Leaving the UK workforce to its own devices

Businesses are not designed for innovation. This notion is now being challenged by the rising trend of BYOD

A Harvard Business School management guru once said that “organisations, by their very nature, are designed to promote order and routine. They are inhospitable environments for innovation.”

These sober reflections, based on years of studying businesses, are increasingly being challenged by the rising trend of bring your own device (BYOD).

This is looking like something that is far beyond simple technology supplier hype – giving workforces access to corporate networks through their own devices seems to be knocking down boundaries between personal and corporate technology. 

But what or who is driving this trend? And what are the perceived benefits for business?

To further explore these issues and to understand BYOD’s impact on productivity, Vanson Bourne surveyed senior IT personnel representing 100 UK businesses with a minimum of 500 employees. The findings suggest a surprising willingness among UK firms to allow innovation and experimentation at work.

Senior management remains sceptical 

The headline finding was that BYOD is fast becoming a normal part of daily business life.

About half of the enterprises interviewed say their staff are using their own mobile devices for work, whether an official BYOD policy is in place or not. One-third (33%) of respondents say they already have a list of devices that employees are permitted to use for work, while a fifth admits employees are keeping company data on a personal device.

UK companies want to empower their employees and give them the tools to be more productive.

When asked who is driving the trend, a clear majority ‒ 60% ‒ say it is the employees, while only 16% say senior managers are active proponents of it. Indeed, nearly half (47%) of respondents claim company senior managers are sceptical about BYOD strategies.

So BYOD has the look of a bottom-up revolution that is sweeping senior management along towards an irreversible fait accompli.

Absorbing BYOD into company guidelines

The survey's larger enterprises, which include more than 3,000 employees, might have been expected to bring out the book of standards and processes to control the type of anarchic, non-sanctioned technologies that BYOD implies. This does not appear to be so – big firms seem surprisingly opened-minded (or pragmatic) as to how BYOD dovetails with corporate technology policy.

The survey shows these enterprises have been quicker to absorb BYOD into corporate technology guidelines. A clear majority (58%) of them now have a specific policy, compared with just under half (46%) of smaller businesses.

That said, the direction of travel for all companies surveyed is clear; whilst only half of them (52%) have an agreed BYOD policy today,  a remarkable 90% expect to see one implemented within the next two years.

Cost-cutting is an important driving factor for companies when introducing BYOD. Of those IT decision-makers surveyed, nearly 40% say they see it as a way of reducing operational costs. The same number believe it will boost competitiveness.

So why is senior management allowing ‒ or possibly turning a blind eye to ‒ all of this development and experimentation in the workplace? It is likely that UK companies want to empower their employees and give them the tools to be more productive. 

That said, senior management could very well be on the way to being railroaded by employees seeking to extend the boundaries of work-style flexibility.

After all, long before the right to request flexible working came into law this summer, many UK employers offered some form of flexible, if not IT-based, working. To employees, is BYOD simply the natural extension of this?

IT managers’ responses to the Vanson Bourne survey certainly suggest that BYOD strategies are linked to keeping employees happy. Asked for the key benefit, 71% of them mention employee productivity and 54% a better work-life balance. They want their staff to be happier – after all, happy workers are the most productive ones.

As BYOD begins to take hold in Britain’s workplaces, a big question is how far employers are going to trust employees using their own devices and holding potentially sensitive corporate data on those devices. Around one-fifth of the businesses surveyed admit that employees are keeping company data on a personal device.  And as BYOD extends, this number is likely to increase, too, making the security companies’ scare stories more worthy of our attention.

Erasing the line between work and private life

Blurring the demarcation lines further, the survey revealed that two-thirds of employees access social media during work hours, using their employer’s network and spending up to 45 minutes every day doing so.
BYOD looks to be promoting a lowering of corporate barriers against non-work applications and erasing the line between work and private use of either company-owned devices or networks.

Old-school employers might frown at this "lost" 45 minutes of otherwise productive time. The reality, though, is that offering workforce flexibility through BYOD is a double-edged sword. Being permitted to bring your own device grants a greater degree of flexibility for the user, and many would argue that employees allowed to switch between work and non-work applications are happier and more motivated.

On the other hand, BYOD policies may, for some, undermine the concept of the 9 to 5 day. This could lead to a less disciplined approach to the job, with employees flipping between work and non-work applications through a more drawn-out day.

So as workplaces become less about the order and routine favoured by previous generations, and workers enjoy unprecedented flexibility, what will be the new unit of work in the age of the adaptable digital worker? Will employers expect greater productivity from their employees? And to what extent will employers decide to separate work and non-work data on employees’ devices in the future?

Graham Opie (pictured) is a director at Vanson Bourne.


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