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Workforce Update – How To Switch Careers During a Pandemic – New Skills + Passion = New Career Path

Workforce Update – How To Switch Careers During a Pandemic – New Skills + Passion = New Career Path

Tami didn’t know what to do after getting hurt on the job. As a wife and mom—with another one on the way—she knew she needed help getting to that next paying career. Fortunately, she contacted her local workforce development board and job center where she found a team that helped her see all her possibilities and how to take the next step. Tami explained that she had some basic needs for her new career. As a mom with a husband who is a critical worker, she wanted a career that would enable her to stay home and work remotely if her family had to move due to her husband’s work. She wanted a career that would be more satisfying and give her the chance to be creative and help others.

The workforce consultants at the career center showed Tami the choices in education they could provide to help her move forward with a new career. They all agreed that web design was a terrific career path and a good fit for Tami. Tami did not have any previous training in web design, but her counselors told her that would not be a problem. Some of the options were classroom-based courses that would require her to wait for the next semester to begin. These courses offered her a course completion certificate, not an industry certification. However, they also offered Tami an option that had rolling enrollment, meaning she could start immediately. The course and instructors were all online and only required her to have internet and either a PC, Mac or Chromebook. All the coding and development tools were all included and cloud-based. And the feature that got Tami most excited was that the course prepared her to receive a full International Industry-Recognized Certification from the Web Professionals Organization. This was not merely a course completion certificate, but an industry certification from the professional association of web designers, developers and app creators. Tami filled out paperwork and was meeting her instructors within days. She was very thankful for the workforce development board job center team who made this all happen.

With COVID-19 affecting how we work and live, many people like Tami are seeking new career paths that will allow them to work with more flexibility and freedom. Let’s hear from Tami and her instructor.

Tami enrolled in the Web Design and Development course through California State University San Marcos. She had worked on early social media sites years ago and remembers that was the first time she got excited about the potential of the internet. However, before starting the course she didn’t have any actual training in design or development. The course taught her everything she needed to know from the ground up and developed her into a skilled and knowledgeable web professional, all as a remote learner.

In the months that Tami was working through the course, she faced several events in her personal life, including a pregnancy, that required her to pause her learning for a time. Because the course is self-guided, she could easily take a break and resume when she felt ready. Tami praised how helpful Cal State San Marcos was throughout her journey, saying “I reached out to them a lot when going through things and having to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t get school done this week or this month. So, can I do an extension?’ They were always sweet and encouraging about it. They said, ‘Oh, no problem. We can extend it for you.’” And Steve Waddell—co-developer of the course, instructor, and curriculum development partner of— was always available to answer questions Tami had along the way. This unique model allows the student to work at their own pace as a virtual learner, without the pressure of a traditional classroom setting in which all students are expected to keep the same pace no matter what life circumstances happen in the process. Certifications 

Start Career in Web Design

One of the key features of the Web Design and Development course is the optional exam, which enables the learner to earn a certification administered by the Web Professionals Organization, the premier industry association for web designers and developers. Tami commented on how well the course prepared her for taking the certification exam at the end of the course: “I’ve taken tests before that seemed to include nothing that I had learned. In the Web Design and Development course, every quiz prepared me for the final certification exam. I have test anxiety and was worried I was going to fail, but Steve talked me through the process and said I would do well. And he was right—I finished in 30 minutes, and it was easy.” 

Having an industry certification and project portfolio sets Tami apart from other professionals that companies may be considering hiring, which allows her to hit the ground running in getting clients and starting work on projects. Equipped with new skills, knowledge, a portfolio and certification, Tami can work directly with clients to solve problems and meet needs. The experience of taking the course and working with Cal State San Marcos made her a fan of the university and how willing it is to help adult learners like herself.  

To others who may be thinking about a new path but don’t know how to switch careers, Tami says “I would tell anyone else that they can do it. And I know people say that, but seriously, I am the worst with school sometimes. I have struggled with self-esteem issues, but doing this course gave me so much. It gave me more than just the education—it gave me the knowledge, strength, ability and confidence to do it. It taught me that there’s way more to web design than I realized—there are so many different types of jobs out there that I can do now because of this course and certification.

Helping Adult Learners Switch Careers and Develop New Skills 

Steve Waddell commented, “I get to have a unique perspective as a teacher. Since I am one of the co-authors (I also need to shout out Daniel, the other head co-author and the other 24 team members who helped build this course) I know why we designed the course as we did. This course has over 170 tutorial and industry subject matter videos. We created a terrific ‘play with the code’ live sandboxing feel to help the students learn to create web pages and sites. And I can be proud of all the ‘techy’ stuff we did as instructional designers. However, it is when I am facilitating, supporting and helping the students that I really understand their learning needs. The experience allows me to be a better course developer and I enjoy the teaching. 

It is so much fun seeing students reinvent themselves through online education. I am Tami’s ‘teacher’, but the course is really self-directed, self-paced education. My job boils down to coaching and supporting when the adult learner struggles. I struggled when I was first learning how to create web pages and sites and it really is fun to relive some of those early struggles and help guide students over the humps, just like the people who helped me out years ago. 

Tami is the example of what is great about adult education—especially online education. Watching her reinvent herself and switch careers from a more physical type job to a creative tech field was actually quite fun for me. This is what adult education is about. Anyone can reinvent themselves. Web design is about helping individuals, groups and businesses bring their stories and products to market.  Tami loves helping people, and when she was struggling with things in life that so many adult learners must deal with as they reconstruct themselves into a new career—including jobs, family, illness, and pandemic—it was her passion to help others that kept her moving forward. I am so proud of how she stuck to it, and a shout out to CSUSM for all their support.”

Start Your New Career Path Today 

Maybe you are similar to how Tami approached her career shift and are thinking about how to find an exciting and in-demand career path, even in the age of COVID-19. The time is now to learn at your own pace and begin your career start, all from the comfort of your couch or kitchen table. If you’re not sure where to start, is fortunate to work with many workforce development organizations, public and private universities and colleges in the US. Our workforce, university and post-secondary partners offer a variety of course options from multi-year programs, semester-long, and 90-day career certification sprints. If you want to find a school to work with, shoot us an email at, and we can point you in the right direction. 

We also see the need to help with over-aged and under-credited youth, and we always welcome the opportunity to partner with organizations in helping to re-engage these youth in education and a brighter future.

Do you work at a University, College or Workforce Center?

If you are an organization that wants to use media-rich and highly interactive international industry-recognized certification courses in your career programs, then contact us today. We are ready to help. 

How To Create A Happy And Productive Work Environment At Home

How and where we work is changing. The nature of modern businesses and lifestyles means working from home is more popular than ever. Going to the same office eight hours a day, five days a week is no longer the norm.

While working from home can sound like a dream, anyone who’s actually done knows how unproductive or unsociable it can make you feel. If you frequently work from home here are some ways to make it a happier and more productive environment.

Make sure you can work when you want

A home workspace needs to be somewhere you can actually complete tasks. Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, you need to make sure your workspace is suitable for the hours you’re most productive in. If you want to work remotely make sure your home doesn’t have partners, roommates or children roaming around distracting you. The more you can keep your focus on your work the better it will be. Work when they’re out of the house or make it clear when you need some time alone. 

Make sure you aren’t confined to a bedroom either. Muddling the wires in your brain with what room is for sleeping and what room is for working will only make it harder to keep a good life schedule. Designate one room for working from home and design it around your habits and needs.

Tech out your work station

A difference you’ll likely notice working from home in comparison to an office is the drop off in quality of equipment. It’s unlikely your home office has a workstation as well designed as the one at your desk at work.

StarTech’s guide to the perfect docking station highlights how we now find ourselves moving around and jumping between tasks more than ever, even at home. Having technology that allows you to do that is just as essential at home as in the office or on the move.

If you do your best work with two monitors and a particular desk size then try and replicate that feeling when working from home. For a lot of people working from home is about comfort, but trying to do a full day of work with your laptop on your lap isn’t ideal.

Have an office structure

If you’re new to working from home it can be tempting to be a bit liberal with your work schedule. With no one watching over your shoulder and the lack of a productive office atmosphere it’s a lot easier to take an extra break to stare at your phone for half an hour. To make sure your productivity levels stay high and your guilt levels low you should try and stick to the same schedule that made you a success in the office.

Limit the number of breaks you take and don’t be tempted to elongate your lunch with an extra episode of something on Netflix. Mindset is a big part of what makes working from home successful. If you can carry over the same schedule you kept in the office it’ll be a more seamless transition.

Stay connected

Working from home can be lonely. You need people out of the house to keep yourself focused, but you miss out on the buzz of an office environment. There’s no need to feel disconnected though. There are a number of tools for staying in touch with your team remotely without having to spend all day on the phone. You can also keep an eye on what people are doing so you don’t lose step with the rest of the team and get a bigger picture of the business operation.  

If you frequently speak to clients make a point of scheduling regular meetings with them over phone or video chat. This can help break up your day and act as a replacement for the contact you’d usually get from colleagues. Suddenly previously boring client meetings become a highlight of the day.

Treat your space like an office

A happy workspace is a productive workspace. When working from home keep the house as if all your colleagues were there too. Don’t just keep your workspace clean, make sure the house is somewhere you enjoy being and has an ambiance you enjoy. Businesses have noticed the benefits in recent years in having lots of plants, plenty of natural light and pleasant scents. Modern workplaces are often a nice place to be, so replicate that in your home.

Maybe work in your PJ’s if it makes you feel more at ease, but try and avoid sitting around in your underwear. Working as if someone else is in the room with you is about keeping yourself productive and retaining a professional state of mind for the full workday.

Keep to-do lists

Everyone working from home has the same thoughts. Maybe I should just clean those dishes quickly. The house could probably use a vacuum. Chores have never been as appealing as they are when you’re working from home, but you need to resist the urge and stay on track. Making a daily to-do list before you go to bed every night is a great way to achieve this. It leaves you with no illusion about what needs to get done that day and gives you direction, which is what remote workers need more than anything.


Working from home is both a blessing and a curse. It can be relaxing to skip the commute and have an extra half hour in bed, but home can become somewhere you become stressed and unproductive. Follow these tips to keep your performance levels up wherever you work.

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Rodney Laws. Here is additional information he provided about himself.

Rodney Laws is an eCommerce platform specialist and online business consultant. He’s worked in the eCommerce industry for nearly two decades, helping brands big and small to achieve their business goals. You can get his advice for free by visiting and reading his detailed reviews. For more tips and advice, reach out to Rodney on Twitter @EcomPlatformsio.

Web Developer’s Guide To Building A Strong Personal Brand

What do recruiters find when they google you?

More likely than not, the first thing that people come across when conducting a simple search over search engines for you are your social media profiles – your twitter feed, your Facebook pages, and your LinkedIn profile.

With more and more recruiters leveraging search engines in their background check, it is more important than ever to take ownership of your personal brand.

What is a personal brand and why does it matter?

Your personal brand is your online persona. It is how the world sees you and people perceive you. It is the unique combination of your skills, personality, and experience that comes together to form your online persona and sets you apart from your peers and competitors.

Let’s get real though. Coding is where your passion lies.

Marketing yourself online and honing your virtual image is probably something you are least interested in. You would much rather immerse yourself in the code.

“Good people put their heads down and get caught up in their job and forget they have a whole career to manage.” – Pamela Rucker, chairwoman of CIO executive council’s executive women in IT.

While marketing may not be the thing you have a natural affinity for, it is definitely something you should work on to differentiate yourself in the ultra-competitive tech world and open up a myriad of opportunities as well.

As a web developer, you cannot underestimate the importance of having a strong online presence.

Jeff Atwood, the co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse said in his blog post, “Mere competence in a technical discipline is not enough. That’s the minimum required to keep your head above water.”

A strong online presence and a distinguishable personal brand is a tool that every developer needs in his/her arsenal that can open up a box full of possibilities.

Getting on the recruiters’ radars and getting job offers is just the tip of the iceberg of opportunities. When done right, personal branding has reportedly led developers to land lucrative jobs with developer salaries towards the developer salaries towards the higher end of the spectrum, just based on their online presence.

It has even helped developers establish themselves as entrepreneurs through their personal brand. Most importantly, it has empowered web designers and developers with control over their own online reputation.

How to create a compelling personal brand?

A large number of software developers have taken to personal branding in one form or the other. Everybody left, right and center is busy making a blog, tweeting about it on Twitter, posting on LinkedIn and sharing across Facebook.

How do you make your voice heard over the din?

Here’s the strategy you need to follow to make sure that your personal brand sends out from the rest, builds your reputation and ensures that you land in a goldmine of opportunities.

1. Find your brand before you start building it

What value can you add to the existing ton of information already out there?

It is easy to feel overwhelmed looking at the knowledgeable resources being published every day. The imposter syndrome is very real and figuring out your unique selling point (USP) is important for you to be able to overcome it.

You don’t have to be a subject matter expert to share something value-adding. Even if the knowledge you share is not something you, your unique angle or perspective has the potential to make it useful for someone reading it.

The personal brand you aim to build should reflect that. It is supposed to be “personal”. This doesn’t mean that you talk about your vacation plans or food preferences.

Have a passion project? Talk about it.

Learning a new language? Share your experience

Your personal brand needs to reflect who you are, what challenges you face and the steps you take to finally overcome them. 

2. Focus on creating content and taking a strategic approach

How wonderful it would be if you only had to hit the publish button and readers would come pouring in. The reality, however, is that unless you take a strategic approach, the content you create is never going to see the light of the day, despite being amazing in quality. 

Even publishing content on Medium doesn’t guarantee you traffic (even though it is the primary reason why developers blog on Medium). Social media is tricky unless you already have garnered a significant following.

Step 1: Build your own website

As a web developer, you can choose to code from scratch and your website can also double up as a project within your portfolio. If coding your website isn’t something you fancy or don’t have time for, a simple WordPress hosted website will also do.

Your website doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to have a decent UI/UX and feel professional. 

Step 2: Make the website discoverable

The key to ensuring that people organically discover your personal brand lies in formulating an effective content strategy.

While you might not be a marketing pro, understanding the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) and how the search algorithms work is critical to ensuring that the content you create reaches its full potential.

Step 3: Target the right audience

The homepage of your website should communicate exactly what is it that you specialize in. For example, if you are a Python developer, when a recruiter is searching for the same, your website should turn up in the search results.

How do you do that?

Identify the bottom of the funnel keywords. These are the phrases that people looking to hire someone with a skill you possess are actively searching the internet for. When you are writing blog posts, make sure those address the how-to queries regarding the area of your specialization.

Step 4: Build your blog’s authority

If you have just started your website, the domain authority is likely going to be low. Backlinks from high authority publications pass on the link equity to your website which is important for getting your content to rank. 

There are several developer-focused publications you can write for. This way you can share your knowledge, contribute to the developer community and build backlinks to your own website at the same time.

If readers find your content valuable, they will likely follow the trail of links back to your own blog resulting in referral traffic at the same time.

3. Make sure your content doesn’t sit idle on your website

Blogging about something and then forgetting all about it is something that happens all too often. Don’t let the content you publish collect dust on your website.

Keep updating your content

The thing about technology as an industry is that it is highly dynamic. It is constantly changing and the stuff that is valid and relevant right now would likely become outdated or obsolete. 

Keep going through the older posts, add or remove relevant data to keep your blog up-to-date.

Once your website grows, conducting periodic content audits can be a good idea as well. This removes the stuff that isn’t relevant anymore and also gives a boost to your SEO rankings.

Share it across the social channels

If you want to take full ownership of your personal brand, you have to make sure that your content reaches far and wide. This is where the power of social media comes into play. You don’t have to be an expert at social media to promote your content on it. 

Choose your channel and interact with people there. The philosophy behind this should be value addition rather than self-promotion. Social media can be a great avenue for fostering relationships and engaging with the developer community at large. 

Certain platforms such as Reddit have highly engaged communities where you can contribute and grow at the same time. Github and Stack overflow are also excellent avenues for engaging with the developer community and if you aren’t utilizing these channels already, you definitely should.

Repurpose your content to drive more value out of it

The value of the content you produce doesn’t end once you click on the publish button. The time is ripe to be experimenting with different formats. Video content is all the rage right now. Podcasts are also hugely popular among the developer community.

So the tutorial you just published on your blog can be converted into a YouTube video or a podcast and shared. It makes you accessible to your peers who may prefer watching or listening over reading about something.

4. Patience and consistency is the key to success

All good things take time, so don’t jump into establishing your personal brand expecting overnight miracles. Be consistent in your strategy and have the patience for the results to show and if the strategy is right, rewards would definitely flow through. 

The quest to build your personal brand needs to continue right alongside your journey as a software developer. It might be a lot of effort in the initial stages but once you get started, the results will only get compounded over time.

Whether it is being recognized within the developer community, showcasing your skills, building your reputation or getting lucrative job offers, personal branding can help you accomplish all this and more. 

Remember, achieving a balance between working and simultaneously talking about it is the true hustle. So, be a hustler!  

7 Reasons to become a remote worker

7 Reasons to become a remote worker

Remote work is the trend that is here to stay!

This is no longer just an attention-grabbing business model trend. Remote work has become a valid and feasible work model for employees and companies. Remote work now encompasses employees working out of the office, with a flexible and mobile schedule, and companies hiring professionals that are working remotely.

Companies have expanded services towards outsourcing services, and that they hire remote workers for, such as operational processes and product and software development services. For example, companies and employers can use this link to learn more about software engineering services for their custom software development services needs.

But why remote work? How has it impacted the workforce and employment movement?

Remote Work: Popular and Viable

Remote work has grown 44% over the last 5 years, and between 2016 and 2017 found a 7.9% increase globally. The top fields with the greatest number of remote workers are Computer and IT, Health and Medical, Sales, Education and Training, and Customer Service.

Multi-million dollar companies such as Toggl, Automatic, Buffer, Meet Edgar, Zapier, and Appen have been built and supported by remote work. Other companies like Dell, Invision, Git Lab, and Todoist have also found success with the outsourcing software development services and other organizational processes.

Software Development Services and Remote Work

In 2015, around 8% of all the full-time computer programmers in the US worked from home. This percentage has been growing steadily over the past couple of years. In the IT and software development industry, many programmers find the benefits of working from home are better than working in the office the entire day.

According to the State of Software Development in 2019, the major challenges encountered in software development are limited capacity and knowledge sharing. To address these challenges, the majority of companies allow their employees to do remote work. This then opened up the opportunity for outsourcing projects and business processes.

Advantages of Remote Work

Why is remote work so preferred by both companies and employees? Interviews with executives have shed some light on some of the advantages of the business model. And studies and market statistics have shown why remote work for software developers is the way forward with many a software development services company. Below are the major drivers we found as to why webmasters will find remote work as a business model beneficial, either as an employee or as an employer.

As an Employee

  • Increased work productivity. Studies have shown that working remotely leads to increased productivity for employees. Remote employees or those working on remote jobs are empowered to find the space and mindset that enables them to work optimally. Remote workers leveraging this freedom to choose when and where to work to work are more productive and able to accomplish more tasks, participate and collaborate better, and have a better disposition at work.
  • Increased mobility. Remote employees can work from anywhere. Remote jobs provide employees the benefit of being able to work anywhere that they are most comfortable at. The most popular place to work at, for remote employees, are at home in their home office, followed by working out of cafes or coffee places. Working remotely enables employees to be more mobile and spaces where they are most comfortable and most productive.
  • Improved work-life balance. Having a flexible timetable is the benefit that remote workers are most appreciative of. Remote work enables employees to spread out their time between work, time with friends and family, and hobbies, leading to a more positive work-life balance.

    Individuals in the workforce that value experiences and personal growth over possessions find this highly favorable, especially in their work environment. This improved balance between work and non-work activities lead to less stress and more productivity for workers.
  • Reduced employee expenses. Because of its impact on their daily spending, employees are further encouraged to do remote work. Remote employees or workers that telecommute spend less on commuting, fuel, food, and car maintenance. An average worker usually spends around $10 a day just going to a from work, which accumulates to around $2,600 annually. Remote employees and those that work from home save on this expense and spend this money on better things.

As a Company

  • Improved employee retention. Remote work empowers employees to be more productive at home, in their own space, and enjoy the benefits of employment. Remote employees that are more than satisfied with their working environment engender appreciation and positivity towards their bosses and company.

    Because employees are more satisfied with their remote work situation, they are more likely to stay with the company. With a company able to adapt to remote workers and provide their needed benefits, employees have more reason to stay and keep working for the company.
  • Increased workforce diversity. Employing remote workers opens a company to the opportunity to hire skilled professionals from all over the world. This approach enables the company to improve the diversity in their workforce by onboard remote employees that come from across different gender, ethnicity, and location, and abilities.

    Take for example a software development services company, they can employ remote expert software engineers and software developers to build solutions for their clients. Or the company itself is remote and collaborates with other companies.
  • Reduced operational costs. Companies engaging remote employees in their workforce incur fewer expenses in setting up their office needs. Instead of physical offices and utilities, costs go to setting up tools and processes that would make remote jobs all the more efficient and effective. These costs are a lot cheaper to establish and maintain in the long run.

    In the case of our software development services company example, in engaging the services of remote software engineers and software developers, this company can focus their operational costs in purchasing and maintaining communication, project management, and task tracking tools and software.

No business model is perfect. Remote jobs also have pitfalls:

  1. Communication and collaboration can be a challenge to establish and maintain.
  2. There can be difficulty distancing oneself from work and unplugging.
  3. Employees may feel disconnected from work and life and experience loneliness.
  4. Distractions from home or non-work environments can be a hindrance to productivity and remote employee time tracking and management.

But the challenges and pitfalls that may be encountered with remote work can be solved and improved. It makes for an effective working model and this is what is important. It has revolutionized work and the quality of work-life balance that employees can achieve. It has also provided companies and employers a viable and reliable means of increasing their workforce.

Remote work is not perfect, but, when done correctly, it is highly effective.

Kate Boiko photo Editor’s note: This guest post was provided by Kateryna Boiko. She is a Marketing Manager at Mobilunity, Provider of Dedicated Development Teams with 9 years of hands-on experience in digital marketing. Kateryna managed to work with diverse industries and markets and now is keen on sharing unique cases with the world and coach on topics relevant to Web Analytics and Search Engine Optimization.

Our certification process

Our certification process

Recently, I was asked to document how we develop our certification exams. I thought it might be helpful for visitors to this blog to better understand the process as well. We always try to keep our certifications in line with what is happening in the industry. We offer a number of certifications (ranging from novice to professional levels) in web design, web development, mobile and app development and a number of related areas.

Individual at work with the word cwertification highlighted


We have been offering our certifications for roughly two decades. Obviously, our processes have changed over that time. For example, when I served as Director of Education, we met in Las Vegas (in person) for several days to identify specific areas of focus in our certifications. Nowadays, we hold most of our discussions via email and teleconferences. Here is a bit about our internal process. Frankly, I have personally been involved with many certification efforts over my many years of experience in this field. I have worked closely with companies such as Adobe and Microsoft. Given what I have observed, I can attest that our certifications are comparable and follow roughly the same set of processes. Of course, there is one key difference – our certifications are vendor neutral.

Anyone working in this field understands that technology changes rapidly (and this churn means we need to keep our certifications up to date). This is why those who have earned a certificate from us need to have it renewed every two years.

Our process

Essentially, the process involves periodic review of the current domains and subdomains we cover by individuals in business, industry, and education. We also use this information to keep other initiatives (such as our national web design competition) up to date. Once we have identified that changes need to be made, we have individuals with significant experience in writing questions develop appropriate questions (which include distractors and other features to help confirm individuals really understand the technology). These questions are then reviewed/ revised and eventually end up in question pools. We pull questions from these pools when an individual takes an exam. Obviously, different questions are developed for novice and beginning certifications and for professional certifications. As an aside, we also ask anyone taking a professional level certification to provide documentation they have worked in the industry for at least two years.

We believe it is important that individuals who work in our field consider holding a professional level certification. We believe it is also important those aspiring to work in our industry hold entry level certifications. This is confirmation you have a base level of knowledge and skills for our industry. Of course, we also believe individuals in our industry should be part of a professional organization and collaborate with others. We also ask members to sign a code of ethics. We even include a link to agree to our code of ethics for non- members [it is posted near the bottom of our home page.] It is only through our combined efforts we raise the bar of professionalism in our industry.

Become involved

If you would like to be part of the group which periodically reviews our domains and subdomains, please leave a comment below. By providing your email address, we will know how to contact you. We encourage you to consider helping us (and our industry) by providing your insights periodically as to what matters in today’s rapidly changing field.

I look forward to your comments (and hope you consider assisting us and providing your insights into our process).

Best always,
Mark DuBois
Executive Director and Community Evangelist

Office worker’s guide to Internet privacy

Office worker’s guide to Internet privacy

There are a number of reasons why internet privacy can be just as important in the workplace as it is in your personal life, and it’s not all about going on Facebook when the boss isn’t looking. In an era of instant message chats and endless email threads, conversations that might once have been had at the watercooler are increasingly likely to take place in logged, viewable exchanges.

Whether those conversations are complaining about a company policy or discussing personal details that could lead to workplace discrimination, most of us are keen to make sure that private discussions remain just that. But since the computers you use at work are your employer’s property, it’s not uncommon for internet connections to be monitored.

computer desktop in office setting with likely non business content

Around 78% of major US companies admit that they check up on their employees’ emails, browsing history, downloaded files and even online phone calls. With almost two thirds of workers admitting to using the internet for personal reasons during working hours, it’s not entirely unreasonable for employers to be suspicious – but if you’re concerned about snooping, it’s good to know how you’re being watched and what you can do to avoid it.

The rules on snooping

A crucial thing to bear in mind when conversing via your work email address or workplace instant messenger system, is that just as your device belongs to your workplace, so does your email account. So whether you’ve added two-factor authentication to your log-in or set your emails up to be heavily encrypted, it won’t change the fact that someone else is the overseeing administrator of ‘your’ account.

In the US, UK and Australia, employers are legally within their rights to monitor all activity that you carry out on a company-owned device. This is true whether you’re in the office or working from home, and can include the use of personal email accounts on company devices.

In the UK, staff are supposed to be informed if they are being monitored – whether that’s via email, in browsing history logs or otherwise. However, just because your employer is supposed to tell you that they’re monitoring you, this doesn’t mean they have to get your consent. And in practice, notification of web use monitoring is forgotten. In the US and most of Australia, no disclosure is legally required.

The financial sector is thought to be the most vigilant when it comes to staff surveillance, with more than 92% of firms participating in some kind of monitoring activity. The types of monitoring in place include:

  • Keylogging – from actual keystrokes to time spent at the keyboard.
  • Computer file audits – inspecting what is being downloaded to, and stored on, company devices.
  • Email reviewing – according to the American Management Association, an estimated 73% of US companies use automatic email monitoring tools, while 40% have individuals specifically assigned to read and review incoming and outgoing email.
  • Browsing history reviews – generally looking for inappropriate site surfing, from social media to explicit content.

Encrypting browsing data

The simplest way to keeping your browsing history and ongoing activity private is to encrypt your connection, using a Virtual Private Network or VPN. There are various VPN apps suitable for PC and laptop use, and they only take a minute to install. Just make certain you only install this on personal devices (if you use them at the office). [Editor’s note – we also employ a VPN on our equipment when traveling (typically this will require an administrator to install on a corporate device).]

When connecting to the internet via a VPN, in essence you create a secure ‘tunnel’ in which to undertake your activities. If your employer tries to access the browsing history of your particular device, anything you’ve been up to while connected using a VPN will be missing from the list.

As well as keeping your activity private, a VPN can also sidestep access restrictions to certain websites. So if you were trying to access social media, only to find that it was blocked by your workplace network, connecting to a virtual server elsewhere through a VPN client would be one way to bypass the block.

If you connect to your workplace Wi-Fi network in order to browse on a mobile device, it’s wise to install you VPN service there too. In theory, the activity on your personal device shouldn’t end up exposed to prying eyes – but browsing activity sent over an office network can still be viewed by relevant parties who want to know what you’re up to.

A mobile VPN can encrypt your traffic in just the same way as a desktop version, ensuring that if someone does try to see what you’re up to, all they’ll get access to are indecipherable encryption keys.

On and offline

It almost goes without saying that the best way to keep your online activities away from your boss is to steer clear of anything but work-related activity online in the office, and to have private conversations in person rather than over the web. But in practice, this isn’t always feasible.

Keep personal conversations and browsing to your own devices where possible, and secure it all with encryption to ensure it can’t be snooped. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with any workplace monitoring policies that your employer has – as well as informing you of anything that could be deemed to be inappropriate conduct, they’ll also educate you on how you’re being watched.

This article was provided by Tabby Farrar, who works with organizations in a range of industries including VPN security and small business consultancy. If you would like to see more articles like this one, please let us know via your comments.