Remote-Wiping The Work-Play Distinction
Partially, this article from the Wall Street Journal is about smartphones:
In early October, Michael Irvin stood up to leave a New York City restaurant when he glanced at his iPhone and noticed it was powering off. When he turned it back on again, all of his information—email programs, contacts, family photos, apps and music he had downloaded—had vanished.
The phone looked “like it came straight from the factory,” said Mr. Irvin, an independent health-care consultant.
It wasn’t a malfunction. The device had been wiped clean by AlphaCare of New York, the client he had been working for full-time since April. Mr. Irvin received an email from his AlphaCare address that day confirming the phone had been remotely erased.
More and more employers are moving in the direction of expecting or allowing their employees to use their personal devices for work. It has been the death knell to Blackberry as it turns out, when given a choice, most employees would rather have a really awesome toy than a boring old productivity device.
A couple years ago I had a job doing contract work from home, and it was truly weird having very sensitive customer information on my hard drive at home. Security precautions were in place that might have prevented me from abusing it, but like an employee who works at headquarters there was really only so much that they could do. When that well dried up, though, there the information still was on my computer until I deleted it (which I quickly did).
I can understand why employers would freak out about this. On the other hand, there is some degree of risk that they incur when they allow people to have company information on their personal devices. It doesn’t strike me as particularly reasonable that they should be able to mitigate these risks by any means necessary. While remote wiping falls short of “any means necessary” it is a genuinely drastic step. If you’re that worried about a disgruntled employee using customer data, then to some extent you have to either force employees to use company-issued phones or more reasonably make it very clear what you are reserving the right to do and if employees aren’t cool with that (I wouldn’t be) then you need to issue them phones.
In some ways, I cringe at the thought. For fear, if nothing else, that employers would dictate that you are not allowed to bring your personal phone into work. After all, you can just forward your calls to your work phone, can’t you? Well you can, but chances are pretty good – if you’re the kind of person that spent a whole lot of money on their smartphone – you don’t want to. So where then would that leave you? Probably signing the damn thing anyway and backing everything up.
I say this is “partially” about smartphones because as much as anything it’s about the blurred distinction between work and play. We increasingly fail to leave work at home when we leave the office, and we increasingly bring “play” into the office with us. I got my first Pocket PC in large part to take to work. I had a job that had some periods of great monotony and it was nice to be able to listen to stuff while I worked. Pocket PC’s gave me more stuff to listen to than my Discman. And it doesn’t take a detective to realize that as we’re working more at home, we’re checking Facebook more at work. The same smartphones that they wipe prevent them from using the filters they had previously been using to prevent us from doing that.
Back when I was a working man, the inability to check my personal email at work was extremely aggravating. I remember when a company I was working for started blocking it, I started working less. By checking my email, by knowing that there was nothing going on at home that required my attention, I was able to stay longer. By being able to take a break and leaving a comment on my blog, I was able to stick around for longer. The more informal I could keep things, the more I was able to be flexible. (This was true in a general sense. If I didn’t have to punch a timecard, I would be at the office for longer than I would record, because I knew I wasn’t working the whole time. If I had a timecard, I’d be more likely to leave right at 5 even if I could wait ten minutes and get the results back from a test I was running.)
In an ideal work environment, there is enough bilateral trust here that we can blur these lines. I can use my phone for my job. I can stay a bit longer and bide my time on personal stuff waiting for the results of that last test to come in. Or I could check it from home without my insisting on adding that to my timesheet. Ideally, we could all be salary and just take care of business. Instead, though, employers have to worry about employees milking the clock. Employees have to worry about being on salary as a ticket to working 50+ hours a week on a regular basis. And now they have to worry about damage to their personal property. The lines have to become unblurred, the law has to step in, employees leave earlier than they otherwise might or become more focused on the clock, web filters are installed, and everyone ends up mad.