Party in the Office – BYOD

A new report from analyst TechMarketView predicts that by 2016, 9.5 million employees in the UK – about one-third of the workforce – will be using their own computing devices for work.

The growing trend to ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) to work is spreading fast, particularly with the advent of cloud computing.  While standard-issue computers at work tend to be at the cheaper end, employees’ own devices are much better spec, from smart phones and laptops to the fastest Android tablets. It’s not surprising that they want to use them at work as well. For employers, cost savings are a consideration, but not a major one. It seems that BYOD is driven more by employees than by penny-pinching bosses.

And it’s a trend that will just keep growing. Recent school and college leavers have grown up with smart phones and other new technologies and will expect to be able to use such advanced software at work as well as at home.

technologyFreedom to work

Having the freedom to work in a way they prefer empowers staff and builds loyalty, say BYOD enthusiasts, and some argue that it helps address the much-promoted work/life balance.

A report commissioned by IBM Software says that while BYOD schemes have tended to focus on smart phones and tablets, increasingly, organisations are considering extending it to computers. Some are even planning to introduce schemes that will eventually replace most company technologies with employee-owned.

What are the risks?

But warning bells are sounding. While BYOD can be great for staff, it can be a real headache – even a risk – for businesses unless policies and procedures are in place from the start.

When employees share documents between their own devices and the office computers, the networks are exposed to risks. Personal devices are a threat because people don’t usually have the level of security afforded to company-based computers. On Scienceomega.com, PHS Datashred’s Caroline Williams warns that companies are putting themselves at risk by failing to implement appropriate BYOD security policies.

Having the right infrastructure and support in place from the outset is essential. Everyone who signs up for BYOD must be very clear on security, virus protection and spam filters.

Employers also have no control over who else sees information on the devices; can employees let their friends and family use a device that is also used for work? The important point is that even if an employee is using a personal device, the company is still responsible for any corporate personal data stored on it or accessed by it. A company must offer the same level of security as it does for work-based equipment. For instance, all personal data on the device must be encrypted to comply with EU data protection legislation.

There are other considerations too. What happens if an employee leaves? The device will have to be wiped of all company-related data, but what about personal information that is stored there? Will that have to go too?

The information commissioner published data protection guidance for BYOD recently after a YouGov survey showed that nearly half of British employees use their personal devices for work purposes. The survey of more than 2,000 staff also showed that 40% using personal devices for work have no guidance from their employers and a further 14% don’t even know if their employers have produced any guidance.

If you do decide to embrace BYOD you’ll need a policy that sets out how employees may use their personal devices to access work documents, and the controls that are in place.

So, is it really a good idea?

But before you go down the BYOD path, ask yourself if you really want people to be checking e-mails and accessing work files while they are on the train or at home. What ever happened to switching off? Some people fear that far from improving work /life balance BYOD will eat into home time, leaving little room for relaxation. Whereas others believe that if it’s essential for staff to have the ability to work at all hours, the least their employer can do is provide state-of-the-art mobile devices to use, without expecting staff to provide their own.

It’s a debate that will no doubt go on.

Written by Fiona Allison, Editor with Sequel Group