The Lone Coder Reflections for the Unsung Linux Saviours
by Ken O. Burtch
BYOD: The End of Silly IT Contracts?
"You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible."
-- Anton Chkhov (Russian author and playwright)
Wasting money and resources on unrealistic techniques has
always been a problem in technology companies. As Robert L. Glass pointed
out in his book "Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering", people have
mistakenly put their faith in smarter editors, extreme programming,
agile development, CASE tools, object-oriented programming, Service Oriented
Architecture, etc. ... none of which have proven to be a radical magic bullet for
Software business owners have wasted time and resources
on a similar problem: the employee agreement. What was once a sheet or two
of paper has grown into small novels of legalism containing Non-Disclosure
Agreements, Non-Compete Agreements, use of personal electronics and
corporate Internet, criminal checks. In some cases, employees are even
forced to undertake credit checks, even though there is no correlation between
poor credit and crime.
When I spoke with an Human Resources lady last week, she
explained these kind of provisions are necessary because "companies have to
protect themselves" from their own employees, much like King Kong demanding
protection from Fay Wray.
Elaborate, legalistic employee agreements simply don't work.
Canadian courts are traditionally hostile towards companies that sue their
own people. So called "iron clad" contracts never hold up in court: the
company must justify what such a contract is necessary, and they never can.
These agreements often violate an employee's legal rights, such as the
right to make copies of materials addressed to them.
Trials are also very costly, and the minor financial damages claimed by
companies seldom justify an expensive trip to court. To the best of my
research, no company has ever successfully sued an employee under these
type of agreements.
There are other costs as well:
Wasted money spend on legal fees for something that doesn't work.
Additional licenses must be purchased for software that an employee may
already own on their own devices.
Wasted technology for supplying extra phones, laptops or other
devices to employees to separate personal items from corporate items
Wasted time as employees have to do additional work without
benefit to the company, such as copying files around
Legal conflicts because business and personal life cannot be
cleanly separated. For example, having to work from home on a non-corporate
computer because of a business emergency.
Loss of morale as these deals are one-sided. Employees are deemed
untrustworthy while management in North American companies has a lengthy
history of fraud and corruption
Recently, companies have been going to extremes, adding
"still legal even if this is illegal" type clauses in contracts. This,
effectively, says the company believes itself above the law and is telling
the judge what to decide, which practically guarantees the employee agreement
will be thrown out if it ever gets to court.
However, some companies have been shying away from such
wasteful agreements. Here's a couple of examples.
Two-way Agreements. In this type of agreement,
the management of the company makes similar promises to the employee that
they expect the employee to make to the company. The management agrees
not to not disclose information indicated as confidential by the employee.
The management agrees not to compete against the employee if the employee
should leave. By creating two-way agreements, the company hopes to restore
trust between management and employees and instill a sense of teamwork.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). This is even more
interesting. These agreements discard the artificial barrier between personal
and corporate. Employees are expected to bring their own electronics, such
as cell phones and laptops, with whatever software, personal notes, web
services they are comfortable with to do their job.
This kind of agile agreement
is driven, not so much by a desire to save money, as to avoid looking
foolish before clients. When a phone rings, and the employee fumbles to
find whether its the business phone or his personal phone, or when the
employee must run two laptops, one for business and one for personal,
it presents a poor corporate image to the company's clients. Bringing one laptop
and one phone looks more professional.
The BYOD approach brings a number of other advantages:
It acknowledgs that legalistic agreements don't protect the company
Less wasted money on licenses and legal fees
Less wasted electronics
Builds trust and provides a sense of teamwork and cooperation
Allows IT workers not to have to waste time and money duplicating work
Promotes proper wages for IT workers so they can keep their equipment in good condition
As to the HR woman I was speaking with, she went on to say
how restrictive "real" companies like financial institutions were. One of
the best employee agreements I ever saw was working for Mackenzie Financial
Corporation, a multi-billion dollar Canadian mutual fund company, that had
a short agreement with a small list of requirements, strictly spelled out
with time and money limits, completely unlike the agreements many employees
are forced to sign today. At the iTech Toronto 2011 Summit, Michael
O'Neil, CEO of "IT in Canada", forecasted a growth in BYOD as a way of doing
business. I hope he was right. It was time to get real and
work together to produce cool products. Let's stop giving money to lawyers
and start to make lots of money.