While there are some common signs that a layoff may be coming, it’s still totally possible your employer will spring one on you, and often not in a tactful way. In these instances, you may almost immediately lose access to your work-related accounts — or, in the very worst-case scenario, find out you’ve lost your job when your company email or Slack is simply cut off.
Companies taking this approach are looking out for their own interests, minimising the chances that angry former employees will take proprietary data with them or wield work accounts in negative ways. This also means that if you’re wrapped up in a surprise layoff, you may not have the chance to save meaningful communications, contact information, or metrics that could help you in your job hunt.
While this hopefully never happens to you, here’s what work data you can (and should) regularly back up and how to do it — just in case.
What data can’t you take with you?
While it may seem harmless to download contact lists or documents for future reference, this may not actually be allowed by some employers, and the consequences could be serious. So before you save anything, check your employee handbook, employment contract, and any non-disclosure or non-solicitation agreements or clauses to understand what information you can and cannot take with you.
In general, proprietary information and “trade secrets” are no-gos, and may include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Client/customer lists
- Budgets and financial data
- Traffic data
- Business plans
- Source codes
Depending on the terms of your contract, you may not be able to take your work contacts with you either, or there may be limitations on how you can leverage contacts made while employed at the company. If you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to seek legal advice and consider other ways of connecting and maintaining relationships with other professionals.
How to back up your data digitally
Before you start downloading, figure out where you’ll keep your data — whether locally on your personal device, on an external storage drive, or in a folder linked to your personal Google Drive or Dropbox account. Remember, it won’t do you much good to save anything to your work device or a work-related cloud service.
(A reminder, too, not to use your work computer or accounts for any personal communication or data storage that you may want access to later.)
The quickest way to back up your data — emails and contacts — is to export it en masse via Google Takeout or using Google or Outlook export functions:
- Google Takeout: If your company uses G Suite, you can make a copy of your entire Google account using these instructions. Note that you’ll want to customise the export to avoid taking any proprietary info, and some companies may have this option disabled entirely. This process can also take a significant amount of time and space depending on how much you’re downloading.
- Google Contacts: Google also has the option to export contacts from your computer or Android to a CSV. If you’re logged into your account on your phone, you may have the option to back up your contacts automatically.
- Outlook: If your company uses Outlook, follow these instructions to export your contacts.
Another option — if your company has disabled export functions or you don’t want to update your export regularly — is to use a desktop mail client like Outlook, Apple Mail, or Thunderbird, which stores local copies on your computer, allowing you more time to grab what you need (assuming you won’t also be immediately locked out of your work device). Follow Google’s instructions or Microsoft’s guide for using other mail clients.
You could also set up mail forwarding to a personal account if your company allows it, though this may raise red flags with your administrator.
If you’re completely blindsided by a layoff announcement, The Verge recommends immediately taking your device offline to buy some time before your access if curtailed or cut off entirely. Turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi and cellular data, and grab screenshots and contact information from your emails and messaging platforms.
Again, make sure you know what you’re allowed to export or download before you actually take any of these steps.
Other ways to save your data before a layoff
Aside from exporting contacts, emails, and documents, there are a handful of other strategies to keep your data up to date ahead of a layoff.
First, keep a running list or spreadsheet of names, email addresses, and phone numbers for industry connections, and save the business cards you’ve gathered during your employment. If using contact information directly is a grey area within your contract, consider finding people on LinkedIn.
If you have coworkers you’d like to stay in touch with in the event of a layoff, create a separate list of personal emails and social media handles as well as roles. That way, you can also connect later, or even help each other network with recruiters during the job search.
The next thing to maintain is a personal folder of your professional accomplishments. Take screenshots of positive feedback received from colleagues and supervisors. Download performance reviews. Save emails that are complimentary, or forward them to your personal email. Take notes from meetings with your manager.
Regularly make note of your personal performance metrics and work milestones outside of proprietary information — there’s (probably) a difference between providing an estimate of how much your work increased customer engagement and giving out the company’s specific traffic numbers, but remember to check your contract to be sure.
If there are documents or photos that aren’t considered proprietary and that you’d like access to later, save them on your personal device or drive at the same time.
It may also be helpful to have copies of financial documents, such as pay stubs, letters detailing offers or raises, and insurance contracts.
Finally, a caution: Assume that everything you do on your work device or using your work accounts is visible to someone at your company, so avoid mixing work and personal where possible, and be prepared to answer questions if you’re asked why you’re making backups.