by Andrew Millard, senior director, marketing, EMEA, Citrix Online

The explosive growth in the adoption of personal communications devices in the workplace, known as consumerisation, is having an impact on businesses as they look to take advantage of improved agility, customer responsiveness and work/life balance offered by a more mobile workforce.

More than one in ten small and medium sized firms in the UK are already successfully integrating the use of personal devices such as iPads, iPhones and Androids within their business. Those who have embraced this more flexible style of working are already reaping the rewards, as they report productivity gains of 30 per cent and more.

These were among the key findings of a recent YouGov survey of more than 700 senior SME managers undertaken on behalf of Citrix Online, which examined how consumer-focused communications devices are supporting the drive towards a more flexible workforce.

However, this positive trend should come with a health warning. The survey also found that, despite continuing concerns over data security, more than half of the firms questioned are not aware of all the devices being used by their staff for business purposes. Of even greater concern, a similar number have no controls in place to monitor or manage such a rapid expansion in the use of non-company devices on behalf of the business.

Internal pressure

Individual employees are keen to use smart phones and tablet computers for business as well as personal use, as they are intuitive, convenient and easy to use. In many cases, they are also seen as offering more sophisticated and useful functionality than those provided by the business.

More than one in five businesses are under greater pressure to increase workforce flexibility than five years ago. The survey found that the greatest driver for this change is internal pressure from the workforce. Previously, external commercial forces or the operational need to cut travel budgets and other costs provided the impetus for change, yet rapidly overtaking these has been the internal demand from employees.

For staff, using consumer technology gives them the ability to work in a way that best suits them, by enabling them to work equally effectively and securely out of the office - whether on the move, at home or in other remote locations. The survey found that this bottom-up pressure was continuing to gain momentum, as over 40 per cent of UK firms had seen this increase over the past 12 months.

Not only is such a move seen as making their lives easier but, for half of those surveyed, the personal device was seen as offering greater flexibility or functionality than that supplied by the employer. Tellingly, among senior executives themselves, the use of such communications tools is already almost ubiquitous, as only six per cent of respondents did not own a personal communications device.

This is a huge change, with major implications for the business. As the boundaries between office hours and personal time become less distinct, managers are losing control of how people work, as individuals want to prioritise what they do. Little wonder then that there is so much resistance to ‘workshifting’, as managers have to adapt to evaluating performance on results over time rather than on the basis of physically seeing them working at their desks.

Yet the adoption of consumerisation within the business should be viewed positively, as these consumer-led technologies enable employees to take charge of their time, by self-prioritising in an effective and controlled way.

The role of collaboration

Though staff can realise the benefits of consumerisation immediately, SMEs have a long way to go in achieving better, more controlled device management to make this happen. However, as the survey found, there is clear movement in the right direction. Many businesses are already adopting secure and proven remote access software, web conferencing solutions and remote IT tools, in supporting the changing way people work.

Looking ahead, more than two-thirds of businesses agreed that the dividing line between business and personal devices will become increasingly blurred, as part of the broader shift towards a more flexible, agile workforce.

In seizing the opportunities which this ‘work anywhere, with anyone’ approach offers with the support of affordable, easy-to-use collaboration tools, the business can drive improvements in customer satisfaction, productivity and staff satisfaction. Properly monitored and implemented therefore, the result of integrating and supporting personal devices in the work environment is that everybody wins.