Employers that allow workers to choose the specific computer, mobile device or software they use on the job are letting employees shape their on-the-job experience and do their work the best way they know how.
"I believe that organizations that are focused on providing a customized career experience to an employee have really tapped into something powerful," said Charlie Judy, SHRM-SCP. He is president of the Workforce employee experience product at QuestionPro, which acquired the WorkXO culture management platform he founded.
Employee choice in technology makes sense in a digital economy that allows consumers to customize any number of products, including our shoes, Judy said.
"If that's the kind of experience that we are getting as consumers out there, then we should be looking for similar opportunities to customize that experience for our employees," he said.
In its workplace culture survey, QuestionPro asks employees if they're able to get the technology or equipment they need at work with ease. "It's the 'with ease' part that's really, really important," Judy said. "Those organizations that are on the leading edge, that are literally redefining how we work, they're the ones that allow their employees to get what they need with ease."
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Technology Choice Increases Productivity
A recent survey of 580 global businesses conducted by Apple technology management firm Jamf found that more than half allow employees to choose what kind of computer they use at work, and almost half permit workers to choose their mobile device.
"In today's competitive hiring environment, providing a differentiated employee experience is a major priority for enterprise organizations," said Jamf CEO Dean Hager. "More than that, the new workforce expects their employer to help them be their absolute best and not let bureaucratic decisions stand in the way of their productivity. And what is a more impactful way than empowering employees with their choice of technology? Not only do employees use their technology every day, for many in a mobile workforce, technology is actually their total employment experience."
Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said technology choice made them more productive, 37 percent reported improved creativity, and 35 percent said using their chosen device made them more collaborative and prouder of their workplace, according to the survey report.
Similarly, 81 percent of more than 300 customers of app-building platform Quick Base considered it very important to be able to choose their own technology solutions at work, while nearly the same percentage indicated that the issue would be a factor in choosing a job, a recent survey found.
"Smart leaders are managing these new expectations by empowering a new breed of do-it-yourself problem-solvers with choice over their technology tools, and in many cases with flexible platforms that enable these workers to build highly customized solutions with the skills they already have," according to the Quick Base report.
Technology-choice programs may involve company-owned hardware, employees' personal devices or a mix of the two. At QuestionPro, employees choose their own phones and receive reimbursement, and they can select their preferred company-issued computer, according to Judy.
The company also lets employees use the software that works best for them. Judy recently encouraged a designer to subscribe to the best cloud-based infographic tool she could find for making presentations.
"She'll go find it, she'll subscribe to it, we'll pay for it," he said. "I also want her to know that she has the authority to ask. … If you need something to produce a better product, ask for it."
As more employees choose their own technology, particularly when it comes to smartphones, companies must protect themselves against cyberattackers, said Ben Rothke, senior security consultant at New York-based cybersecurity firm Nettitude. Company data can be stolen if employees don't safeguard their phones.
"If the user visits a malware site or is a risky user, that can introduce risks to the corporate data," he said.
In a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program, companies should identify which employees can access corporate data via their smartphones and have an effective set of BYOD policies to govern it. Program rules must be managed and enforced, Rothke said.
"It should not be the default to give [employees] access. It should be based on their job function or role requirement. And if they do qualify, make sure their access is appropriate to their role," he said. Employees also should understand the security tasks they are responsible for and receive security training before they get mobile access to data, he said.
Security is the first hurdle companies need to clear, but, once they get over it, employee choice in technology shouldn't cause much worry, Judy said. Cloud-based technologies, combined with tighter security measures such as virtual private networks and firewalls, have made the choice of device relatively unimportant, he said.
Other issues to consider include how to keep employees' work and personal data separate. If it's not, employers could be faced with hefty bills—for example, if an employee exceeds voice and data usage limits and rings up thousands of dollars in roaming charges while streaming Netflix on a foreign trip, Rothke said.
Customization Part of the Employee-Experience Movement
Dave Ryan, SHRM-SCP, HR director for Mel-O-Cream Donuts in Springfield, Ill., said his small company gives employees some latitude with their technology, as long as the hardware they use supports the business's software.
"I think it's a good idea to let people have some input in what they're doing and what type of device they're using, understanding that that device has to interact with everything else that's going on in the organization," he said.
The company issues iPhones exclusively and relies mostly on Dell PCs, giving employees some leeway in configuration, screen and interface options, he said; a few employees use company-supplied MacBooks or Surface Pros.
Workplace leaders need to answer why it matters for everyone to be using the same technology, Judy said. There may be good reasons, such as economies of scale or security, but companies "ought to be moving toward customization."
In the entire spectrum of employee experience, some areas are harder to customize, while computers are much easier, he noted.
If organizations hire people because they're smart and talented, "then they're in the best position to tell us what they need to do to get the job done," Judy said. It doesn't make sense to plug tech-savvy new hires into outdated technology. More evolved organizations let the people with the specific knowledge, not necessarily those with the higher titles, make these decisions, he said.
Dinah Brin is a freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia.