Julia Gorham is a partner and head of DLA Piper’s Asia employment practice. She has a particular focus on contentious employment disputes, as well as conducting internal and regulatory investigations for clients.
Promoting personal devices in the Hong Kong workplace has its pitfalls
With the rapid advancement of portable and connected technology, many employees now prefer to use their personal devices at work, as they are often more advanced than the devices provided by their employers.
Likewise, many employers see the cost benefits of employees using their own devices. Companies who have a BYOD (bring your own device) arrangement generally save on costs, as they do not have to purchase smartphones or laptops for their employees.
The blending of both personal and professional use of devices and apps has grown in the past few years – and is swiftly becoming the norm in the workplace. There are many advantages to a BYOD work policy, but there are also risks if these policies are not implemented effectively.
Initially, BYOD may put an additional burden on IT teams, who will need to adapt individual devices for use in the organisation. IT help desks may not be able to quickly resolve issues that occur in a variety of individual devices of varying quality. As such, it is crucial for business leaders to work with the HR, IT and risk departments when planning the implementation of a BYOD policy.
Studies have shown that employees are more productive when using their own devices and that BYOD increases staff morale. Hong Kong has one of the longest working weeks in the world, and currently does not have any legislation related to working hours or family-friendly employment rights. By implementing a BYOD policy and encouraging employees to work from home, employers may benefit from supporting their staff members, particularly those balancing commitments to home and work. This may play an important role in retaining existing talent in the organisation, while attracting talent who wish to work in a less traditional office environment.
BYOD does not always aid work-life balance, however. With work-related information accessible via personal devices, employees may feel that they are consistently on the clock and struggle to switch off. There needs to be a careful reframing of the corporate culture, in which expectations from the organisation are outlined.
It is helpful to have a clear communication plan to outline the rationale for BYOD, as well as the implications for misuse.
BYOD policies need to be clearly drafted to ensure that they are compliant with local law, and protect the organisation’s best interests. When implementing a BYOD policy, employers should ensure that all employees understand the terms outlined, particularly with regard to reimbursement costs, costs of lost devices and access rights to data on the devices – including personal communication.
As devices contain personal data and communication, employers need to ensure that they are not breaching data privacy laws. Under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, personal data should not be collected from employees unless: the data is collected for a lawful purpose; collection is necessary for, or directly related to, the employment purpose; and the data is adequate and not excessive.
Observing this law is particularly important in cases where organisations may need to remotely wipe a device of all data to avoid a security breach, which will delete personal files. Under Hong Kong privacy law, employers have a duty to safeguard any personal data from unauthorised or accidental corruption. Employers also have the duty to introduce measures to safeguard accidental wiping of personal data.
Another frequent issue resulting from BYOD systems arises when employee contracts end or are terminated. Employers may need access to personal devices to ensure that employees are not taking confidential information with them when they leave the company.
To avoid any risk, the BYOD policy and termination documents should clearly state that the employee has an obligation to remove all company information on their mobile device.
While a BYOD policy is budget-friendly – as it brings down the cost of phones and laptops that need servicing and updating – and can aid work-life balance initiatives, there are crucial infrastructure and policy issues that must be carefully thought through before the roll-out of such a programme in an organisation.
Collaboration between HR, IT and legal teams will help to avoid delays or major risks when implementing a BYOD policy.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Promoting personal devices has its pitfalls.