NEW YORK (TheStreet) — A decade ago, companies could ensure worker productivity and information security with a firewall. Today employees have complete access to the Internet via unsecured smartphones that can be accessed anywhere, anytime. Companies are both embracing the change and taking extreme measures to prevent lost time and data.
A few companies, including government agencies, the military and security companies, have policies that require employees to check their phones at the door, says Rob Dinuzzo, marketing manager for Siber Systems, creators of RoboForm and Goodsync.
"Some organizations, for national security or corporate security reasons, you have to check your personal device when you walk in. This is an extreme step, but a necessary step," he explains.
Companies that don't deal with this level of security aren't likely to implement similar device restrictions anytime soon, however. Most companies have a structure in place that says, "We trust you to get work done and use devices in a responsible way," He says.
When companies try to be too restrictive on personal technology, they run the risk of hurting employee morale.
"Any extreme step can make employees think you don't trust them," he says.
Here are five lessons learned by companies that let employee smartphones into the workplace:
There is a trade-off to allowing smartphones.
Employers know that they have employees who can take their smartphones and goof off playing Candy Crush for a few minutes, but they also have employees they can reach 24 hours a day via phone and email.
“If they didn’t have that device, then I couldn’t communicate with them outside the hours of 9 to 5, and frankly if I couldn’t communicate with them outside of that window, then I couldn’t get as much done,” says Mike Malloy, executive vice president of products and strategy for Internet security company Webroot.
Most companies know that employees are doing much more than just email and phone calls on their smartphones.
“Employees are often doing things like Twitter, photo sharing and Facebook, all for the company,” Malloy says. “In addition to being accessible on their phone, they are working on that phone. It’s not like in the old days where there is a big desktop that sits on the desk and a phone that’s connected to the wall and after you leave work you’re no longer communicating with your employer. It’s a 24/7 world.”
It’s better to measure productivity than monitor phone use.
Yes, it’s possible that an employee could be wasting a lot of time on their Smartphone, but if you measure their productivity, you should find out pretty quickly how hard they’re working, Dinuzzo says.
“Productivity will show you what you’re dealing with,” he says. “If you’re really worried about wasted time, then the level of quality of work and the amount of output will show you everything you need to know.”
If you’re concerned about workers spending too much time on their own, an open office plan may help.
“Open office spaces naturally lend themselves to people being a little more honest. That’s not a reason to redesign your entire office space, but it is one of the benefits of it. Anytime your employees are encouraged to have more fact-to-face communication, they feel like they have to be a little more accountable.”
Companies can benefit from a bring-your-own policy.
“I don’t see an eagerness on behalf of companies to stop employees using their phones,” Malloy says.
When companies have a BYOD policy, they don’t have to argue about the type of technology they provide to employees.“They don’t have to hear, ‘Wait a minute, I didn’t want a Blackberry, I wanted an iPhone.’”
Also, they don’t have to support the device if it gets broken, so there is no capital expense associated with this policy.
“I don’t see this trend changing. I don’t see companies saying, ‘We want to be more secure so we are going to buy everyone new smartphones and tablets.’ That doesn’t seem realistic.”
What does seem realistic, however, is that more companies will have a conversation with employees about security risks and have more security features enabled on their devices.
“If they don’t have a certain level of security on their phones, then they may not be allowed to log into the company network,” he says.
Employers don't get access to workers' phones.
At the end of the day, there is very little employers can do to curb non-work-related smartphone use by employees, Dinuzzo says.
“You just have to build an atmosphere of trust and teamwork. If you are constantly interacting with your staff, your employees are going to be more accountable than if they are off on their own at a desk by themselves working on a single project,” he says.
Companies are not legally allowed to inspect employee’s phones without a warrant, even if they are suspected of something serious, Dinuzzo says.
“If someone is on their work computer shopping or spending all day on ESPN, then you can monitor that and try to correct that, but you do not have jurisdiction to say, ‘Let me see your phone.’”
The benefits outweigh the bad.
“Smartphones allow employees to be offsite, taking photos of their kids at the park while answering company email. It allows a level of work/life balance that we’ve never seen before,” says Omer Eiferman, CEO of Cellrox, a technology that allows employees to use the same technology securely for work and personal use.
The truth is, in corporate America, most employees just don’t have the time to sit around playing games all day, Eiferman says.
“Even if they like to play the occasional game and look at Facebook from time to time, that’s OK. don’t believe in the black and white of trying to guard what’s allowed vs. what’s not allowed. It doesn’t make sense to say, ‘You can’t use your phone to read Facebook at night and do work in the morning,’” he says.