Company secrets on your desk? Keep a clean desk

The first place to look for your company’s secrets is on your own desk. Put away confidential documents or privacy-sensitive information after use. A clean desk policy can keep your workplace neat and secure. That helps protect your business.

Whether you work at the office, at a coffee bar, in the train or at your own kitchen table, one thing remains the same: watch out for people who want to steal your company’s secrets. Follow these tips to keep a clean desk and keep thieves at a distance. The tips apply both online and offline. 

What is a clean desk? 

A clean desk is just what it sounds like. Your desk should only hold the things you need for your work. One important part of a clean desk is that you do not leave confidential information out in the open. When you are done working, put everything away. 

Risks of a messy desk 

Make a habit of cleaning up your workplace, both at the office and at home. That helps prevent the theft of company secrets (in Dutch), and also keeps others from looking at your work. The thief is not always someone from outside the company. It could also be a colleague from a different department. And realise that someone might see privacy-sensitive information on your desk by accident. Like the cleaner wiping down your desk, and accidentally reading the minutes of a meeting. Or your child using your notebook to draw on when working from home. And then their teacher hanging the drawing (with sensitive information) on the classroom wall. As an entrepreneur, you must follow the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) rules. Sharing personal data is punishable by law, even if you do it by accident. 

Keep information to yourself 

You might not think twice about a database open on your screen, or a piece of paper with customer details on your desk. But criminals are looking for exactly that kind of information. Do not let anyone look over your shoulder, and keep the information to yourself. 

Tim Bontan is the owner of the graphic design bureau Bijdevleet. He can create designs anywhere. In fact, he often has his laptop open in the football canteen, while his children are training. “It is a good place to get work done. But my clients expect me to treat their data with care. So I never open privacy-sensitive documents in public places.” 

Create a tidy workplace 

These tips for a clean desk will make your workplace more secure: 

  1. Lock your computer when you leave for a coffee break or a visit to the toilet. Whether you are working at a café or inside the office. It just takes a second. 
  2. Clear everything from your workplace at the end of the day. Even if you are working at your own kitchen table: pack everything away when you are done working. Because even at home, you are still responsible for protecting company information. 
  3. Use a screen filter to keep others from reading over your shoulder. A screen filter is a sheet of film you can stick to the screen of your laptop, tablet or smartphone. It is ideal if you have to work in a café or a full train. 
  4. Store all papers and customer files in a locked cabinet. A printed invoice can have interesting information for a thief. 
  5. Erase the whiteboard after a meeting. This prevents colleagues, customers, mechanics, or cleaners who might be passing by from accessing information that is meant only for you and your immediate colleagues. 
  6. Destroy documents when you no longer need them. Put them in a paper shredder or a sealed document container. 
Clean desk tips
  1. Lock your pc when you go to get coffee or take a toilet break. 
  2. Empty your workplace at the end of the day.  
  3. Use a screen filter. 
  4. Put paperwork and customer files in an lockable cupboard.  
  5. Wipe the whiteboard after meetings. 
  6. Destroy documents you do not use anymore. 

A clean 'digital desk' 

You will not find papers scattered on Bontan’s desk. He creates his designs on a computer, and his work is stored in the cloud. Bontan saves the password in a secure digital safe This is also part of keeping a clean desk. These tips will help you keep a clean digital desk: 

  1. Keep passwords to yourself, and change them regularly. Do not re-use your password. Use a password manager

  1. Use multi-factor authentication. This is one of the most important measures to prevent others from accessing your account. It works like an extra lock on your account. You log in using a password and your fingerprint, or a code you receive via text message or app. At a minimum, you should use it for your business email account and your most important business applications.