On December 18th, an employee resource group for the Millennial generation hosted the first of many “Bring Your Own Discussion (BYOD)” Lunch and Learns at work. With J&J working on implementing its BYOD strategy in 2013, the topic was, fittingly, Bring Your Own Device.
Millennials are often labeled as inseparable from their technology. Several leading industry studies and articles believe that this new generation will demand BYOD programs, and challenge traditional work environments to change the way we work to meet this need.
BYOD means different things to different people, and the key to keeping afloat in the BYOD discussion is understanding what problem you are trying to solve. Interestingly enough, different generations have different expectations for this BYOD program. All are valid, but which will we tackle?
Millennials… Who Are They?
Millennials, an abbreviation for millennial generation, is a term used by demographers to describe a segment of the population born between 1980 and 2000 (approximately). Sometimes referred to in the media as “Generation Y,” millennials are the children of the post-WWII baby boomer generation.
These new employees grew up with social media, grew up with the most innovative technologies, and this is what some surveys say about millennials on BYOD:
- The 3,872 young workers responding to the BYOD survey said they already regularly engage in the practice of using personally owned mobile devices at work. And apparently thumbing their noses at corporate policies
- 1 out of 3 said they would gladly break any anti-BYOD rules and “contravene a company’s security policy that forbids them to use their personal devices at work or for work purposes. (India was the country where the highest percentage of young workers, 66%, admitted they already have or would contravene policies banning BYOD device use)
- Two-thirds of those surveyed believe they, not the company, should be responsible for the security of devices used for work purposes.
I personally do not agree with many of these statements, as a Millenial. That said, why is there this anarchy sentiment? What problem do Millenials feel BYOD solves? I believe if we can get to the heart of the problem, we can find a solution that younger generations adopt that doesn’t compromise security policies.
Flavors of BYOD
“I just want to have the flexibility of firing that email quickly, or seeing my calendar from my mobile device.”
To many members of both generations, this is seen as the immediate use case and benefit to BYOD. Allowing smartphones in the workplace has only recently become supported, based on infrastructure and security concerns. Many people found work-arounds to enable these features, and now we have official support (as a pay service) to access this data from iPhone or iPad. They are not asking for their companies to hand them an iPad instead of a laptop, but want to be reachable should they choose to be working in more diverse locations. Plus, laptops are heavy.
“My Laptop takes 30 minutes to reboot, and Excel takes 15 minutes to run a macro. I can do both activities from my home PC in 15 seconds.”
Another more aggressive BYOD policy is to transfer the onus of keeping up with employee hardware to the employees. Some companies allow their employees to shop on a stipend, others require them to bring in their own device. This can often translate to shrinking hardware costs for an organization. Challenges arise on areas like helpdesk support and antimalware control. More varying devices broaden the technical knowledge needed to support the organization, and open an exponential number of vulnerabilities.
At the crux of the hardware BYOD issue is virtualization, and the user experience. So many home grown applications were built for Windows, mouse and keyboard, and feel clunky and unwieldy on a tablet, even if you virtualize the application. At the same time, building a native experience for iDevices doesn’t scale. What happens in 5 years where there is some new toy? Do we redesign all our applications again for this new platform?
For right now, we can virtualize as a transition until we can upgrade the applications to run natively. That said, truly getting in front of the bus will require a long term strategy to design our applications to run on a device-independent platform. The strategy should be to build a new front end to an application when a new device becomes supported. We should not be redesigning apps from soup to nuts each time devices change- it is simply not sustainable long term. I was pleased to discover that J&J is working on both angles simultaneously.
You can talk BYOD from a cost perspective as we have above. (Potential) hardware savings stacked against increased security, development, and support costs doesn’t make BYOD sound as cost effective as you may have initially thought. So why do it? Our conversation drifted to work life balance, work culture, and brought to light challenges to the traditional 9 to 5 workday.
In IT, technology is allowing us to work in diverse locations, at nontraditional times. These changes will lead to increased flexibility (when and where you work), but blurs the lines between business and pleasure. If we are not careful to set our expectations with our colleagues, these devices may quickly become like a ball and chain, preventing you from truly being able to “cut the cord” from work and enjoy your personal life.
Many Millennials were quick to state in our discussion that as much as they want the flexibility to work from their mobile devices, they also want the ability to turn it off, and don’t want to be actively plugged in at all times. They want the option to be there, should they wish to use it. Generation X responded with their challenges of setting the expectations via policy– maybe you want to be connected until 9pm. Sounds reasonable. What if John wants to be connected until 6pm? Reasonable. Who’s right? The more prudent way to handle this would be to set expectations with your manager. Sadly, culture may shift without you. If your coworkers are putting in extra time, and you are not, does that affect your performance review?
Despite the challenges, BYOD makes sense. The new workforce is used to a multi-device environment, and have learned to be extremely efficient by using different devices for each task. Smart phones are used to send and respond to email, tablets to consume content, and laptops to create content. The average Millennial already has 2-3 devices. They see how these devices have impacted their lives, have become almost a permanent part of them, and they want those same strengths in the workplace. This will change the way we work. It will happen. It won’t happen overnight. In the mean time, discussions like this Lunch and Learn are bringing new, diverse voices to the table. If this post really has you thinking about BYOD, drop a comment and keep the discussion going!