Downtown Working

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September 15, 2003 // UPDATED 11:04 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

Several years ago, a coworker sent an e-mail

to our entire office - some 150 people -

informing us she would be out of the office for

two days to have her tubes tied. In the e-mail,

she explained she was having

the procedure because her

husband was afraid to have a


This was more than I wanted

to know about her and her

husband\'s private parts.

While that coworker obviously

adhered to the \"my life is

an open book\" philosophy,

there are many other people in

Corporate America whose

lives may be open books without

them even realizing it.

This has to do with the common

policy of \"open access\" to

daily electronic calendars. People put all sorts

of information on their electronic calendars -

both business meetings, personal meetings,

appointments with doctors or divorce attorneys.

And it\'s all there for anyone\'s reading


In today\'s business environment, online

access allows coworkers to legitimately check

other people\'s calendars to schedule meetings.

In the process, they can learn a lot about

each other\'s daily habits.

Justin knew his department

was going to be \"re-orged\" a

week before the higher-ups

made it officially known. He

learned all the details ahead of

time thanks to a coworker who

took the time to review everyone\'s

calendars and piece

together the scenario.

Is this version of corporate

snooping particular to Justin\'s

office? It\'s difficult to tell. If it is

a universal issue, everyone is

keeping it under the radar. This

may be because, as one person

admitted, \"It only becomes a

problem if someone gets burned.\" In other

words, people who rifle through other\'s calendars

aren\'t likely to chat about it over the

water cooler.

People can take steps to protect their privacy,

explained Beth, an executive at a Downtown

corporation: \"Most calendar programs

give users the ability to indicate they are in a

\'private\' meeting, but people either become

lazy and forget to use the privacy feature or

get so busy that they just forget that anyone

can see their calendar.\"

Jean is a big fan of the privacy feature. \"I

use it all the time because I regularly see my

therapist, manicurist and hair stylist during

working hours,\" she said. \"I don\'t want my

coworkers to know just how often I\'m taking

time away from work.\"

Jean did find a crack in the cloaking function,

however, and offered these words of

advice to online calendar users: \"Remember

that the privacy feature doesn\'t work if you

first write the meeting on your palm pilot and

then sync the meeting into your main computer.\"

Of course, calendar snooping is just the latest

in a long history of corporate sleuthing,

employed by the rank-and-file and corporate

attorneys alike.

As my friend, Tyler, shared, \"our corporate

attorney\'s office had an air duct which allowed

her to hear all the conversations in the office

of the HR person, who was in charge of layoffs.

Thanks to the shared air duct, the attorney

heard plans to lay off a large portion of the

legal team, including her. Needless to say,

since the attorneys had advance knowledge

they could plan their counterattack.\" Tyler

said the legal team ended up with a much better

severance package than they would\'ve had

without the air duct notice.

While corporate snooping is neither pretty

nor (in the case of the duct-listening attorney)

ethical, it is part of corporate life. If you\'re

incredulous that people make the effort to

study your calendar, think again. Electronic

calendar snooping is a corporate sport.

While you might never send a corporationwide

e-mail announcing your plans for your

private parts, listing the name of your physician

on your calendar might be enough for an

industrious coworker to figure out exactly

what you are doing next Thursday.

If you have a good workplace story to tell,

please contact Elana Centor at, or leave her a message

at 825-9205 (then hit 102 for her

voicemail). You can remain confidential,

as can your company.