BYOD in the Modern Workplace

Private mobile devices can be a double-edged sword for employers who want to balance efficiency and risk

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Code of Conduct, Corporate Security, Ethics & Compliance, Human Resources on February 6th, 2012

The North American addiction to mobile devices, especially among Y-generation workers, is well documented, but it may be even more pervasive than you think. According to a recent survey conducted by marketing agency 11mark, 75 per cent of Americans use their mobile phones on the toilet. That number climbs to 91 per cent among respondents aged 28 to 35.

If today’s workforce can’t be without their mobile devices for the few minutes it takes to go to the bathroom, it’s unlikely they will happily leave them at home when they go to work. It makes sense, then, for employers to address the use of personal mobile devices at work.

Advantages of BYOD

According to some experts, if you want to get the most out of your workforce, you may need to embrace the BYOD (bring your own device) model and focus on the advantages it brings.

“The first thing that comes to mind is productivity,” says Sharlyn Lauby, a South Florida-based training and human resources consultant. “If I’m able to use my own equipment, I already know how it works.  I’m not trying to learn the company and the equipment at the same time.”

Allowing employees to use their own devices for work-related tasks can save the company the cost of the hardware. It can also contribute to happier, more relaxed employees who feel trusted and valued. And policing the policy, if you decide to forbid personal mobile use at work, could be stressful for managers and come across as heavy-handed and overly restrictive.

A Matter of Expectations

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Plus, there are situations in which it makes good business sense to allow, even encourage, employees’ use of personal mobile technology.

“This comes down to expectations,” says Lauby. “Does a company expect employees to be connected to work when they aren’t sitting at their desk?  If the answer is yes, then the company and employee should have a conversation about what those expectations are and how it will be accomplished.” Chances are, the use of a mobile device is going to be part of the solution, whether it’s their own or the company’s.

Security and Training

But, despite the push to embrace the BYOD model, many employers are reluctant to sanction the use of employee mobile devices at work. They may be concerned about loss of productivity if employees have access to their personal e-mail and network of friends on their mobile devices.

Compatibility can also be a challenge, says Lauby. “If every employee has their own equipment, the last thing a company wants is dozens of unique configurations.”

And then there are the concerns about security. A recent study by the Ponemon Institute and IDExperts found that the frequency of reported data breaches among the health care organizations in its study increased 32 percent from 2010 to 2011 and unsecured mobile devices were a key point of vulnerability.

Encryption, password protection and remote wipe capabilities are all solutions that organizations can implement to help ensure the security of mobile devices, but many companies (half the respondents in the Ponemon study) don’t implement these security measures.

“Employees should receive training about what is expected of them – whether they use the company’s equipment or their own,” says Lauby. “Topics about internet security, company data confidentiality, and reporting accidents/incidents should be covered.”

Balanced Approach

“I feel as the role of technology expands so will our views about using it,” says Lauby. “Squelching mobile device usage could end up costing an organization in the long run. But attempts to leverage it come with some risk, because technology is advancing so quickly.  Companies need to weigh their options, make educated decisions and be willing to revisit ideas as the marketplace changes.”


Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery for the company blog and industry publications. Through her interviews with industry experts and attendance at conferences and seminars, Dawn has developed broad knowledge of the subjects she covers.