It used to be that at the stroke of five o’clock, most employees were content to punch out, go home and not think of work again until the next morning. Employees’ private lives did not overlap with work and employers and employees were fine with that arrangement. The pervasiveness of mobile technology has changed all that.

More and more employees are using their personal mobile devices to carry their work home with them. They’re also carrying their personal lives (at least the parts that exist on their mobile devices) back into the workplace. This phenomenon even has its own catchy name: “BYOD,” or “Bring Your Own Device” (to work).

But is BYOD good for enterprise business? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Here are some things to consider when deciding if a policy of “bring your own device” is right for your staff and your organization.

Employees are Already Bringing Their Devices to Work

Whether your enterprise is prepared for it or not, your employees are already bringing their own devices into the workplace. A recent survey conducted by HR software vendor, Software Advice, found that 77 percent of employees use their own devices, to some extent, for work related activities.

Enterprise use of cloud-based storage and business applications mean that business data and tools are also available to employees no matter where or on which devices they happen to access the corporate networks. Furthermore, the consumerization of powerful computing technologies like notebooks, smartphones, tablets and so on have made it convenient (and affordable) for employees to bring their work with them wherever they go.

The popularity of engaging in social media sites like Twitter and Facebook has migrated from the home into the office. One study from the UK found that as many as one third of all employees are accessing social media sites during the workday, causing the lines between business and personal use of technology to be blurred even further. As sales of mobile devices continue to rise, the trend of employees bringing those devices to work (partly to engage in social media and partly for business) is likely to rise right along with it.

Benefits to the Enterprise

There are some real benefits to the enterprise when its employees use their own devices at work. Perhaps chief among these is the potential for cost savings. If employees are willing (or encouraged) to use their own devices for their work, this can translate into less capital purchases of items like desktop and laptop computers for those employees. Even where the enterprise subsides the cost of purchasing personal devices, this is still a lot cheaper than buying new equipment for every employee.

Another compelling benefit of allowing your staff to user their own devices at work is increased employee productivity. Employees are already comfortable with the functionality and operation of their own devices, so the learning curve that normally accompanies the introduction of new technologies is reduced. There’s also a large variety of enterprise-class productivity tools and apps available to employees. In some cases these mobile apps are far superior or more flexible than their corresponding corporate versions.

There is growing evidence to support the premise that employees are more productive when using their own devices at work. For example, CDW Government, a federal government IT vendor, surveyed over 400 federal employees and IT staff, and found that 89 percent “think that using mobile devices at work makes them more productive”, and 69 of respondents said this policy allows federal departments to “deliver better services to citizens.”

Risks to the Enterprise

Of course, when you introduce new technologies into the workplace, especially mobile devices, there are legitimate risks that go along with this policy.

With so much variety in both hardware and software on mobile devices, it is a big challenge for corporate IT departments to integrate all these permutations into the existing IT infrastructure. This introduces potential vulnerabilities like viruses and data theft that can be hard to adequately manage or control.

Without strict and clearly defined usage policies in place, there can be gray areas when it comes to the ownership of data as well. There may also be liability or access to data issues if an employee leaves the company — even more so if an employee is fired, for example.

Peter Gailey, a Personal Information Management coach with PIMCoach says there’s also a “very real opportunity loss scenario” that can arise when certain staff bring their own devices to work. “What happens when a salesperson, using a personal iPad for work has a sales call at HP, Dell, or Samsung,” muses Gailey. “You could easily lose a sale, or a client, without even knowing why,” Gailey says.

To BYOD or not to BYOD?

This is certainly a question that corporations are increasingly having to address. Mobile computing is definitely here to stay — at least until even more ubiquitous and pervasive computing technologies become available. Enterprise businesses need to weigh the benefits against the risks when it comes to deciding whether a “bring your own device” policy is appropriate and under what conditions it makes good business sense.

Do you allow your employees to use their own devices at work? Have you found that the benefits outweigh the risks, or vice versa? Let us know in the comments below.

[Sources: Remotely Mobile; Image credits: Alan Wolf, Phil Campbell, Johan Larsson, Eugene Zemlyanskiy, Barry Sollow]