It’s 2015, and cell phones are now ingrained into every nook and cranny of our lives—and that includes our workspaces. Once considered office distractions, cell phones are now an office mainstay. And since technology has evolved immensely over the past decade, even the simplest smartphones are now powerful office tools.
In the past, companies sometimes provided cell phones, work tablets, PDAs (remember those?), and more to ensure their employees stayed connected around the clock. This is no longer the case, as most of today’s personal devices have the power of small computers, and employers are more frequently embracing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies—for better or for worse.
This blurring of personal and professional use can have its downsides. Just ask Tom Brady.
More Cell Phones in the Office
Many workers bring laptops, cell phones, and tablets to and from their offices daily. In fact, the number of employees using personal devices for work has grown steadily since the BYOD trend started in 2009, with 40% of US enterprise employees using personal devices for work in 2014.
The amount of employee-owned business devices grew 72% in the last year alone. Now as many as 81% of companies allow workers to connect personal devices (laptops, tablets, cell phones) to corporate WiFi.
Workers use these devices in the office, but they’re also fully-equipped to work outside traditional business hours and locations. As the workplace continues to mobilize, this will only grow in importance.
Although the increased mobility allowed by BYOD is very appealing, the programs come with inherent risks—the largest is security.
A recent report cited by Dell Computers listed mobile devices as “the biggest threat for today’s enterprises.” The problem may not lie with the technology, but with the users. Employees may connect devices they use for work to less-than-reputable wireless networks during off hours—at the local coffee shop, for example. This can compromise sensitive information and expose devices to viruses that are then transferred to the office. What’s more, these infected devices create opportunities for hackers to infiltrate corporate systems.
A New Type of Corporate Expense
Employers allowing BYOD programs are also facing another challenge – how to quantify and reimburse for the expenses that employees incur by using their personal devices for work.
According to a 2013 report by Gartner, half of employers will stop supplying devices to employees by 2017 and will instead require their workers to bring their own devices. Despite BYOD being a necessity, just roughly half of companies with BYOD programs provide some form of reimbursement to their employees, and only 2% cover the full cost of employees’ devices. This gap highlights the difficulty of distinguishing the business versus personal costs of using mobile devices as well as a lag in companies keeping up with a rapidly-evolving workforce. But companies need to catch-up – and quickly. A recent court ruling in California affirmed that employers must provide reasonable reimbursements to California employees who use their personal cell phones to make business calls.
The Bottom Line
BYOD policies can have huge benefits. Emory University, for example, instituted a comprehensive BYOD policy for their university healthcare system in 2013 and has been able to streamline many internal processes by connecting employees’ devices through an internal application.
Many companies find allowing mobile employees to complete work from personal cell phones, laptops and tablets increases productivity outside of traditional office hours (no small achievement in the mobilizing workforce). But without a solid security system in place or a way to delineate between personal and professional use, the advantages of BYOD policies can be overshadowed by risks.
With personal devices in the workplace unlikely to go away any time soon, make sure your organization is not the next hacking story or lawsuit defendant by ensuring you have a BYOD policy that addresses everything from company-supported devices to data protection and fair reimbursement.