Are there technology rebels in your midst? The answer is probably ‘yes’. In this context, I’m referring to an employee that uses software applications, online services, mobile applications or personal devices for work purposes, despite them being unsanctioned by the company IT team.
The odds are that your business has a few – but it isn’t a cloak and dagger situation, in fact many will be doing it in plain sight. The unknown doesn’t have to be unnerving; in-fact, it could be transformative. I would argue that it’s time to embrace the tech rebellion; let me explain why, and how.
The evolution of BYOD
In January of this year, Forbes reported that the BYOD market is on course to hit almost $367 billion by 2022, up from $30 billion in 2014, and underlined how BYOD can save companies significant amounts of money, improve productivity and enhance their appeal amongst younger employees. But is your organisation on board?
A few years ago, the media was saturated with articles worrying about how to manage Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. As smartphones, tablets and laptops became must-have consumer items, the theory followed that employees would prefer to work from their own devices rather than corporate-issued hardware.
This meant that organisations embracing BYOD would have to start grappling with more complicated IT management and cybersecurity, as they attempted to ensure all staff members could access the same data and productivity tools, whilst not allowing their own devices to be weak points in the company’s IT infrastructure. Striking this balance, particularly for larger organisations or those handling sensitive data, was not always easy.
Since then, not only have consumers’ devices become increasingly powerful, sleek, and to some degree an artform, but they are now far more powerful. This, coupled with improvements in connectivity, cloud computing, and rising numbers of freelancers, contractors and self-employed workers, has driven an explosion in mobile and web-based applications; managing everything from simple to-do lists to entire collaborative, multi-stakeholder projects.
The result is that there is now more incentive than ever before for employees to use their own devices – and, more than this, to use the applications and software of their choice when carrying out their work. The likes of Slack, Trello and – as politicians will testify, WhatsApp – are now as likely to be used for work purposes as for individual, personal projects. BYOD is no longer a hardware-only game.
Our fact-finding mission
To explore this issue in practice, we recently surveyed 750 professionals, ranging from IT managers through to CEOs and managing directors, to determine attitudes to this ‘technology rebel’ culture. How prevalent is it in their organisations? How do they manage it?
When asked if their employees used software or technology tools to perform their jobs, even though they are not sanctioned by the IT department, nearly half – 44 per cent in total – of survey respondents said yes, and a further 18 per cent didn’t know. Similarly, when asked if their staff still used personal mobile devices for work despite no policy in place, 48 per cent of respondents said yes, while a further 16 per cent didn’t know. In short, it looks likely that more than half of employees are happily using hardware and software from beyond the potentially narrow lists provided by their IT departments.
Likewise, nearly half – 48 per cent in total – of respondents said that their company does not encourage the use of software that is not supplied as part of IT policy, and only 33 per cent of respondents said that their company had an official BYOD policy in place.
In other words, we have a disconnect. Many – perhaps the majority – of employees are branching out from their employers’ official devices and applications, and those employers are seemingly lagging behind when it comes to policymaking and understanding their staff motivations.
Embracing and supporting tech rebels
If the past decade or so has taught us anything in relation to employees’ attitudes to technology, it is that there will always be a powerful desire to use hardware and software from beyond the limited list of tools sanctioned and managed by the IT department. And as consumer-focused technology vendors continue to innovate, this trend seems likely to continue.
But this is a good thing. Technology designers, manufacturers and vendors are constantly coming up with new tools and applications to encourage creativity, collaborative working, innovation and greater productivity. As the ecosystem for such technology continues to develop, it becomes harder and harder for individual IT managers to keep abreast of all the different possibilities – and they shouldn’t expect to.
Instead, a cultural shift needs to take place, whereby organisations recognise that their staff, not just their IT teams, can drive the identification and uptake of valuable new technology.
What might this look like in practice? Organisations need to become more open with their staff in terms of accepting and actively exploring new ways of operating, particularly as millennials and generation Z employees make up ever greater proportions of the workforce. This might, for example, involve creating a structured approach to sharing new technology, asking staff members for feedback on the applications and services they like to use, and even introducing staff incentives to encourage new ideas and innovation in working practices.
For staff members who are less inclined to use new applications and devices, introducing training and education programmes can be helpful. The goals should be less about guiding staff through the nuts and bolts of one particular application, and more about empowering them with the confidence and curiosity to explore new technology, and work out what suits them best.
Nick Orme, CEO, ITEC
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa