Managing tablet computers in the workplace

The rise of tablets has prompted interesting questions about how companies should handle device distribution and legislate usage.

The demand for tablet computers seems to be rising by the day. After a relatively short time on the market, employees have quickly realized that they can now combine their personal and business interests and needs all in one handy, portable device, and now are looking for support.

With mounting sales of the iPad 2, Kindle Fire and tablet/phone hybrid Samsung Galaxy Note, companies are now faced with the conundrum of how to govern the purchase and distribution of these devices. Some companies seem content to purchase their own tablets and disseminate them to their employees as they see fit, while others will offer a stipend or reimburse employees should they choose to buy one. And some companies have no plan in place at all.

“There’s no firm rule,” says Andrew Siegel, vice president and assistant general counsel in CBS’ law department. He says certain lawyers in his department have requested to have devices they personally purchased put on the system, while the general counsel also bought iPads for a few people to test and see if there was a business use.

Siegel believes tablet distribution and management should fall under most companies’ standard IT guidelines, just like if an employee has a personal cell phone that they use for business. And the same goes for when the company owns the device.

“If you’ve got a company-issued device and you use it for personal and such, it’s subject to company’s IT policy and you will treat it accordingly,” he says.

Another issue for employers to iron out is how to handle employees who use their devices for both personal and business purposes. Similar to when the iPhone was first released, many employees have begun to clamor for their employers to support business use of the device before legal teams have drawn up effective usage policies.

“The question is, ‘How do you protect the integrity of the business connections and security of that information while giving people the flexibility to use it for gaming, personal banking, news, pictures and music?’” asks Levenfeld Pearlstein Executive Director Angela Hickey. “That’s a challenge. But because of the technology, it’s not insurmountable—it just needs to be addressed.”

At Hickey’s Chicago-based law firm, she says the attorneys are on their own when it comes to the personal stuff.

“It’s incumbent on them to synch with iTunes or iCloud or however else they keep up with their personal apps, but we don’t get involved in that at all,” she says.

But Levenfeld Pearlstein may be ahead of the pack when it comes to managing this dynamic.

“I don’t think a lot of people have thought about this yet,” Siegel says. 

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