Handled correctly, ‘bring your own device’ policies will be liberating
By Martyn Wallace Senior Partner, Scottish Practice, O2
At one time, the workplace was a showcase of the latest technology and users considered themselves lucky to be equipped with a PC, laptop, mobile handset or applications by their employer. Email was a luxury few had at home, and the fi rst users of laptop computers felt privileged to be able to take work away with them.
Younger employees, brought up on the latest Apple hardware, Google Android devices and highly intuitive and interactive apps, may be shocked to enter an ‘older style’ workplace. Restricted to a desk, a PC and fixed-line telephone, they cannot easily move around or work from home, write a dynamic presentation, or strike up a video conversation or enjoy spontaneous instant messaging interaction using apps they use every day in their personal lives.
Instead they must use unfamiliar applications and follow counterintuitive policies – ie, restrictive web browsing and the controlled use of social networks. Their creativity is stifled and their motivation ebbs away. Perversely, work starts to feel a lot like school, but with even less freedom. This is the present.
Market analysts suggest that for a better future, companies should tear up the rule book, relax the controls, and either encourage users to bring their own IT to work or at least give them access to the same capabilities they have at home.
These would include lighter, more mobile devices (tablets and smartphones in place of clunky laptops), unrestricted WiFi in the office, free access to the online networking sites and other readily-available consumer apps that enable dispersed groups to connect more dynamically, in real time.
Clearly, there is more involved here than handing out a few phones and updating the firewalls. Managers will need to re-appraise their relationship with their staff. They will inevitably lose a degree of control over what their people are doing and when they are doing it, but that’s the point. People can deliver their best work when given the freedom to create it when it suits them best.
IT managers are still trying to understand the implications for control, security and support. But they are gradually learning that they must support more fl exible and dynamic working practices and harness the latest consumer technologies to ensure their companies’ future competitive ability.
These developments promise to be extremely positive for users, enabling them to work how they want, unrestricted by limitations on what they can and can’t use at work and for work.
BRING YOUR OWN
Some users fear that working practices that support ‘bring-your-own-device’ (BYOD) technology can pave the way for work to encroach on their personal lives even more than it does already. If their personal smartphone or iPad becomes their work device, how will they escape the demands of the office in the evenings, at weekends or when on holiday? And do they really want to clog up their treasured gadgets with business contacts, applications and data which could threaten performance and shorten the product’s life?
But many employees already use their own devices for work, either to avoid carrying around multiple devices or because they just prefer them. And it’s easy to separate work and personal activities through caller recognition, personalised ring tones, outgoing voicemail notifications and call forwarding. There is scope for subsidies, tax and expense allowances, that will allow people to equip themselves with the latest phones and tablets. To the image-conscious, this is an attractive bonus that refl ects well on the business which now looks like a great place to work.
Using personal devices for work will help employees looking to adopt fl exible working, because they will always be able to access their work applications, email and information, no matter how unplanned their absence might be. Consumerisation of IT in the workplace offers individuals more control over their working lives.
USERS SET THE AGENDA
The infiltration of consumer IT in the workplace will accelerate over the months and years ahead. Companies will need to set their own security and ‘content access’ policies and once IT managers figure out how to manage security and support, BYOD practices will be more proactively promoted. For users, the benefits will far outweigh any concerns their employers may have.
While IT departments may be less willing to help if a personal application has caused a device to fail, it’s now in the company’s interests to ensure that your tablet or smartphone is online and performing at its best. While this will reduce the expectation on users to shoulder the cost of support and insurance contracts themselves, they won’t be able to abdicate responsibility altogether. Having the company meet them half way will be an attractive compromise to many.
The main benefit, though, is choice. For internet savvy, technology-spoilt generations of users, having more say over the functionality available to them during the biggest part of their weekly lives can only be a good thing. And a happy, comfortable user is a productive worker and the best ambassador for a business.