How To Work With A Security Conscious Company


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How do you manage a situation where your company uses a particular set of tools that cannot be accessed outside of the office? That’s the question I am answering this week.

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Episode 175

Hello and welcome to episode 175 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

A common question I am asked is how to manage a situation where the tools you prefer using are different from the tools your company uses. Another variation on this is where your company does not allow you to access the company tools outside of your company or your company’s devices. It’s a dilemma I know many face.

So, that is what I will be answering today.

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Okay, it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Stian and Steve. The question is: Do you have any tips and tricks for managing tasks and calendars when you have to use the software your company tells you to use and that cannot be used on personal devices. This makes managing to-dos and calendars very difficult as there are at least two of each.

Thank you, Stian and Steven for your questions. Hopefully, we’ve summarised your questions accurately.

This question is about being in a situation where your company has very high standards of security on company materials, software and devices, and this is understandable given news like the recent hack on Microsoft Exchange servers.

Now before we start, the first thing I would not advise is to fight the system. The tools and devices a company uses are chosen for a specific reason. A lot of research has generally gone into this by IT departments and while there often is some bias towards the IT department’s favoured operating systems, on the whole, they get it right.

If your company uses Microsoft’s suite of tools, then those are the tools you will need to use. Sure, that can be frustrating if you prefer third-party tools, but that is the way things are and unless you can demonstrate to your IT department that your solution is better than the existing arrangement, you are going to be fighting a losing battle.

So, instead of fighting the system, take a step back and look at what tools you are permitted to use.

Think of it like the scene in the film Apollo 13 where the engineers have to build a CO2 filter using only the materials on board the Lunar Module. Essentially fitting a square peg into a round hole.

I have always said the tools you use to work your system are less important than the system itself. A great system should work with a pen and notebook. If the system you are using to manage your work cannot work with pen and paper, then your system is too complex and the problem is there, not with your tools.

All you really need is a place to collect your inputs—your tasks, project notes and other important information. A way to organise those inputs so that what needs doing comes up when you need to see it and you need to be getting on with your work.

For collecting, organising and doing you do not need anything elaborate.

Now, if your company insists you use their Microsoft suite of tools you have an amazing set of tools that are getting better and better. It might be nice to be able to choose a task manager such as Todoist, Things 3 or OmniFocus, but those options are not on the table here. The only option you have is Microsoft ToDo or Planner.

Now, I am old enough to remember a time when to read and respond to my company’s email I had to be in the office at my work station. I could not access my company’s calendar or email system outside of office hours and that was fantastic! It gave me a natural barrier between work time and personal time.

Today, most people no longer have that luxury now they have access to their email and calendars 24/7 and that means work emails arriving at 11 pm on a Saturday night—because there’s always someone who thinks sending emails at 11 pm on a Saturday night is a good idea.

If you have read the original Getting Things Done book, published in 2001, that was written at a time when most people had to be in their office to be able to see what their projects were and the tasks they had to do. You could not do that from home on a Sunday evening. To do a weekly review, the book advised you to do it on a Friday afternoon before going home. That made sense. All your work-related projects and tasks were there. It was also a nice way to finish the week.

So, if you do have to use your company’s software, take a step back and review what tools you have. Apply the Apollo 13 mindset. For most people that would be a Microsoft Outlook account that gives you email and a calendar. You will also likely have access to OneNote for note-taking—which is one of the best note-taking apps out there today anyway, and Outlook Mail is excellent—even on a Mac now.

Think about it. Many salespeople are given a company car that enables them to visit clients and prospective clients. Most company car drivers do not have much choice about which car they can have. It’s usually a medium-range Ford, Hyundai or Toyota. I’m pretty sure if we could choose any company car we’d all be choosing Porsches, Range Rovers or Bentleys. That’s not the way the world works… Sadly.

The same goes for the tools our companies use. IT would be a nightmare for companies if every employee used different tools to get their work done. We saw this being played out a year ago when there were concerns about the security of Zoom. In the end, IT departments standardised which video conferencing tools employees were allowed to use. Some went with Zoom after they beefed up their security. Others went with Microsoft Teams.

So, if we can’t change the tools we have to use at work, what can we do to mitigate this? The first thing I would do is to find out all the various inboxes I have where work is coming in. There will be your email inbox, possibly your Slack or Microsoft Teams inbox, plus maybe a SaleForce inbox. Knowing where your work is coming from is the number one priority.

Next, create a start of day checklist that includes checking all these inboxes and task lists for new work coming in. Then copy and paste your tasks for the day into one list. Now that might be a third party task manager if you are allowed to do that, or just a simple list in your company approved notes app. This list will form part of your daily task list. All you need is a simple list of tasks you need to complete that day.

Another thing worth investigating is whether you can subscribe to your work calendar. I don’t usually advise people to put their personal events on their work calendar—who knows who has access to that. But you may find it is possible to subscribe to your work calendar and have that coming into your preferred calendar of choice be that a Google or Apple calendar.

In my experience, having two different calendar apps causes conflicts with your time. You will likely double book yourself one day. If you can’t subscribe to your work calendar, then try it the other way round and subscribe to your personal calendar—just make sure nobody else can see it.

The reality is there are no magic bullets that will miraculously allow your work and personal systems to converge. When you find yourself in a situation where your company essentially locks down their information, the only way you will find a solution is within your work permitted tools.

Should you run two systems? Well, it’s not impossible but it’s not ideal either. But maybe that is the only solution you have.

However, no matter how security sensitive your company is, they are not going to stop you from writing down things like “call Charles Grey about the proposal” or “work on Project X presentation” into a third party application. No nefarious corporate spy is likely to figure out what those simple tasks mean. You can use your phone to collect these tasks into your preferred app.

But that said, the simplest way to manage this is to just use the company-approved apps. You may not likely them, but if they show you a list of tasks you need to complete each day and you have a notes app where you can keep your notes and project support materials for your projects then you have a system. Maybe a system not using your preferred tools, but at least you have a system.

SO, the best advice I can give you if you are in a situation where your company is running multiple tools is to not fight your IT department. By all means, reach out to them to see if you can use your own apps, but you get a firm no, then look at what is available and set up your system within those tools.

Make it a routine start of day task to collect all your work tasks from the various inputs your company has into one consolidated list and work from that list each day.

One final tip I may suggest that has worked for some people in the past is to use a task manager that will email you a list of your tasks each morning. Todoist does this, for example, and you can set it so it emails you at 5 am in the morning. Then when you get to work, all you need do is print off that list, and use it as not only your task list for the day but also as a collection system. You can write down new tasks onto that paper and when you get home at the end of the enter the new tasks and check off the tasks you did. You can do that as part of your daily planning session.

I hope that has answered your question, Stian and Steve, Thank you for the question.

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.

215 episodes