Online Learning: BYOD Policy Enters the Third Phase
November 25, 2013 by Bill Rosenthal

I am continuing to monitor developments in BYOD because of their implication for online learning. So I was interested to see what appears to be the rise of the third phase in employer BYOD policies.

In the first phase of BYOD policies, companies allowed employees to use their own smartphones and tablets for work and online learning under guidelines that were either overly simple and vague or nonexistent. Vague and simple guidelines proved problematical for some companies, particularly when lawyers needed to inspect employee devices during the discovery process for lawsuits.

The problems caused by vague and nonexistent policies ushered in the second phase, in which company lawyers wrote extensive policies to protect company interests. Some of these policies offered very little protection of employee privacy and granted the company extensive rights to monitor and review information on employee devices.

Now we appear to be entering the third phase, in which companies are starting to streamline policies. According to an article in Computerworld last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is giving cause for concern. One of the NLRB’s responsibilities is the protection of employees’ rights to organize for unionization. Lately it has been looking at employer policies on social media and whether they violate employees’ rights to discuss wages, hours, and working conditions.

According to the Computerworld article, many lawyers feel that the NLRB’s position on social media will cover BYOD policies as well:

“BYOD, a company's right to protect and disclose data, and an employee's expectations of privacy are all colliding and creating a very sticky problem. Emotions run high when a conflict between employee and employer arises and when a company needs to look into an employee-owned smartphone or tablet.”

It’s important to have a solid policy, but I personally think employers can go a long way in heading off problems and preserve a vital medium for online learning. You just need to talk frankly about it in the hiring process or employee orientation. Most employees are reasonable people and can understand a company’s need to protect its security and why it might be necessary at some point to review the information on their devices. You can even discuss steps employees can take in advance to protect personal information, such as labeling it “personal.” If the discussion is in the form of a conversation rather than a lecture, you’ll likely get employee buy-in. This is important, because in today’s job market, most new hires will sign anything you put in front of them. Then, when you need to review information on an employee’s device, it goes without saying you should avoid sniffing out passwords or looking at material that’s obviously personal.

I hope the abusers (on both sides) don’t spoil it for the companies and employees that work reasonably together with BYOD. Letting employees work on their own devices is a powerful aid to online learning, but only as long as the employee considers the device a friend rather than an enemy.