Should You Let Staff Choose Their Own Devices?

This is an extract from Lifehacker’s ebook Making Mobility Real: How To Choose The Right Tech For Your Business. You can download the entire ebook for free here.

One of the most fundamental questions facing any business looking to update its mobile strategy is this: should you let your staff choose whatever technology they like and offer to support it, or instead force them to pick from a more restricted list? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons of each approach.

BYOD picture from Shutterstock

We’ve outlined three typical approaches below:

  • “Anything goes”, where there are no (or very few) restrictions on the mobile devices which staff can use;
  • “Limited choice”, where staff are allowed to choose from a more restricted range of options, but aren’t forced to use a particular device or OS;
  • “No choice, Joyce”, where there’s a fixed set of options, and everyone just has to put up with it.

These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Companies will often apply one policy when it comes to computer-like devices and a different policy for mobile phones. In many workplaces, for example, laptops will be a specified model, owned by the business and managed as part of normal IT policy, while phones will be the personal property of individual staff. It’s often the case that different policies will apply depending on levels of seniority; tales of CEOs insisting on immediate upgrades to the latest smartphone are legion. (This isn’t necessarily a wise approach, but it’s certainly a common one.)

Anything Goes: Bring What You Like

Staff can choose essentially any device they like to work on. This may literally be a case of “supply your own device”, or staff may be offered funding up to a fixed ceiling to purchase a device of their own choice.

Pros: Staff tend to be happy because they can choose their own gear.
Cons: It’s very difficult to ensure that custom apps will work across all systems, and security can be challenging. No price benefits from bulk purchases.
When it works: In smaller environments largely using standard and unmodified apps, and where staff are all relatively tech-savvy.
When it doesn’t: In larger companies with mixed levels of technology skills.

Limited Choice: Choose From Column A Or Column B

Staff can choose their own device, but only from a restricted palate (say: “This Windows laptop” or “This Mac laptop”). This will generally be paid for by the employer.

Pros: IT has a defined group of devices to work with, so planning management strategies is easier.
Cons: Some staff will still be unhappy with the available options; even limited choices may create divergent security strategies.
When it works: Where IT strategies aren’t well-defined.
When it doesn’t: When the initial device choice is poor; where training options don’t exist to familiarise staff with platforms they may not know.

No Choice, Joyce: This Is What You Get

IT classic from a decade ago: you come to work and you use what you’re given. Everything is supplied and paid for by work.
Pros: Nothing to argue about; cheap rates for bulk purchases.
Cons: Severely limits flexibility; many staff will use their own devices anyway.
When it works: In extremely large organisations; when security is a major consideration.
When it doesn’t: Anywhere that wants to promote itself as a modern workplace.

Which Should You Choose?

The first crucial point (and one that we’re going to return to repeatedly throughout this book): there is no single answer that will be correct for every business all of the time. Anyone who tries to tell you that the approach they have adopted is the only possible solution is probably not going to be of much help. You need to weigh up the pros and cons in your own specific context.

The second point is that unless you happen to be working for a startup, you’re unlikely to be able to be a purist about policy. You can set long-term goals for mobility strategy and transition to that over time, but there will always be outliers. The key is to identify those and any possible consequences that follow from them. If your CEO insists on having a brand-new device every time an update becomes available, that’s their choice — but they also need to be aware of the risk involved.

While every business will need to make its own decision, for the majority we suspect the conditional variation on limited choice will be the option most deserving of further examination. Unless you have extensive IT resources (or virtually no need for IT at all), then it’s not going to be viable to support absolutely everything that comes along. A more realistic approach is: “We can support these two types of tablets, these three types of phones and these two types of laptops. With anything else, we’ll try to help if we can, but we offer no guarantee that we’ll be able to fix your issues or get you connected.”

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