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Are laptops and personal devices becoming a tool of the trade?

Up until recently, computers in the workplace have been identified as a business tool to allow employees to perform their job properly – without them, typists couldn’t write up their notes, accountants would still be drawing up hand written spreadsheets without automatic calculation and artists would be hand drawing illustrations. It only seemed reasonable that companies should provide their workers with the necessary tools – after all, without the job, they wouldn’t need the computer. Today is seeing a gradual increase not only in the self-employed workforce, who provide their own equipment but also in the widespread repetition of devices we are responsible for, caused by individuals purchasing their own laptops, tablets and mobile phones for personal use as well as being provided with them for work purposes. The question is – do we need all these devices and if not, who’s responsibility is it to provide them?

Mobile working environment

Mobile working environment – credit Creative Commons

The question can be tackled from a host of directions – personal wealth, environmental impact, security, networking to mention but a few.  Lets take the issue about the environment firstly – its a topic on the forefront of most people’s minds – companies are increasingly being offered ‘green’ incentives to cut their carbon footprint – so why not help by allowing all technology equipment to be used by individuals for personal use? Mobile phones have been relied upon for years for both personal and business use – smaller companies often rely on people’s personal mobile phones  whereas larger organisations provide employees with a work mobile phone. A phone of course is less practical to share – in order to escape work completely, we have to switch it off – something we are not keen to do with our personal devices. Should this be a sacrifice employees make in order to win flexible working rights from their boss?

It seems ludicrous for each of us to have two computers, two mobile phones and potentially two tablets as well – given that technology tends to run in three yearly cycles, we don’t need to think too hard as to how many of these devices end up in a landfill site each year. Given the population of the UK (around 70 million) even if half have 4 devices at their disposal, it means 140 million will end up scrapped every three years – thats over 125000 each day. I wouldn’t like to estimate how many of the parts are recycled but it won’t be many. So we begin to think – there MUST be a way to help, by reducing how much technology we need – couldn’t we just provide our own equipment and use it for work purposes? Simple, yes?

Not so… Have you considered the implication on company IT departments – the staff would need to know all technologies inside out – that means either relentless training to keep up with new trends, or employ more staff to specialise in given areas. Then there’s IT security – there would need to be a minimum security set up on each device (which would have to have the capability to support an organisation’s security measures) and these would need to be detected and tracked by the company network upon a connection request. People would need to ensure they have adequate login protection too and ensure their virus definitions are up to date. Is this something an organisation can dictate to someone, for a device that is personally owned? Not really… To look at it a different way, an organisation can tell you how to care for a company car, but they cannot request you get your personal vehicle serviced every 6 months to meet a company health and safety policy!

Computers need to be part of a domain in order to pick up network policies and group policy

settings – this makes security and standards almost impossible to implement in the work place. For example, some organisations might program their office computers to open the company PowerPoint presentation template when opening PowerPoint to increase compliance in using it. With a personal device, this is not possible. Providing users with a separate work account on their personal device would work in most cases where employees do not want their personal account logins adapted to suit work requirements.

Personal devices also mean a lot of distractions – people today are permanently connected to so many different networking tools – Skype or other VOIP tools, to keep in touch with loved ones, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter (find out more about Twitter) with saved passwords and instant messaging tools. Some of these distractions can be blocked by hardware firewalls but sometimes they are used in a business environment – just like Skype.

Should an organisation be able to dictate to employees, a minimum standard of hardware and software? If someone has a 5 year old Windows XP laptop, could an individual be mandated to replace it with a powerful Windows 8 laptop because it is faster and has better security measures available? An employee might be very tight for money or be struggle to learn a new operating system. The question of a minimum technology competence is a separate topic but in such a technology-hungry world, should everyone be able to do a bare minimum on a computer?

The number of devices that we have to travel with is also becoming an issue – and of course, its not just the physical laptop or mobile phone, its the charger leads and bags too. Most companies these days allow employees to use work technology for ‘brief personal use’ – how far does this stretch when you’re sent away on business? Having travelled a good deal myself, even the lightest of laptops feel like sack of potatoes to carry once you’ve done it enough times. We are a very mobile planet today and people are travelling for work at an unprecedented rate.

However, of course – there must be SOME advantages to using your own tools in the work place, else there would be no issue to discuss. It is fairly universal that IT departments are some of the most resented by a workforce. They are never the ‘good guys’ – people expect IT to work and only notice how well the IT department do their job, when something isn’t working. So – would we feel less resentful of technology if we provided our own working tools? We would only have ourselves to blame and those amongst us who tend to find excuses would not easily be able to point the finger towards IT. We would be familiar with our own products and spend less time learning new things. For those in the online industry, we would have a larger array of platforms to test new websites on – it can be painstaking to ensure they look the same on all browsers, on all platforms. Of course, HTML5 has helped this.

We all expect things to ‘work’ these days and part of that is the interlinking of equipment. I have a Macbook Pro, iPhone and iPad and I constantly revel in the intelligent way iCloud has been designed – it gives you the option to synchronise notes, contacts, iMessages, photos and more, between your devices. As I write, an iMessage (text message between two apple products) has just arrived at all three, simultaneously. Documents can be stored in the cloud, apps can be purchased on one product and be available on all devices. It. Just. Works. If we had work tools that were theoretically compatible to do this, it wouldn’t be possible because users would have some work accounts and some personal accounts. People’s lifestyles are much more mobile these days – wouldn’t it be great to stay connected wherever we were?

Microsoft have adopted a similar course with SkyDrive, their cloud based technology and Windows 8 – it

Windows 8 Start Screen image

Windows 8 Start Screen

seems the way forward with products (both hardware and software) is very much designed for the user and not for the device. Software licensing is becoming more per-user rather than per-device. Microsoft Office 365 is a classic example of this – if I have purchased the product, I can use it wherever I choose, on any platform that supports it. Thats good.

Of course, organisations wouldn’t be responsible for huge roll outs of new hardware and software – a painstaking process with which I am sure any of you in the industry would empathise. Do we see a world where a little personal distraction in the office is no bad thing, because we also have a work distraction in our personal time… It seems like the business world is edging this way.

So, over all – where is this heading? I think you’ll agree with the thought-provoking issues above that there are arguments for both but whilst networking and security are unable to tackle some of the issues raised, it will be unfeasible to move forward to a user-supplied workplace in the short term. In the future, there are many ways forward and I’m sure the government will consider tax relief both on the businesses supporting a greener way of working and the individual who provides their own products for work use. Users want to be able to use their own products – thats why we chose them off the shelf (we like them)! With cooperation from both sides, it can work but there are a number of issues, both technological and ethical, that need to be addressed first. 

If you have any thoughts or opinions on this, please write a comment below – its a topic that is of great interest at the moment.


About theithandbook

Reaching every day people and businesses with simple, effective and modern IT advice.


One thought on “Are laptops and personal devices becoming a tool of the trade?

  1. Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Opera, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it
    has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, amazing blog!

    Posted by Joey Plazo | May 3, 2014, 1:07 am

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