In today’s competitive, litigious and data-filled world, attention to confidentiality, security and document protection is more important than ever.

Whether working for a client or a boss, the savvy Assistant understands the need to handle sensitive information with attentive care. A VA, PA or EA may be asked to work on reports, contracts, legal papers and ensure they are only seen – and open to editing – by the right people.

With Microsoft Word, it’s simple to add layers of protection for files and keep them safe.

Confidentiality is Not Just a Professional Courtesy – There are Laws in Place

Protecting the data of your clients or employer not only shows professional courtesy. It is also part of ensuring you fulfil your legal responsibilities.

For example, you have probably read in the news about the consequences for businesses who experience a data breach. If you work for an organisation, you may well find you have been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The savvy Assistant will also take steps to keep their desktop computer, laptop, tablet device or smartphone safe. The freelance Assistant might even consider taking out professional indemnity cover.

Use commonsense and seek advice if you need it.

When creating professional documents in Word , give thought to its content, its intended audience and what level of protection it may require.

Using Password Protection in Microsoft Word to Keep Documents Safe

The savvy Assistant can control access to a document by including a password with it.

A password encrypts the Word document so only someone with access to that password can open the document. Passwords can also be used to restrict the editing rights of others.

Passwords are case-sensitive and are typically a maximum of 15 characters long. You want to create a strong password – to make it as difficult as possible for hackers or malicious software to work out – and, ideally, one that you can easily remember.

If you do need to keep a copy of the password somewhere, keep it in a safe place and don’t make it obvious what it is.

Choosing Strong Passwords to Protect Word Documents

The password is a first line of defence against unauthorised access to your Word document files. The stronger the password, the better the protection.

Weak passwords are ones that are too obvious. Avoid using ‘123456’ or ‘qwerty’, for example. Microsoft shares more examples of weak passwords to help people avoid making a costly mistake with document protection.

As a guideline for creating strong passwords for Word documents:

  • Use between eight and 12 characters
  • Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols
  • Use one or more uppercase letter

Everyone has their own quirks around creating strong passwords. Some people take inspiration from song lyrics, famous quotes or popular phrases to make a password more memorable.

From a song line or quote, you could take the first two letters of each word in the sentence and put them together to form a password. Add a number and a symbol to make it even stronger. ‘All You Need is Love’ by The Beatles could become password ‘AlYoNeIsLo66!’, for example.

As with the passwords you might use in your personal life, it makes sense to use different passwords for each protected document.

Using Permissions with Word Documents to Manage Information Safely and Ensure Good Collaboration

When collaborating on Word documents , it may be that allowing others to comment, edit or make changes is desirable. This allows input from all the team to be catered for, with changes made and tracked in real time.

However, there may be occasions when you wish to restrict or manage how a document is viewed and used. This can be done with or without a password.

Read Only – If you do not want recipients to alter your document by accident, you can make the document ‘read only’ before sending or sharing it.

Creating a ‘read only’ file in this way means people can read or copy the document, but not modify it. If someone wants to make changes to a ‘read only’ file, they can only save their changes by giving the document a new name or saving it to a different location.

Tracked Changes – When other people make changes to a document, the savvy Assistant will probably want to be able to see what changes have been made. When sharing a document with others, it is possible to protect the track changes feature in Word (and prevent recipients from switching it off).

Comments – In similar fashion to tracked changes, you can also ‘protect’ any comments made about a document, to ensure no contributions from others are missed or lost.

Fillable Forms – If you have embedded a fillable form into your Word document, you can set it so people can fill in the relevant fields but not change the form itself.

Putting these simple protections in place for your Word document typically only involve a couple of clicks yet can save a lot of hassle later on. Always think about how you want your document to be viewed and used by others and ensure your Word Skills Mastery is up to date with relevant training.

Build Security into Everything You Do with Microsoft Word

Whether you are employed by an organisation or working for yourself, it pays to take confidentiality and security of information seriously.

Treat documents you create for others as you would those you create for yourself (or your business if self-employed or freelance). Security and privacy of data should be part of the savvy Assistant’s thinking from day one – whether a VA, PA or EA.

If you have your own Assistant business, have policies in place about how you manage data protection. If you work within an organisation, keep up to date with their policies and expectations.

Showing that you are confident, knowledgeable and meticulous about confidentiality creates a good impression – and builds trust with those you work with.

Shelley Fishel - The MS Office Maestro

I find Shelley’s training easy to follow and the very best thing is that you can do it all at your own pace and revisit modules if it doesn’t quite sink in the first time round! I have learned so much from her training and continue to do so! She is responsive to my questions and I learn something new with each module. I find Iam hardly ever having to Google or YouTube information now, so it really is saving me time in my work day. Time that can be better used by learning more about the business I operate in!
Thanks Shelley!

Tracey Whitehouse – Executive Assistant

I have been following Shelley on Linkedin for several years, and always loved her hints and tips. In May of this year, I had the opportunity to recommend Shelley as one of our workshop speakers at the annual HMC Heads’ PA Conference in Sheffield.

On receiving the brief Shelley quickly produced content for two IT Microsoft Skills Workshops covering nuggets from Outlook, Word and Excel. Shelley then delivered (virtually) these two fantastic workshops to over 60 PAs at our conference.

From initial enquiry to delivery Shelley is the consummate professional and it was my pleasure to have had the opportunity to engage with her.

I would have no hesitation in recommending Shelley to any individual or group.

Michaela Fletcher – Heads PA

Shelley is THE guru on all things Microsoft.

I love Outlook, use it every day, and think I have a pretty good understanding of it. But every time I attend one of her sessions I learn a lot more. Her knowledge is remarkable. And she delivers her knowledge in a really clear, engaging way.

Thanks Shelley

Kathy Soulsby

I have just spent less than an hour at one of Shelley’s presentations and my mind is truly blown! I thought I was fairly proficient in Outlook, but I had no idea it could do so much more! So many time saving tips and shortcuts to help me – I can’t wait to get stuck in and implement them all! Thank you Shelley – I would highly recommend!

Hayley Rose – Executive Assistant -Dalcour Maclaren

Shelley joined us for the annual HMC Heads’ PAs conference in May 2023, where she delivered two hands-on practical IT skills workshops for over 60 PAs in attendance. Both sessions were warmly received by all participants, and from a personal perspective it was an absolute pleasure for me to work with Shelley both offline in the extensive prep phase ahead of the sessions, and online during the day itself – sharp in subject knowledge, flexible in content delivery and everything executed with a really affable manner and “can-do” approach throughout. I would recommend her services wholeheartedly.

Gareth Johnson – Leader GRE Education

Heads PA Conference

The session was well structured and the explanation was very clear. It was amazing how Shelley managed to squeeze so much info in just one hour and a half! Colin’s support and contributions were also very valuable, and so were “Virtual Veronica”‘s. Thank you for a most interesting and useful training session at the Miss Jones Virtual Summit!

Laura Carizzo- Royal Norwegian Embassy in Argentina

I haven’t used PowerPoint in 20 years, this has really boosted my confidence.

Lyn Parker

Course is packed with so much valuable information in a easy-to-understand and follow language, even for a complete beginner. I can respect the fact that sometimes it’s very hard for an expert to break the information down to basics. but Shelley has done it brilliantly. I was sure that I knew quite a bit but Shelley has proven me wrong even at the very beginning of the basics of PowerPoint. Lessons are short and precise which allowed me to easily transfer the new skill into practice without being overwhelmed and to carry on adding on more with each lesson. I had so many ‘Aha!’ moments and for most of them I couldn’t believe I used to pay graphic designer to do it for me, now, thanks to Shelley, I am looking forward to creating, designing, converting my presentations all by myself!

Iva Freeman – Vertex Human Capital

Shelley was very thorough and knew a lot of tip’s for using Teams, thank you 🙂

James O’Connor – Cavannah Homes

Very informative, constantly getting everyone in the meeting involved, loved every bit of it!

Dylan Teal Hopkins – Cavannah Homes
Fantastic and informative training and great to see all of the exciting functions with Microsoft Teams.
Laura Rigby – The Apprenticeship College
Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.
Leigh Dowling – Innuous

Microsoft Teams One to One Training Session

Shelley was approachable, easy to work with, and agile with answering questions to apply the session to my specific needs

Melissa Marshall – Present Your Science

A course on Outlook had been on the top of my list when Shelley asked VA’s what they wanted to learn. It was a real case of ‘so that’s how you do it’ or ‘I never knew that’. I have to say that I learnt so many great tips it has definitely improved the way I work in Outlook and my inbox is looking colourful and organised and I can’t wait to share this knowledge with my clients.

Jacqueline Leake – JLeake VA Services – Outlook

A great course with lots of examples and step by step instructions. I can now confidently create infographics and as a bonus, I learnt a lot of new PowerPoint functionality that will enhance all my PowerPoint work and save me so much time.

Jessica Bailey – Integral Resource

I really like Shelley’s courses. She has a clear and easy to follow teaching style. In ‘How to Create Fillable Forms’ I’ve learned about the functions of the Developer ribbon which will mean I’ll be able to create a bespoke Returns Form for a client who has an online shop

Freya Henderson – Virtual Office Orkney