Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Management

Beyond BYOD

Allowing employees to “bring your own device” is a double-edged sword

One of the hottest topics of 2012, allowing employees to “bring your own device” to work, will continue in 2013 as mobile technology improves and employee policies evolve. For many agency principals, however, the “D” in BYOD is less about the device and more about the “demand” from staff, especially young new ones who come to the agency with different expectations than their predecessors.

I have written about the power shift between buyers and sellers and how changing buyer expectations force businesses to rethink how they market, service and sell to their customers. That same shift is happening within the work environment, where it not only affects workflow, but changes the drivers of some HR strategies. 

Current incentives to ensure employees are happy and productive are different from past methods. Financial compensation isn’t always top of the list; often simple things like flexible hours, open access to social media and allowing use of personal devices can make your agency a welcoming environment and a supportive culture.

Being responsive to employee preferences is not the only reason to incorporate personal mobile devices into the workplace. Another benefit is improved customer service and strengthening relationships brought about by the convenience of mobile devices.

Changing expectations over time

When I began my career 30 years ago, I worked 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with 45 minutes for lunch; I earned my 1 week’s paid vacation, which increased as my years on the job multiplied. Essentially, I was a “working stiff” glad to have the job. We worked on IBM Selectric typewriters and the idea of taking home a typewriter to write letters for work outside of the office wasn’t even something to laugh at.

Related: Read the previous column by Rick Gilman "Text Benefits."

Within the first couple of years, we eventually shifted over to IBM personal computers, with two 5 ¼” floppy drives that held the system applications on one and the documents on the other. Still, the idea that I could afford to purchase a computer for personal use, or that my company would buy an extra computer for my home, was absurd and not anything I would contemplate. Who wanted to work more hours than what they already put in?

Then in the early to mid-1990s, PCs came into the workplace and became an integral element of the workflow. As Murphy’s Law continued and the power of computing increased while the cost for PCs continued to be slashed, the idea of having my own computer at home began to make sense. 

It was an easy leap to start leveraging my home computer for work tasks. The workload was growing so I already was spending more time in the office than I wanted. Working on my home computer would at least allow me to spend more time “at home.”

By this point, it was impossible to change my boss’s expectations that the growing amount of work would continue to get done and so the changing expectations were inevitably launched. 

The leap to actually having a company-supplied computer at home and laptop for traveling was not that big. But the constant throughout this evolution was that it was inside a company-controlled environment. It was company hardware and software, and completely under the company’s control—from passwords to virtual private networks to periodic reviews of the computer’s security and adherence to company policy.

Even the move to more mobile technology beyond laptops, such as personal digital assistants like the old Palm Pilots, was strictly company supplied, and only after it was thoroughly vetted by IT. 

There was a point in the blurring of lines between business and personal technologies when many people carried two cell phones: one for personal calls and one for business. For a time it was mutually agreed upon that companies didn’t want to expose their systems to an individual’s personal activities, and the employee didn’t want the company knowing anything about what they did after hours.

Related: Read another Rick Gilman column "Mobile Musts."

Then technology continued to evolve and Apple came along with a “coolness” factor and we wanted to use iPhones all the time. Eighteen months to 2 years later, we saw an explosion of devices and an unprecedented uptake of smartphones and tablets, with businesses struggling to find ways to handle all of the numerous devices accessing its systems. A new acronym was created to reflect the change: MDM, or mobile device management.

MDM isn’t just about managing the different smart devices staffs want to use; it also includes things like point-of-sale mobile systems being employed across businesses of all kinds.

The convenience of using your own mobile device all the time goes beyond just the familiarity and comfort aspects; it points to a society that is finding distinction between work and personal time more difficult to discern. 

At the same time, the challenges businesses face due to the variations of connectivity are very real and shouldn’t be minimized, especially within the insurance industry.

Security and privacy issues

If agencies are going to adopt BYOD practices with a degree of comfort, both employers and employees need to take some steps. From the employer’s perspective, the staff must accept certain criteria. Consider:

  • Which devices will be supported
  • What, if any, reimbursement of data plan costs will be borne by the agency
  • The device must have inherently built in or loaded on an app that allows for remote location and data lock/wipe functionality
  • Clearly defined understanding of authorized and unauthorized applications.

Because of the perceived expectations that staff will be accessible to bosses beyond the 9-to-5 time frame, employers must be willing to accept certain behavior from their employees:

  • Receiving personal calls on company time will happen
  • Some social media activity will occur while working
  • Complete control over the device by the employer will be impossible.

Although the risks are just beginning to be measured and therefore can’t be estimated, I believe that regardless of those risks, we have come too far to turn back the clock.

If your agency is going to allow staff to use their own mobile devices, you should put a few guidelines in place. Among those best practices:

  1. Implementing a BYOD policy for employees that clearly explains the procedures and expectations of both sides. It should be reviewed with the entire staff and included in all new employee handbooks.
  2. Keeping a list of all employees and what personal devices each are using.
  3. Developing a basic configuration that allows Internet connectivity at work in a secure Wi-Fi environment. The basic set up should include a separate email, contacts and calendar functionality that is apart from the personal data and configured so that remote wiping of data doesn’t impact personal information.
  4. Clarifying what level of support your IT can provide to staff on their individual devices. IT can’t be expected to be troubleshooting every issue that arises simply because it occurs on a tablet used for work part of the time.
  5. Giving employees some education on the potential risks their device can be exposed to, and therefore the agency information, by some typical activities the device might be used for during personal time.

If you’re thinking that this doesn’t really apply to your agency, think again. Like many business trends, embracing these changes can make the difference between success and irrelevancy. If a recent report by management consulting firm Janco Assocs. Inc. is even partially correct, then “more than 90 percent of all corporations will allow BYOD in 2013.”

Related: Read the article "Personal Touch" by Rick Gilman.

You may also find that your agency is among those that have allowed personal use devices in your workplace, but that it happened “organically.” That doesn’t mean it’s too late to put a policy in place.

Use what developed naturally as the beginning of a template for building a BYOD policy that will be more easily accepted by staff.

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