I have long believed that companies need to offer workers a choice in the technology they use in the office and when working remotely. This allows employees to use what they feel is the best choice of devices for their work, can help attract and retain staff, reduces the likelihood of workers going rogue and procuring their own technology (also known as Shadow IT), and establishes a positive relationship between IT and the rest of an organization.
Companies such as IBM and SAP have documented their experiences moving to an employee choice model and have declared it a success. But does that mean it would work for every business? And how do you decide which way to go?
The most important issue in developing (or expanding) an employee choice model is determining how much choice to allow. Offer too little and you risk undermining the benefits of the effort. Offer too much and you risk a level of technological anarchy that can be as problematic as shadow IT without restrictions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every organization has unique culture, requirements/expectations, and management capabilities. An approach that works at a marketing firm would be different than a healthcare professional, and a government agency would need a different approach than a startup.
Options also vary depending on which devices employees use: desktop computing and mobile often require different approaches, particularly for companies using a smartphone BYOD program.
PCs, Macs, Chromebooks and other desktops
Most employee choice programs focus on desktops and laptops. The default choice is usually basic: do you want a Windows PC or a Mac? Quite often the choice extends only to the platform, not to specific models (or, in the case of PCs, a specific manufacturer). Keeping the focus on just two platforms reduces administrative costs and technical support requirements. It also allows businesses to leverage volume purchases from a partner to receive bulk discounts.
The rise of Chromebooks in the business world expands this choice, as does the use of other operating systems such as Linux or specific versions of Windows. While Windows 11 has been around for some time, many organizations are still tied to Windows 10, partly for ease of support and partly because many older PCs don’t meet the Windows 11 requirements.
Google is playing a game for the company by offering ChromeOS Flex, which turns outdated PCs and Macs into Chromebooks. This allows businesses to continue using machines with outdated or limited hardware, but also means adding support for ChromeOS devices. Because Flex is so new, it’s unclear how feasible it is with various hardware configurations.
Then there’s the ability to go beyond just specific platforms. While hardware uniformity makes it easier to deploy, manage, and support a fleet of devices, some users may need specific models, specifications, or manufacturers. And even a small amount of hardware choice can greatly expand the overhead for implementation and support, particularly when using multiple manufacturers.