What to Include in an Effective BYOD Policy

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When spare bedrooms worldwide transformed into home offices in 2020, our physical workspaces finally caught up to our data habits. The line between professional and personal blurred years ago, thanks to laptop computers and smartphones that made company data accessible anywhere. And long after this work approach has gone mainstream (78% of companies report BYOD activities), many companies continue to limp along with half-baked Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. 

Connecting personal devices to your IT infrastructure creates a new world of security exposure and legal questions. So getting your BYOD policy right is critical to protecting your data—and potentially avoiding lawsuits from inadvertently violating an employees’ civil rights. In this post, we’ll cover key concepts that should guide every organization’s BYOD policy. 

Make Sure you Have a Written Policy 

Despite widespread BYOD usage, only 39% of companies report having a formal BYOD policy. Start developing your policy by conducting an accurate inventory of all hardware and software assets in your environment. Without a survey, you probably don’t even know what’s connecting to your network. Then establish official policies for handling it all properly. (This blog provides advice on the first steps in creating an effective mobile device management policy.)  

Define the Devices Covered by the BYOD Policy 

Personal smartphones and tablets are the obvious subject in BYOD. But your policy should specify which ones are allowable, including brand, model and operating system version. Some organizations set up a DMZ (demilitarized zone) that devices must pass through before getting access to the network. This review process can flag devices with outdated operating systems, etc. and require patching prior to connecting to the network. 

And at some companies, an employee logging onto the company VPN through their home computer must agree to let the company’s IT team manage the device. That could include wiping data off the device if it gets compromised. Does your policy specifically address these situations? 

Balance Security With Usability 

Always remember the classic information security triad of confidentiality, integrity and availability. Every policy should include basics like multifactor authentication (MFA) and strong password requirements, but if your BYOD policies are overly restrictive or hard to use, you’ll frustrate users on the availability front and motivate them to look for workarounds. So consider the human factor as you establish your policies. Determine whether you have different groups of users that could require different levels of security. A mobile e-mail user probably doesn’t require the kind of heavy-handed security necessary for someone who regularly accesses sensitive company information remotely. 

Make BYOD More Than Just an IT Issue 

Recognize that your policy has far-reaching HR and legal ramifications and get stakeholders from those areas involved in writing the policies. Most IT teams working in isolation probably won’t take all the relevant factors into consideration. 

For example, if a manager asks the IT team to go hunting on a device for unapproved activities or if the team decides to wipe a device remotely without solid reasons, they may trigger a lawsuit. All data investigations and strong actions involving a personal device should require the approval of at least a second manager, or even a member of the executive team.  

Specify the Support You Will Offer 

Carve out some boundaries for what your call center can help with when it comes to personal devices. As with anything in BYOD, the lines get fuzzy between troubleshooting that’s limited to the company-focused aspects of a device and the device’s general operation. If a personal app is interfering with a company-focused operation on the phone, how deeply do you expect your help desk team to wade into the problem? If an employee takes their device to the local cellular store for tech support, do you have systems in place to protect the data that those technicians could potentially access? 

Describe Banned Apps and Usages 

Some companies outlaw certain apps on personal devices on the grounds that the apps compromise the overall security of the device and data it accesses (TikTok has been at the center of many of these reviews). Some company policies state that BYOD devices should never be connected to public WiFi networks. Will you take those stances? How do you plan to enforce them? 

In some cases, you may decide that certain company information is simply too sensitive to allow any access from a personal device. 

Clearly Communicate the Policy to Employees 

Once your policy is ready, make sure that your HR onboarding process includes a walk-through of a clearly worded, written copy of your BYOD policy. For example, your organization may want to reserve the right to remote wipe a personal device if it gets lost or stolen and has a company e-mail account attached to it. Employees need to understand that possibility and acknowledge that they may lose all their personal data if they agree to abide by the BYOD policy. 

Most BYOD policy issues come from surprising employees by looking at data on their personal device, threatening to wipe the device’s data if it’s compromised, etc. So it’s critical to build clear discussion of the BYOD policy into your HR process before employees connect their personal device to your systems. One of the best ways to head off lawsuits over civil rights violations is to prove that you require all employees to sign a document stating that they have read and accepted the BYOD policy. 

Have a Plan for Removing Access 

When an employee leaves your organization, the process for a company-owned device is straightforward: Turn your devices into HR, along with your ID badge and company credit card. But if an employee has been using their own phone, how do you ensure that you’ve shut down their access to your data? Your policy should include a clear deprovisioning process. 

Keep Revising Your Policy 

Don’t assume a BYOD policy is set in stone. Your policy should evolve over time as your company evolves and adjusts its IT practices and as available technology changes. 

If you need help writing a BYOD policy that makes sense for your organization, contact HBS today

author avatar
Carly Westpfahl