Is a Bring Your Own Device Policy a Good Cost Saver or a Legal Nightmare?

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Why not have a Bring Your Own Device policy? It may save you money, but there may be hidden dangers lurking in BYOD. Read more inside.

Just about everyone has a smartphone, and no one wants to give it up.

Adding a second work smartphone seems a bit silly. Heck, even Hillary Clinton didn't want to carry two phones around.

So, why not have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy? It saves you money, you don't have to buy the phones or computers or whatever, and it makes your employees' lives easier. You can also use a BYOD policy for computers and several companies do.

However, I'm going to warn you against this. Here's why.

What About Your Data?

You're not running some cool espionage company, you just make widgets or whatever, so you may not think your data is all that important. But it is. Your sales data, manufacturing data, and info about your cool marketing plans for 2017.

All of that is resting on someone's phone. Emphasis on someone's, not on your phoneThe phone belongs to your employee. The data belongs to you. Starting to see the problem?

You need a clear policy on the data and what happens when someone quits. Many companies want to wipe phones/laptops completely clean when someone quits, but that isn't practical when the employee owns the device. They have (and should have) personal data on these things. You need to figure out how to get your data off and keep their data untouched. 

That's easy enough to do when the employee leaves amicably, but what if you fire an employee? The only way to safely protect your data from a disgruntled employee is to remotely wipe the phone or computer.

You can have your employee agree to that at the beginning of employment, but it won't be a pleasant thing, and the employee, who is already angry at being fired is now even more angry that you've wiped the pictures of his daughter's first birthday party. Remember, angry employees are far more likely to sue. 

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What if a Device Gets Lost or Broken?

How much is a new iPhone these days? Prices vary depending on what you want, but it's not pocket change. If a phone gets lost, stolen, or broken, who is going to pay for the replacement? One of my friends literally had her iPhone snatched out of her hand by a thief on a bike while at a conference in Ireland.

She wouldn't have been at that conference if it wasn't a requirement of her job, and wouldn't have been on her phone if she hadn't been on a business call. Her company provides devices, and they paid for a new one, but what if the phone had been part of a BYOD deal? Who would pay up then?

A cheap business owner would say, "Her phone. And she should have been paying more attention. She must buy a new one." Sure. Sounds all kinds of logical except for the following things: It was her job that put her in the situation and what if she doesn't have $500 cash laying around?

Lots of people live paycheck to paycheck or close to it and don't have a spare wad of cash to spend on a new phone. Sure, your business isn't flush either, but you should be better equipped to handle such a thing.

Otherwise, you wait until your employee can come up with the money to replace her phone or worse, computer. What good is an employee without a functioning computer? 

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Let's Talk About Computers

Most BYOD policies are around phones, but laptops are also common. Everyone has what everyone wants, easy peasy. Except how do you buy software for your company? How do you support it? Do you have an IT person or department that must support and troubleshoot software on all different types of computers with different operating systems? 

Let's also talk about personal programs. If this is my computer, I should be able to put software that I want on my computer. But there are things that make your data vulnerable. You need a policy that restricts these things and specifies what can be on the computers. Watch your employees revolt against restrictions on their personal computers that they paid for. 

Keeping data safe on a personal computer is much more difficult than keeping it safe on a company owned computer. Your data is critical to your business, and you don't want it leaking out, in whatever way. You'll need strict policies around what can and cannot be on employee computers.

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But What if My Employees Want It?

Despite the problems with BYOD policies, lots of employees love them. After all, we have our own little quirks about operating systems and iPhones vs. Androids. We like what we like. So, it makes sense to say, "use whatever you want!" If it makes the employee more efficient, go for it.

But many employees don't understand that it's not as simple as only having to carry one phone in their pocket. By allowing your company data on their devices, they have restrictions on the machine they paid for.

A better solution is to have a variety of options for employees to chose from and then allow them to use their device for personal use. While the difference is subtle, that difference means that you're allowing the employee a privilege rather than the other way around.

It's a lot easier to say, "Remember, you have to hand in the phone when you quit," then it is to say, "Remember, we're going to completely wipe your personal device when you quit." Give them a bit of freedom and protect your data at the same time.

Whatever you do, dont'go into a BYOD culture just because it's easier in the short run. There is way too much to think about to take this lightly.

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