Byod At Work

Anywhere? Anytime? Anyone? How organizational policies affect the availability of online learning and employee personal device usage.

One of the most widely touted benefits of online learning for training is its anywhere, anytime availability. In theory, workers can take courses whenever time permits as long as they have an Internet connection.

But is that really true? Do organizations even want that? Many online courses focus on sensitive topics, such as in-development products, trade secrets, private information about clients and employees, and other types of proprietary topics and processes. In addition, certain classes of employees—especially hourly workers—are entitled to compensation for the time spent in work-related learning, and overtime pay if that occurs on personal time.

So despite the promise of anytime, anywhere learning, for practical reasons, employers might need to limit access to e-learning. In fact, one of the questions the Training staff regularly receives pertains to this issue. So in fall 2016, Training conducted a survey of its readers to find out about the extent to which organizations let people use their personal devices for organization-sponsored training (aka, BYOD or Bring Your Own Device).

Specifically, we wanted to find out:

  • Which devices organizations provide to their workers
  • Whether organizations let people use their own devices to take organization-sponsored training on- and off-site
  • For those organizations that let people use their own devices, which devices they permit
  • What, if any, related policies they established and to which classes of workers these policies and practices apply

We sought responses from internal training managers, including project managers, supervisors, other first-line managers, and higher-level managers because this group is most likely to be aware of their organization’s policies. We recruited these participants from Training magazine’s online database. To make sure participants had managerial responsibilities in organizations whose primary purpose is something other than training and development, the survey began with questions about participants’ job organizations and roles.

Survey Methodology

We sent an e-mail message to every member of the Training magazine community to invite their participation in the study, as well as two reminders, over a four-week period during October 2016. We received complete responses from 153 participants.

Some 9.1 percent of respondents are employed by organizations with 50,000 or more employees; 6.5 percent by organizations with 25,000 to 49,999 employees; 11.8 percent by organizations with 10,000 to 14,999 employees; 9.8 percent by organizations with 5,000 to 9,999 employees; 13.7 percent by organizations with 2,500 to 4,999 employees; 9.1 percent by organizations with 1,000 to 2,499 employees; 11.1 percent by organizations with 500 to 999 employees; 8.5 percent by organizations with 250 to 499 employees; 14.4 percent by organizations with 50 to 249 employees; and 5.9 percent by organizations with fewer than 50 employees.

Participants represent 26 industries. Nearly half, however, represent just four industries: government and military (13 percent); finance and banking (12.4 percent), health and medical services (11.1 percent), and insurance (8.5 percent).

Nearly 90 percent of responses came from the United States. Of those, 20.9 percent of responses came from the U.S. North Central states; 19.6 percent came from the Southwest and Hawaii; 15.7 percent came from the Southeast; 15 percent came from the mid-Atlantic; and the rest from the Northeast and South Central (7.8 percent each) and the Northwest and Alaska (2.6 percent). Of the remainder, 5.8 percent of responses came from Canada; 1.3 percent from elsewhere in the Americas, and 3.3 percent from outside of the Americas.

Device Types

Participants’ organizations issue various types of devices to their employees. Some 83 percent issue desktop computers; 91.5 percent issue laptop computers; 52.3 percent issue tablets (such as an iPad); and 58.8 percent issue smartphones. Only 1 participant said their organization issues ebook readers such as Kindles.

When organizations provide devices to workers, they tend to target the device to the needs of the job rather than issue them to all employees. For example, only 34.6 percent issue desktop computers to all workers. Even fewer issue mobile devices: 15.7 percent issue laptop computers; 5.7 percent issue tablets; and 6.7 percent issue smartphones to all workers. By contrast, other organizations only issue devices to employees who can make the case: 15 percent issue laptop computers; 22.8 percent issue tablets; and 15.5 percent issue smartphones. Only one organization issues desktop computers to this group.

When organizations distribute devices to workers, they seem to do so for purposes other than training. Only 41.7 percent of those that distribute desktop computers and 32.8 percent of those distributing laptop computers expect training to be a primary use of the device. And despite widespread discussions of mobile learning in the field, only 21.4 percent expect training to be a primary use of tablets and 4.4 percent expect training to be a primary use of smartphones distributed to workers.

On-Site vs. Off-Site Training

We wondered whether organizations let workers use their personal devices both on- and off-site to access employer-sponsored training.

On-site use: Slightly more than half (54.9 percent) of those responding to the question let workers use their own devices to participate in organization-sponsored training on-site (that is, training courses the organization formally provides to workers, including live virtual classes, e-learning courses, and ebook courses). Some 45.1 percent do not.

Of the organizations that permit workers to use their own devices on-site to take employer-sponsored training, most allow workers to use mobile devices. Nearly 80 percent allow workers to use their own laptop computers; 82.1 percent allow workers to use their own tablets; and 90.5 percent allow workers to use their own smartphones. The primary exception is e-book readers; only 52 percent allow workers to use their own ebook readers to take training on-site. In addition, 42.8 percent allow workers to use their own desktop computers.

All participants let regular employees use their own devices but are more cautious in letting others use devices on-site for training: 40.5 percent let contractors use their own devices; 25 percent let suppliers use their own devices; and 32.1 percent let customers use their own devices.

Of those organizations that do not let workers use their own devices on-site, the reasons include data security (82.6 percent), firewall issues (68.1 percent), and, to a lesser extent, concerns about support (46.4 percent).

Off-site use: Organizations are more likely to let workers use their personal devices off-site to participate in organization-sponsored training: 62.7 percent allow it, while 37.3 percent do not.

Of the organizations that permit workers to use their own devices off-site to take employer-sponsored training, most permit it on mobile devices. Nearly 97 percent let workers use their own laptop computers; 83.3 percent let workers use their own tablets; and 86.4 percent let workers use their own smartphones. Only 56.2 percent allow workers to use their own desktop computers, and 23.9 percent let workers use their own e-book readers.

All organizations that permit the use of personal devices offsite for employer-sponsored training let regular employees do so. As with on-site training, organizations are more cautious about letting others taking training off-site on their own devices. Only 36.4 percent let contractors do so; 18.7 percent let suppliers do so; and 26 percent let customers do so.

Of those organizations that do not let workers use their own devices off-site for employer-sponsored training, the reasons include data security (86.2 percent), firewall issues (57.9 percent), and concerns about support (40.3 percent). In addition, as one participant working for the government commented, “As a government agency, we work ‘in the sunshine.’ If employees use a personal device for a business purpose, that entire device and all its content become subject to public records laws, meaning they must maintain copies and records and produce them upon request.”

Device Policies and Procedures

In addition to device usage, we asked participants about the extent to which they have formalized policies and procedures for using personal devices for employer-sponsored training.

Some 38.6 percent of participants have a formal, written policy on the use of personal devices on-site to take organization-sponsored training, whether or not they permit such use. Of those that have established policies regarding on-site use of devices, 44 percent identify devices that can be used and 45.8 percent identify devices that cannot be used. Other issues addressed by these policies include security requirements for devices (86.4 percent) and access to a learning management system (38.9 percent). Only 15.2 percent specify which training programs can be taken on-site on personal devices.

Only 24.8 percent of organizations have established formal policies for using personal devices to access employer-sponsored training off-site. The policies cover which devices can be used (50 percent), which devices cannot be used (47.4 percent), security requirements for these devices (74.3 percent), access to a learning management system (16.8 percent), and which training programs can be taken (23.4 percent). As with the use of personal devices for training on-site, in some organizations, personal devices become subject to broader scrutiny because of laws and regulations governing the industry.

In most organizations, the IT group takes the lead for establishing these policies. In 45.7 percent of organizations, IT sets the policies on its own, and, in another 14.4 percent, IT sets the policies with input from Training. Training only sets the policies in 7.2 percent of organizations; in another 9.8 percent, Training does so with input from IT. In the remaining 22.9 percent of organizations, policies are established by Human Resources, Legal, and various executive groups.

Who’s Covered?

Because employer-sponsored training is, by nature, work related, when people participate could determine whether workers are entitled to payment for the time spent learning. For the most part, hourly workers are entitled to payment for all work-related hours. In the U.S., employers often refer to these workers as non-exempt, because they are not exempt from labor laws that establish the basis of pay.

What constitutes “work related” could vary, however, because some employer-sponsored training primarily is intended for either personal development or preparation for a future (perhaps unrelated) work assignment and could be interpreted as not being directly work related.

In this survey, 70.1 percent of participants responding expect hourly workers to take training on their personal devices during regularly scheduled work hours; 5.2 percent expect these workers to take employer-sponsored training outside of regularly scheduled work hours; and 23.9 percent expect training to occur in some combination of work hours and off-hours.

Expectations significantly differ for workers who are paid on salary and, therefore, are exempt from wage and hour rules in most jurisdictions. Employers sometimes refer to these workers as “exempt.” So the timing of when exempt workers take training is not likely to have an impact on payment.

In this survey, 31.2 percent expect people who are not paid hourly to take training on their personal devices during regularly scheduled work hours; 6.2 percent expect these workers to take employer-sponsored training outside of regularly scheduled work hours; and 62.5 percent expect workers who are not paid hourly to take employer-sponsored training in some combination of work hours and off-hours.

What Does This Mean?

This survey suggests that rather than anywhere, anytime learning, access to employer-sponsored online learning has limitations. On the one hand, unless regulations or other privacy considerations mitigate it, most organizations are open to workers using some of their personal devices—especially mobile devices—to take employer sponsored training, on- and off-site. Concerns arise, however, around hourly workers taking training during off-hours; and around contractors, suppliers, and customers taking training on their own devices, especially off-site.

The Low-Down on Devices

Use of personal devices for employer-sponsored training:

Organizations provide these devices to designated departments or job categories:

  • Desktop computers
  • Laptop computers
  • Tablets (such as iPads)
  • Smartphones

Training is not the primary use anticipated for these devices.

Use of personal devices on-site for employer-sponsored training:

  • Primarily laptops and mobile devices (tablets, smartphones)
  • Let all employees use, but limit access to training on personal devices of contractors, suppliers, and customers
  • Policies cover security requirements and, in some instances, which devices may and may not be used
  • Not allowed in industries with data transparency requirements

Use of personal devices off-site for employer-sponsored training:

  • Laptops, mobile devices, and desktop allowed
  • Limits placed on hourly (non-exempt) workers
  • Fewer limits placed on salaried (exempt) workers
  • Let all employees access training off-site, but limit access to training on personal devices of contractors, suppliers, and customers
  • Policies cover security requirements and, in some instances, which devices may and may not be used
  • Typically not allowed in industries with data transparency requirements
  • Policies often established by the IT department
  • Hourly workers expected to take training during work time
  • Salaried workers expected to take training during a combination of work and off-work hours

Saul Carliner, Ph.D., CTDP, is director of Research for Lakewood Media and a professor of Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal.

David William Price is a Ph.D. student specializing in Educational Technology at Concordia University.

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