Bigger than BYOD: The iffy future of the corporate office

There are lots of reasons for knowledge workers to say no to the company office, as well as some challenges

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All the disadvantages of avoiding the office
Of course, there is no free lunch. My home office costs me. I pay for the equipment, broadband, and so on -- including the space I set aside in the house to work in. I get not a dime from the company for it. According to management, the company provides me an office and the equipment I need to do my job, including that laptop I could use at home if I wanted (I don't). Why should the company pay for it again? Mine doesn't. Yours probably doesn't either.

The company allows BYOD for equipment that meets IT's security policies, but it's on the employees' dime -- and not everyone has the cash. As a manager, I make a decent salary in the context of my industry. But many employees earn less, so buying a home computer, paying for broadband, paying for a second phone line or upping the cell plan to account for work calls, finding the space in their home to work, and the rest of it can quickly become an insurmountable barrier.

For each person not in the office, companies net anywhere from $500 to $2,000 (or more in big cities) in monthly workspace savings; however, those reductions rarely go to the employee to cover their work-at-home costs. Beyond the issue of who owns the furniture and equipment, there's a widespread belief in executive offices that the commute savings (time and money) and greater flexibility are sufficient remuneration.

Those hoteling users I mentioned? They tend to be for salespeople, marketers, analysts, consultants, and the like -- people whose work is largely self-directed and who are well paid and/or rarely at fixed location. Meanwhile, admins, accountants, and so on typically work at a fixed space in a company office, using whatever they're given.

Even if there's no financial issue for the employee, there's the question of technology management. When you essentially run your own network and provision your own computer equipent, you are your own IT support. A geek like me is fine with that -- in fact, I prefer it. But most knowledge workers aren't geeks; they're experts in other arcane matters. For many if not most people, a home office is often inferior, limited to a cheap PC, a dangerously unergonomic chair and desk setup (or, worse, kitchen table), basic DSL, difficult-to-use remote access, and nonexistent backup and security practices.

PCs have been around for 30 years, so the home employee's cluelessness is not quite as dire as some IT support folks would have you believe. But most people are at best passable at handling these issues, so they make do with mediocre work environments. It's a challenge I hope both HR and IT take on by providing recommendations, ergonomic consulting, and some level of IT support for at least the recommended equipment. (It's a reality that IT can only go so far given the variety of configurations among employees, as we all know firsthand from the support we get from consumer product companies dealing with infinite variations of customer issues.)

Consumerization and ITization go hand in hand
The consumerization label is widely known, but another one that pops up occasionally is ITization, meaning the need for individuals to have some IT expertise for their own computing equipment and services, both what they have at home and what they bring into their work situations. I don't see ITization as separate; it's simply a facet of consumerization, which is about technologically empowered users and how they shape technology products, IT's role, and work processes.

Nonetheless, we need to get our heads around ITization. You can't have technologically empowered users if they can't make good technology decisions and support their preferences. BYOD, choose your own device, working on the go, and working at home all involve consumerization and some level of ITization.

And if not having a standard corporate office is the right strategy for you or part of your workforce, ITization -- including the costs of space, equipment, and technology -- becomes a big issue.

This article, "Bigger than BYOD: The iffy future of the corporate office," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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