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Corporate cell phones: Perk or penalty?

Curt Finch | Sept. 28, 2012
The once innovative practice of providing advanced tech to executives and mobile employees has become somewhat stagnant. So, the question becomes, should a company even bother?

It wasn't that long ago that employees were ecstatic to receive the latest business phone from their company, along with a partially or fully-subsidized data plan. In addition to a relief of monthly expenses, it was a status symbol and often one of the only ways to fully enjoy the benefits of a "smartphone" style device. However, the once innovative practice of providing advanced tech to executives and mobile employees has become somewhat stagnant. So, the question becomes, should a company even bother?

Where cell phones were once considered a luxury, many businesses now consider them a necessity, and not just for higher-ups. People are increasingly engaging in work activities outside of the office, whether by simply responding to emails all the way to working from a totally remote office. In any case, the value of an always-on corporate culture has become apparent. That being said, it is difficult to justify the expense of purchasing phones and data plans for everyone in a company.  This makes it tricky to institute a sense of order to off-the-clock communications, where some employees may not have access to a smartphone device or may not want to use it for business purposes.

But this overlooks an even more significant issue: many employees do not even want a corporate-issued phone. Many individuals who are issued with such a device will carry it in addition to their personal cell phone rather than instead of. Corporate privacy policies, which often vary widely from business to business, is one major reason. Another factor is the overall limitations that many businesses place on phones offered.

VMWare has recently attempted to reconcile these issues by ending the distribution of corporate phones within their company and recalling all previous devices issued in this way. Instead, they offer subsidies of monthly data for their employees' personal devices on the assumption that those phones will be used, at least partially, for business interactions. This requires additional training but has significantly lowered costs while also freeing up employee time to spend on IT projects more directly relevant to the profitability of the business. Employees get their privacy and the company gets the business value of regular employee mobile interactions and cost savings.

As consumer choices become more diverse, I expect that we will see many companies trend towards the model that VMWare has adopted. Granted, it may be a slow start, particularly for businesses who feel the need to keep tight wraps on all internal communications. But even within these businesses, stemming the tide of technology will be futile, and more importantly, not fiscally responsible.

Does anyone have experience with companies trending away from the "corporate phone" model? How does your company deal with privacy and regulations on internal communication?

 

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