Is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Really Good For Workers?

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies in the workplace are increasingly regarded as an inevitability as employees demand to to be able to use the hardware they want instead instead of settling for some lame, inefficient corporate standard.

In this scenario, BYOD is seen as a boon for workers that companies are gradually, grudgingly coming to accept. The conventional wisdom holds that employees love BYOD while their employeers worry about security issues and support costs, among other objections - they go along to make their employees happy and hopefully garner some productivity enhancements. 

It turns out that the real story is a lot more complicated, and that BYOD often brings new costs and responsibilites to workers - who may or may not have been eager for it in the first place. What exactly are workers getting into with BYOD, how much is it going to cost them and how do they feel about the tradeoffs?

(See also Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Saves Companies Money - But Could Cost Users Big.)

Reach For Your Wallet

First, there's the out-of-pocket expenses surrounding BYOD. For now, many companies subsidize devices and data plans, or even directly buy the hardware employees want with Corporate Owned, PersonallyEnabled (COPE) policies - taking advantage of the buying power of a larger organization.

(See also Forget Bring Your Own Device - Try Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled.)

But that may not last. Increasingly, organizations not opting for COPE-oriented policies are letting their employees foot more of the bill for devices and attendant online costs. It is not clear what employees are actually paying right now, but a recent survey from Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group Consulting unit tells us what employees are willing to pay: Global workers said they would spend an average of $965 for their own devices - and another $734 annually for the data plans to go with them.

That's quite a chunk of change, and no doubt a sum that corporations would love to shift from corporate coffers worker's wallets.

And that's just smartphones… as trends move towards employees being allowed and in some cases required to purchase their own laptop or desktop machines, even more of a financial burden could be put on workers.

What About Software And Other Expenses?

The costs don't stop at hardware. At least some software expenses might also be dropped on staffers, but because software is such a malware vector, many organizations will want to keep tight controls on applications used to handle company data. But personal apps will likely be the employees' responsibility, and they're much more likely to want to enhance devices they own instead of company units they're merely using.

If employees are expected to foot the costs for devices, though, it's a good bet they'll need to pick up the tab for insurance premiums for those devices.

"There's no need to insure a computer if we don't own it. With devices that we provide, especially portable devices, insurance can be an issue," related Chris Dawkins, founder of Trace Media Marketing. "The one time that I provided a mobile phone to an employee, it was left on a train during the first month of use and needed to be replaced. Another replacement was needed when the employee dropped and broke the new phone."

What's Mine Is Mine, What's Yours Is Mine, Too

Beyond BYOD's potential financial costs for employees, less-understood and legally gray obligations could also crop up around working with corporate data on an employee's hardware.

Legal rights of employees who use their corporate-owned smartphones and computers for personal use are already subject to a lot of restrictions, including prohibitions on using work machines for any personal stuff. That obviously won't apply in BYOD situations, but corporate policies could still extend to devices employee own.

For instance, in many jurisdictions, email messages are not subject to personal privacy laws. So employers may be free to monitor and read employees' email messages. That policy was created for employer-owned computers, but when corporate data and software are involved, who's to say employers won't demand the right to examine employee email on any device used for work?

Would such oversight also extend to other data on the employee's computer or smartphone? Files and Internet usage could very well fall under such controls, using the same legal justifications organizations claim for monitoring devices they actually own: viruses and other malware can be picked up surfing almost anywhere, and organizations need to make sure heir employees aren't violating confidentiality rules.

Protecting company data is a high priority for any IT department worth their salt. It is not uncommon, for example, to implement software that not only allows for remote monitoring but also for remote data wiping.

"On employee termination or company separation, a remote wipe is executed on personal iPhone and Android devices. This wipes address books, photos, music and the memory card," explained George Buelna, director of IT for TransPerfect. Logistically, this make sense, but having your own device wiped is yet one more price to pay for BYOD.

So, too, is convenience. To lock down data, TransPerfect and other employers often require pass codes on personal hardware, Buelna added.

This isn't a big deal (and it's a good idea for everyone), acknowledged one user, but it still had to be done. "I did not have a pass code on the device before setting up email. The email system has a policy that forces you to have a passcode for it to work," said Michael Freeman, senior manager of search at ShoreTel. "It was an adjustment, but I am okay with it now."

Is BYOD Worth It For Workers?

It is not entirely clear how big the demand for BYOD is in the workplace. Some surveys suggest that the slowed economy is driving BYOD, with workers willing to make any sacrifice to keep their jobs. Earlier this year, a poll of ReadWrite readers indicated that many potential BYOD users decline to participate. Meanwhile, Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of employers may require workers to bring in their own devices.

(See also Worried Workers: BYOD Or You're SOL [Infographic].)

Despite the potential friction points and uncertainty, some people are still willing to put up with the hassle for the sake of working with their own devices. "In the end, the flexibility is worth the increased encroachment of work on personal time," Freeman said.

Max Rava, communications director at FwdHealth, liked his previous employers' use of BYOD policies, so he and his co-founders at FwdHealth made it a point to create a BYOD policy of their own.

"In my past two places of employment I have worked under a BYOD policy. I have found that this is a sound policy because it makes remote commuting much easier in the event of illness, personal emergencies and corporate crisis," Rava said. "While recovering from a very serious health issue, I was able to work from home effectively for the past three months due to the BYOD policy."

Such anecdotes are commonplace in BYOD discussion, and will continue to fuel the movement to own and operate your own device for work. But before diving in, workers should be very aware of what they're getting into in terms of time, money and control of data.

In-story images courtesy of Shutterstock.