I’ve been called upon a great deal to write about something called “consumerisation” recently. This is the process by which people are allowed or in some cases asked to use their own technology for work purposes. New research from comms specialist Mitel suggests that two thirds of office workers use their own technology, and many don’t actually expect their employers to be able to keep up with the changing capabilities of gadgets on the market.
I’m not talking about we self-employed types of course; we buy and choose our own technology and just don’t ask me whether my iPhone is a work tool or personal device, it does both quite happily. But this is kind of the issue; a lot of employers are starting to realise that if someone is already carrying half a thousand quid’s worth of smartphone in their pocket (and a surprising amount of us are) then they probably won’t welcome another one.
The cynic in me heard about this and assumed, immediately, that it was a cost saving measure. I’m now not so sure.
The principle is straightforward. Many people buy smartphones and snazzy laptops. Many people are using computing applications which are in the cloud rather than on their computers themselves. So they actually need a computer, smartphone or tablet that’s a window onto the apps they’re using and anything with an Internet connection will do the job. It would be insane to insist someone has a work computer and a work phone as well as their own, like giving them a company car as well as their own car and wishing them luck with storing it.
There’s even better news for the employee here. You can choose your own favourite computer and use that instead of whatever the boss has decided is flavour of the month. I favour Apple, you might prefer a PC and even then you might rather have something running on Linux or one of the other minority operating systems. It no longer matters.
But let’s stick with the car comparison for a second. If you do use a company car – and given the way tax changed a couple of decades ago I’m not sure I’d recommend it – you should get some sort of mileage allowance. You may even get “essential car user” allowance, in which your organisation pays towards the upkeep. It ought to.
Many businesses don’t understand that they need to do the same with home computing. There’s an assumption that people will have something already and hopefully it won’t need upgrading, they can use their own Internet connection. Ideally the business should make some sort of contribution as well. One of the best companies I ever spoke to on this subject – a private client so I can’t name them, more’s the pity – had a computing allowance in the same way others have a car allowance, so you got a contribution of enough to buy a cheap laptop and if you want to spend more of your own cash on something lighter, thinner or faster you’re welcome to do so. This is something I’d encourage.
I’d also encourage businesses to get their employees to take their work computing seriously and reciprocate a bit. Of the 1000 employees in the Mitel study, two thirds of whom you’ll recall were using their own computer equipment, only a third were aware of the business’ IT policies. I wonder how many of their employers had also gone as far as considering the impact of work computing on home contents insurance policies, most of which ask that items aren’t used for business purposes. Cross-reference that with health and safety and ask how many companies equip their colleagues with appropriate ergonomic chairs for home working (remarkably few I’m guessing) and you can see that it’s more complex than you’d assumed.
Consumerisation is a great idea and a load of businesses are taking advantage of it to everyone’s benefit. I still worry about the cost saving part; done properly, with the right training and policies in place, the savings calculation isn’t as simple as some people might think.