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Should You Use Your Own Gadgets For Work?

There are an amazing number of gadgets that allow us to be productive, work almost anywhere and be just seconds away from solving pressing business issues. The problem is that the most convenient and coolest often aren't issued at work. An article in the Wall Street Journal Online asks a pretty simple question: "Should you use your own iPhone, or tablet computer to get work done?" The answer isn't as simple as it seems.

If you listen closely you can hear IT people all over the world screaming,"NOOOOOO!". There are plenty of reasons, as the article points out, that people should behave and use only company-issued (or at least approved) devices. There are also some compelling reasons to take another look at this policy before too much more time goes by.

  • Security, security, security. Obviously the main concern is security. Unfortunately, IT hasn't done a great job of telling people of the potential threats and the costs. They also haven't exactly gone out of their way to make it convenient for people to work in a way that allows them to preserve network integrity while actually getting work done. Industries that have clear regulations about data security (finance, healthcare) generally get better compliance from their people than other industries. Most people think, "are the Russians really trying to get details on the Johnson account?", and "how am I supposed to remember 4 secure passwords that I have to change every month?"
  • Don't underestimate the convenience factor. If I can whip out my iPhone in an airport lobby, get the information I need to answer my boss and move on, there's a strong incentive to do so. If I can carry a smartphone that does most of the functions of that 5 pound, four year old laptop that takes 20 minutes to boot up and I need a hardwired internet connection to function, you tell me what most clear thinking people are going to do? Between convenience and protocol, convenience will win every time. We're human beings. Deal with it.
  • The blurring of business and personal needs to be considered. Years ago, I carried a corporate laptop , and that wasn't a problem, because what did I do in my home life that required a computer? Now that we're texting, instant messaging, Facebook-ing, skyping and more, are you supposed to carry an office-certified blackberry, but use your iPhone for everything else? Should you carry that office computer and your Tablet or your Kindle? The politically correct answer, of course, is yes. That might be policy, but how's that working for you? The expectation that you'll always be reachable in this 24/7 world causes additional complications. Don't want us using our personal phones? Great, wait til I get home from vacation for that report, it's no skin off my nose.
  • Have you noticed that consumer grade stuff works better? The fact of the matter (and if any of the big ERP software people can argue this with a straight face have at it) is that in almost every instance the equipment and software we use at home works better than the company-blessed stuff we're issued, and all we really want is to get our work done as easily as possible. Tech support for our home computer is open 24-7, the company's help desk might be tied to office hours. Many homes now have lightning-fast internet connections... until they have to log onto the VPN for security purposes. Free and low-cost software gets upgraded all the time with no fuss and bugs get fixed. If your company is still using Office 2007 (and you know who you are) you know that even simple fixes and upgrades take three competing bids, a year of planning and an act of Congress to make happen.
  • Who's going to pay for it? One quagmire for companies that do allow people to use their own equipment is the issue of paying for it. Who pays for tech support? If you lose your phone and it has company information on it, who's liable? Can you write off that shiny new iPad just because you answer a couple of emails? Will the company pay the baggage fee if I have to travel with more equipment than will fit in my carry on (and can they forbid me from carrying my personal gadgets to avoid them)?
Some companies handle these questions by just forbidding people to use their own equipment and that's it. As boundaries blur and the lure of new technology becomes too much for people to ignore, hoping it goes away won't work. Nor will continuing policies that require twice as much effort for half the productivity.

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photo by flickr user Cayusa CC 2.0
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