CXO

Mobile devices in the workplace: Three situations that could get awkward

Work and personal lives have a little less separation when mobile devices are thrown into the mix. The best way to avoid overstepping boundaries is setting ground rules upfront.

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Image: iStock/Ridofranz

Mobile technology can make things easier, and more productive, in the workplace. In a recent Tech Pro Research poll, 47% of respondents said almost everyone in their workplace uses mobile devices. But just because managers and employees can stay connected anywhere, doesn't mean they should.

Here are a few situations that have the potential to get complicated. Setting some ground rules should simplify them.

Personal phone calls and emails

Employers and managers understand that there are times when an employee needs to get in touch with home, or handle some other personal business by phone or even by email. However even at lunch or on a break, when situations like this occur, employees aren't typically entitled to privacy, because they are on company premises and, in some cases, using company equipment. In this environment, employers may monitor conversations and emails, although they are supposed to stop actively listening was soon as they detect that the communication is personal. However, if the company has a policy against personal phone calls or emails, it can listen enough to determine that the communication is personal.

In California, employers are required to notify employees that their communications will be monitored. But even if your state or company doesn't have such a rule, you and your HR department can avoid misunderstandings by clearly explaining to employees what policy is—and why it is like it is—upfront.

SEE: Internet and Email usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

Contacting employees on vacation

It is an unspoken law in IT that whether employees are salaried or hourly, systems have to stay up and running. This means that workers might have to take laptops or work phones along on vacation.

This is legal since the law does not require companies to give employees vacations or time off. However, managers should realize it's unhealthy to continually push the envelope. Employees need personal time off so they can decompress. This can't happen when managers keep contacting the employees on their vacations. The better approach for managers in this situation is to ask why there is such an over-reliance on certain individuals—and then seek out ways to better balance the talents and the flexibility of their teams.

BYOD

There is a tendency for employees to think that just because the company allows them to bring their own mobile device for use at work, that they have a right to the privacy of their texts, emails and conversations. That isn't necessarily the case.

The law gives companies the right to monitor communications on BYOD devices, provided that a corporate BYOD policy clearly explains to employees what the company's privacy policy is on BYOD devices used at work.

In extreme cases, employers can lock, disable or wipe the employee's personal device, delete any and all data contained on the phone, access the device and contacts stored on it, access, view Web browsing history, pictures, and videos, and view personal chat and messaging histories.

Wearable technology is also another looming BYOD issue, as courts have not yet ruled on whether an employer can legally mandate the use of wearables by employees while on the job—or if an employer is allowed to use data captured by wearables such as an employee wellness data, whether the bearable are BYOD or company-furnished.

If you are a manager, the best approach is to advise employees to carefully read their employment agreements and their HR orientation materials, where the BYOD policy is likely to be located.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

The explosion of mobile technology and BYOD has streamlined workflows, enabled instant messaging to anyone anywhere and contributed greatly to project efficiencies. The tradeoff has been that employees today have less privacy than ever before. Most employees understand this, and most companies for adopt reasonable mobile tech management practices. At the same time, however, the law is undefined in many of these areas. This makes it important for managers to be clear on what company mobile tech policy is—and to make sure their employees understand.


Also see:
The future of wearables and their role in the workplace
ZDNet special feature: Securing your mobile enterprise
3 tips for taking a vacation from work

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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