Ever walked into someone’s office or cubicle and see them immediately switch whatever they were looking at in their browser to an innocent e-mail client? Then, you both awkwardly have a conversation – pretending that you didn’t see them make the switch, and the person acting as though nothing weird just happened.
This is an awkward office dance that takes place in workplaces all around the world. It happens so often, that flipping screens can sometimes incriminate you even when you weren’t doing anything sneaky! I once had an engineer walk into my cubicle at the very moment I was switching from writing a program over to a file explorer window so I could look up some syntax example files.
“You don’t have to hide what you were doing from me!” he said with a sly grin on his face. I grinned back and responded, “Okaaaaaay,” and flipped the screen back to my program. Of course, he didn’t buy it. So I had to show him all of my open windows before he would believe that I wasn’t slacking off and reading the news online or something. However, his reaction stemmed from how common this is!
Lots of people waste time at work. Just check out Karl’s list of 6 time-wasting websites, and Angela’s list of ideas for procrastinating on Facebook. It’s so common in fact, that I decided to put together a list of the funniest things people do to try and cover up their slacking off at work.
Fake It Through Sound Effects
It seems difficult to believe that people actually need help with innovative ways to waste time at work, but in 1995, a guy named Don Pavlish decided to provide office workers with powerful tools (okay, powerful might be a bit of an exaggeration) to trick the boss into thinking that you’re being super productive. The best of those tools in my opinion – or at least the funniest – is a web application called Sound Busy.
How does it work? Well basically you don’t have to install it, so even if IT has removed all of your administrative privileges, you can still run it. Just open up Don’s website and click on the link for the Sound Busy control panel. Once this small browser window opens, you’ll find a drop-down menu providing different typing sounds you can use. Click on one of the standard typing sound effects, and your computer will start making fairly realistic sound effects of someone typing on a keyboard. Now, open up a browser and start surfing, while all of your officemates think you’re typing up some big report!
Okay, it’s actually just a single 10 second sound byte that keeps repeating – so eventually, your cubicle buddy will figure out that something doesn’t seem quite right. But the web app is good for a laugh, because it has an option that includes a cracking whip sound effect every so often. Very funny.
Automate the “Quick Switch”
A popular app that people use if they haven’t lost administrative privileges at work is a free program called Don’t Panic. There are lots of settings that you can tweak to make it behave the way you like, but the bottom line is that it’ll kill specific windows the moment you click the “Don’t Panic!” button. You can customise the program to either force close or force hide the software.
By closing the program, you’ll lose whatever you were doing, but of course there’s also no chance someone can check out your computer and see what was open. The “Close(Hide)” tab lets you configure what programs you want to instantly kill when you tap the “Don’t Panic!” button. You can choose up to three apps.
Save your settings, and the “Don’t Panic!” button will appear on your desktop.
Keep it someplace that’s easy to get at with your mouse cursor, because the moment you hear footsteps coming, you’re going to want to tap the button and destroy all evidence of your extreme slacker behavior.
Resize and Camouflage Browsers Within Other Windows
While minimizing windows quickly is the traditional way people often try to hide their Internet use from the boss, a more creative approach that I recently discovered while browsing forums about this, is the tactic of resizing the browser window to fit inside a “legitimate” window, which makes it look like you’re hard at work.
For example, you might open up an email in Outlook, and then fit the browser window perfectly within the preview pane.
To many people, at a quick glance, it just looks like you’re browsing through your email. It would require a much closer and more careful look at the screen to realize that you’re actually browsing Google News! And if anyone approaches, all you do is click somewhere in the actual email client application. This immediately moves the browser window in the background and brings the actual email preview into the front.
There’s no quick flash of a minimized window. In fact, the transition is virtually unnoticeable. This is a popular technique for news hounds that can’t go an hour during the day without checking out what’s going on in the news.
The Browser Slide
Instead of minimizing the window when someone is approaching, another really funny technique people use is grabbing the title bar of the browser window and quickly toss it off the screen, usually toward the bottom where it’s least noticeable.
A quick glance at the screen shows the main window maximized – which would be your email, file explorer or programming application, and no one will notice the tiny title bar of the browser that’s peeking up from the bottom of the window. It may not be faster than minimizing, but it does avoid the giveaway “screen flash” that alerts someone you’ve just minimized a window.
Keyboard Shortcut Ninja
Of course, while not as creative as the techniques listed above, an article on hiding Internet browsing just wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fastest way to minimize or hide your active browser window – keyboard shortcuts.
Most people know about Alt+Tab, which will quickly switch between all of your active programs. This is a good way to quickly switch away from your Internet browser, but it may not be fast enough when someone is approaching. Instead, you might opt for the built-in “kill-switch” keyboard shortcut of Alt-F4. This will completely close the current program you’re using.
Finally, another shortcut that might save you time if you need to quickly walk away from your computer but don’t want to close the browser page you’re on is Win+L. This instantly locks your screen without the need to use Ctrl-Alt-Del.
So there you have it, five creative, thrifty and in some cases silly ways that people try to hide their slacking-off activities from the boss (or anyone else passing by). Some of the techniques work better than others, but one word of caution: don’t think this protects you from doing anything you aren’t supposed to do. Browsing inappropriate websites or doing illegal activities like gambling online is not something you want to do at work at all. All Internet activity is well logged and tracked, no matter what you do to hide your activity. Just something to keep in mind – you don’t want to lose your job.
However, if you’re just looking to take a quick break and read some news or play a quick online game, and you don’t have a boss who is very progressive or understanding of such “breaks”, then feel free to steal one of the techniques described above!
Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that you’re willing to share, or funny things you’ve seen other people do to hide their browsing activities while at work? Share them in the comments section below! And if you hear the boss coming, remember to Alt-F4!