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Does BYOD = loss of freedom?

The BYOD – bring your own device – discussion seems to be on everyone’s radar as something to “tackle” at his or her organization. Whether from an employee engagement perspective of interacting with employees on “non-corporate” devices, to IT’s concerns about security and IP protection, it is a top of mind topic for companies around the globe. And it was this topic that geared it up a notch or two for at least one panel at last week’s Gilbane Boston conference.

An interesting discussion, some might even have called it a debate, broke out during the Enterprise Collaboration and the Changing Nature of Work panel when moderator Rob Felton of iFridge fame asked the panel (me, Deane Barker, Seth Burke, and Larry Hawes) how we thought the BYOD conundrum was impacting today’s workplace.  There was agreement across the board that this was a hot topic, and for the most part restricting employees to the use of pre-ordained devices seemed somewhat archaic. Dissention struck when a sidebar topic emerged –  do employees have the discipline to self-manage and regulate with regard to work, or do they “need to be saved from themselves”?

Having worked for companies that are big (IBM) and not-so-big (PDM), I have seen it all when it comes to work hours, technology, support, HR, communications and management styles. One thing for sure is that how people engage and work is highly dependent on the person and their personality, rather than a reflection of the devices they use. So while there may be implied or inherent pressures to work more than a 40- (50-, 60-, …)- hour work week, my argument during the aforementioned debate was this: by allowing people to use their own devices, employees are given the opportunity to find more of an on- and off-the-clock (I hate the term work/life balance) equilibrium, rather than tying them (begrudgingly) to a company issued Blackberry and boat-anchor-of-a-laptop.

But I don’t think a lot of companies are concerning themselves with questions like “how will this impact our employees home life?” or “does providing company-issued devices imply an expectation of being on-the-clock 24/7?”

There are many other implications with BYOD policies:

  • Who will pay for what; device, monthly bill, upgrades
  • How will maintenance and operating system upgrades be managed?
  • What happens when the employee leaves the company; do they get to take their phone number with them? Does IT get to wipe their device(s) clean?

Topics for another blog post.

As my fellow DCG’er Tim Walters mentions in his latest blog post To understand mobility, think ubiquity,  “[mobile access] is, rather, about the shift from scarce and restricted access to computing services to ubiquitous access. It is not about a type of computer but a mode of consumption. Not a different kind of thing but a different mode of being.” This is true within and outside of the firewall. WiFi is (almost) everywhere, and more people are increasingly using cloud services (sanctioned or not by their company) for anytime access to the enterprise information and resources they need. So again, tying employees to a company smartphone (or not-so-smart in some cases) versus letting them use the tool of their choice really doesn’t restrict them. In many cases, however, policies out of touch with the reality of ubiquitous computing just force employees out of the corporate-defined box, resulting in the use of devices that simply suit the employee best, but at what cost?

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