) were also listed as places of possible risk.

More than half of respondents listed working with documents or laptops on board flights (54 per cent) and on trains (37 per cent) as potential risks.

Just over three-quarters (78 per cent) of respondents believed conversations on mobile phones were the most likely way confidential business information could be exposed to potential competitors, followed by printed documents (62 per cent), and open laptop screens (59 per cent).

Kerry Brown, from Curtin University’s school of management, said the study highlighted that employees must think about privacy in a highly mobile world.

“We do tend to work more in coffee shops and airline lounges and we travel more as a rule, while working hours are no longer strictly nine-to-five on weekdays, ” Professor Brown said.

“We don’t always have a place to keep work information when we’re travelling, so it’s important to be aware when you’re having a work conversation or looking at documents on a screen that people can hear you, or see the documents. If you have to have a work conversation, then trying to leave out the names of people and organisations will help in not disclosing business information.”

She said employees should remember that any conversation or communication made in a public space could fall into the wrong hands.

“Employers are moving more and more towards sanctions against employees for indiscretions — at the very least it’s embarrassing for the company and the employee, and at worst it can affect a business’ bottom line, ” she said.

Mark Fatharly, partner at Kott Gunning Lawyers, said workers were required to comply with their employment contract, internal company policies and procedures and the reasonable directions of their employer.

“Not taking enough care could lead to a reprimand or warning, or ultimately termination of employment, ” Mr Fatharly said. “It could also lead to breaches of professional standards and privacy obligations leading to civil penalties. Workers need to be discreet about clients, colleagues and confidential information when speaking to people, sending emails or storing documents on unsecured free email services and servers such as Google and Cloud technology.

“Always be mindful of who is around you, including who may be able to watch you type in your password to access your phone or computer.”


© The West Australian

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