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In the 80s, it was a material world. Today, it’s a digital world (and about damn time Madonna made a remix), where the #digitalnomad and #laptoplifestyle are not only commonplace, they’re becoming the norm in many industries.
Having an employee or five behind a screen on the other side of the city, the country, or even the world is an incredible ability. It gives you access to the right people at the right time without the right place even being a factor. However, the caveat to having digital workers, on-site or off, is that they need the hardware for the job.
As a business owner, you are the one who decides whether to offer company computers to your workers or have them use their own. Which one is best? As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to both.
Pros of BYOD
1. Lower costs
There’s no denying it: not having to buy extra computers = not having to spend extra money = more money in your pocket (or business account, rather) for other expenses.
Also, if you don’t own the devices being used for work, you’re not responsible for any costs if something breaks. One of the best reasons to have your employees and contractors use the devices they already own is the break you get to cut your wallet.
This can be an absolute necessity, especially when a company is in its early stages. There’s no shame in the game of saving money.
2. No device liability
Hiring the right people isn’t easy, and business relationships can end (sometimes badly). If you’ve trusted someone with an expensive piece of equipment to use for work and that partnership ends, you now have to get that device back.
Whether the worker has bad intentions or not, making sure they take the time to return anything at all can be a chore, let alone something as personal and valuable as a computer or phone. The reasons can range from “oops, I forgot” to “hey, screw you,” but the result is the same. You have to hostage-negotiate the safe return of whatever you lent (emphasis on safe!).
Requiring the use of personal devices takes the guesswork out of the equation. No loan means no return process, as well as no possibility of damage to company property.
3. Immediate onboarding
If you’ve ever ordered something you’re excited about or expected an important letter, you know how much of a pain shipping times are. Packages get lost, poor weather causes delays, and (while Prime shipping has ruined many of us) waiting just isn’t fun.
When your prospective employee already has a usable device, they can get started on the job immediately. There’s no downtime before work can start, and especially in fast-paced spaces like tech, getting support now can be essential.
Cons of BYOD
1. Legal-ese proficiency required (or else)
Little-known fact: just because you legally have access to a certain software doesn’t mean you can legally use it.
You know those crazy-long legal agreements you mindlessly click “I have read and agree to these terms” whenever you use a new app or software for the first time? As harmless as clicking “I agree” without actually reading through the agreement seems, especially in the business world, you could be breaking laws without even realizing it.
We’ve all heard about software usage policies, but have you ever really thought about them? Some are obvious, like only being able to use that software on two computers at a time. Others are less obvious, like whether the software is approved for use in a business or commercial capacity.
When you have no rights over what your workers can or cannot install and use on their computers, it’s hard to make sure everyone is using correct tools with correct permissions and licenses for correct purposes. After all, reading through one of those software agreements is next to impossible, let alone one for every tool each person on your team uses.
2. Potential compatibility issues
Are you a Mac devotee or are Microsoft PCs more your speed? Whatever your personal preference is, some applications and platforms work exclusively on specific operating systems (or, in cases like Microsoft Office, have OS-specific features).
A problem most business owners don’t even consider when trying to find the right people for the job is whether the prospect’s laptop is right for the job. All it takes is one essential tool being incompatible with a prospect’s current device to create a hurdle to hiring. Sure, many tools and applications are cloud-based, meaning they can be used from any web browser, but are there any you use that are OS-specific?
Workers using their own devices means you can’t mandate what device is being used. After all, not many people are willing to spend several hundred dollars (at least) on a new computer just for a new job. If a compromise or alternative can’t be found, you can lose out on that unicorn candidate.
3. The logistics of repairs and replacements
Here’s a nightmare scenario for any business owner: It’s crunch time. The deadline for that huge project or contract or job is looming and your team is working overtime to make it happen. You’re at the make-or-break point…and your lead guy (or gal) spills a latte all over their keyboard. Short-circuits everywhere. Flickering screen. Anger. Tears. Where do they go to get their computer fixed? What if they can’t afford the repairs? What if it can’t be saved?
Anyone who’s had a broken device can testify to what a pain (and crazy expense) repairs can be, not to mention the frustration (and further expense) when a new computer altogether is necessary.
When your employees are responsible for their own tech, all the logistics and expenses of repairs and replacement are on them. If something breaks, getting it fixed can be cost and time-prohibitive, especially when a rush is required. And if you do decide to help out one person in their time of need, there will be no end to “what about me?” from the rest of your team.
4. Data security (rather, the lack thereof)
When you have no control over the equipment being used by your team, you have no way of controlling what is downloaded or accessed from your company’s files. Even if you have strict controls on who is allowed to access which files and are quick to shut down access as soon as a partnership ends, there is no way of controlling, in most cases, what files have been copied or downloaded.
By providing company devices, you can mitigate much of the risk of files being downloaded or stored in your team’s personal files. With the right device access setup, you can even remotely lock down a device in case of a breach or termination to keep any company files, programs, or records safe.
While both a BYOD system and providing company devices have their merits, you are the one who can decide what will be best for your situation. If you can afford to loan out tech, the benefits might outweigh the risks and be worth it in your situation. If your budget doesn’t have an “extra tech” slot, there are plenty of reasons to not worry about it.
The best way to decide what path to take is to sit down with your team, take stock of what’s most important to you and the issues you most often face, and make an informed choice. You’re the expert in your business; what do you need?
Do you have a BYOD policy with your team, or do you offer company devices? What experiences have you had, and what do you recommend? Let us know in the comments below.
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Business & technology writer
Stephen is an entrepreneur, international speaker, and Fortune 500 consultant. At 21 LEAP, he focuses on growing and scaling technology startups across 5 continents through a blend of US-based specialists, AI capabilities, and automation.