BYOD freedom & dignity

Sometimes – no, make that most of the time – we seem to welcome trends that exacerbate the colonisation of our life by work as if we were the Iceni throwing a barbecue for the Romans because they had promised us a game of football and a steam room afterwards. It helps to take the socket set to the bandwagon from time to time. No, make that most of the time.

The latest nagging trend is Bring Your Own Device, #BYOD. Somehow its introduction signifies a progressive organisation granting a tranche of unprecedented liberty. Just how MANY blog posts have been written proclaiming it? We are freed from the shackles of the budget laptop made from recycled egg cartons and the jamboree-bag BlackBerry, liberated from draconian and extinct policies and restrictions, and whoo-hoo we can see our work e-mails on our (overpriced, overhyped and still over-proprietary) iPads. Suddenly we can do our work, and will finally be recognised for the creative, free-spirited knowledge-wielding value-creating…. apologies, I lost interest. That’s because its bunkum. The Romans didn’t come over for a game of footie. Or fussball, for that matter.

BYOD seems of most interest where the organisation buys the kit, where an allowance is given. But that means while it’s “your” device it’s not really “yours” at all. It’s not BYOD, it’s just a user choice of kit, usually within a restricted offer – like the archaic practice of choosing a company car from a pre-selected list. You can proudly stroke the bonnet in front of your envious Allegro-driving friends, but it’s a thin-veiled vanity as you don’t own it. How many people then read the small print – the terms and conditions of this transaction? Control of the use of the device – what is loaded onto it, what you do with it, and what the organisation can do with it (including wiping it clean and changing your password) remains, because it has to. When it goes wrong, which it will do because its IT kit, Wayne the Windows Wizard won’t be in the basement to fix it, because his role was deemed surplus now everyone has their “own” kit. The downsizing, dressed up as “focussing on strategy”, means you get it fixed. It may be that you can keep it when you leave, but that will be after data, applications, and useful working parts have been removed in case you misuse or lose it. You signed a contract that you didn’t read, that didn’t mention “trust” anywhere, for good reason.

BYOD loses its allure by a factor when you have to buy your own kit. Yes you can have the lime green one because it’s on your tab, but it still comes with a policy that can have it locked down and wiped clean whether you like it or not. Because BYOD is a legal minefield – the test cases have yet to emerge, but they are bubbling away and will surface.

Why is having your work interwoven with your own information on your “own” [clarify] device something to get excited about?

Interestingly Dave Coplin was quoted in the Metro today reflecting a long-held view of this blog, that “If I really want to be creative and innovative, it’s much better [for me] to be outside the boundary of my organisation” – that is, we try and build workplaces that encourage and foster thought but in the main we find our own spaces to think. Why is it any different with our technology “space”? You don’t take the contents of your desk and invite several colleagues along with you when you sit under the Bodhi tree to clear down – do you? So why have your work contaminate your own digital space?

And as we are vulnerable and insecure human beings, we do silly things: do you really want to be tempted to reply to the annoying e-mail you received several hours ago but that you have just seen on the tube on the way home, several cold ones in? It’s bad enough tweeting when your judgment is impaired – let alone being exposed to your e-mail.

BYOD is another step on from the problem we have tortured ourselves with over the BlackBerry decade – the always-on culture, and the dreaded “working on the pause” (a phrase also introduced with delight, that masks a hundred demons). The problem of setting out your own space, and being disciplined enough to enforce it. More than a legal or contractual issue, it’s about wellbeing.

What can be wrong with an organisation understanding your technology needs, selecting and maintaining appropriate kit for you to do your work effectively, keeping the applications and software up to date, allowing employees to freely use social technologies, and being supportive of you shutting it down and doing something you want to do when you have finished – on a digital device (if it even needs one) that is genuinely your own? Organisations need to encourage their people to refresh their minds, to take time under their own equivalent of the Bodhi tree. They can remove the unnecessary temptation.

BYOD is a matter of freedom and dignity. Retain them both. Keep some space for yourself.


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