Hardware hand-me-downs: a pitfall to avoid

Every so often, someone gets the bright idea of giving--or even selling--the business's old PCs to the staff. Such a practice seems like a morale-booster, but it doesn't make sense from this support pro's standpoint.

Every so often, someone gets the bright idea of giving—or even selling—the business's old PCs to the staff. Such a practice seems like a morale booster, but it doesn't make sense from this support pro's standpoint.


"What are you going to do with my old machine?"

That seemed to be the inevitable question when I was upgrading a user to a new office PC. I usually had plans for the hardware I was swapping out. It would be slated for refurbishing, or I would use it for replacement components. Sometimes a retired desktop computer would even become a test server. Whatever my intentions, the fact that I was going to find a continued use for the company's property would sometimes come as a disappointment. Staff members often seemed to be holding out hope that they might be able to take home their old office machine.

Such a plan was even suggested once by a manager of mine. He proposed selling old equipment to staff members. "It would be a nice way to recoup a little of our investment, and our staff could get affordable home computers in the bargain," he argued.

I know some companies do things like this, and if they find it's working out, then bully for them. Such plans have never sat well with me, though, for a number of reasons.

Part of my concern is that I am afraid of being held responsible for the machines. After all, staff members will have gotten their computers from the company. If they start having problems with their hardware, they'll want to go to someone for help. If there's no manufacturer support, what's to stop them from turning to me? Even if the company makes clear that the computers are provided as-is and with no warranty, I can guarantee a problem machine will become a topic of conversation when I visit the office cafeteria.

I also don't want the administrative headaches that come with the distribution of hand-me-downs. If you're going to give them away, then the process of deciding who gets what has to be impeccably fair. Even if you manage that, there's still a likelihood that someone will get upset at the outcome. If you're going to sell computers to employees, then you have to determine appropriate pricing and figure out any tax ramifications. When I do have machines that the business can't use anymore, I need to get them out of the way as soon as possible; every minute they sit unused they are costing the organization money. Spending my time designing a way for the staff to get them is a waste when I can just call a recycler to come and take the machines now, and then be free to get on with my real job.

Ultimately, I don't want to spend any time refurbishing machines that the company can't use anymore. I always had a lot on my plate as an in-house support tech, and I could never rationalize taking time from my regular work in favor of a project to refurbish machines for the staff to take home. It's a lengthy process to repair, re-image, and physically clean a large block of machines. There are plenty of charitable organizations that will accept old business PCs and do the work required to make them serviceable. They'll do all the work, and the computers have the chance to end up benefiting the truly needy. If I get to choose, then I'll always pick the recycling solution that will save me effort while supporting a good cause.

So, when it comes to giving the staff our old office machines, I say nay. The difficulties involved don't outweigh the benefits, especially when there are charities that can use our business's retired equipment.

What about you? Has your business found a way to make hand-me-downs work? Or are they more trouble than they are worth?

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