Procter & Gamble tries a bring-your-laptop-to-work program

Companies are trying different tacks to keep employees happy

Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G), which is ranked 20th on the Fortune 500 list, can afford to buy its employees laptops. But it is instead letting several hundred of its workers use their own laptops as part of a workplace experiment.

This pilot program is based on a simple idea: many of P&G's younger employees would rather use their own laptops than corporate-issued systems.

"The employees love it," said Jim Fortner, vice president of IT development and operations at P&G's business services division. He acknowledged that a number of legal and security issues have not yet been sorted out.

To mitigate potential problems, Fortner said P&G got its legal and human resources teams involved early to consider the pilot program's implications. For instance, what happens if the company has to get information off an employee-owned laptop to respond to a lawsuit? To head off potential problems, the pilot involves junior employees and new hires unlikely to be handling sensitive company information. "They are in a low-risk category," Fortner said.

Fortner, who described the pilot program during a panel discussion about employee workplace issues at Computerworld 's Premier 100 conference, is optimistic that any issues can be resolved. And he feels certain the pilot program may well become standard practice at P&G.

"It's going to happen -- I'm convinced," said Fortner, who also believes the program can help reduce the cost of corporate PC support.

While the use of personal devices on a traditional corporate network can create security and legal issues, there's a potential solution: cloud adoption, said Cora Carmody, the CIO of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. When work is done in the cloud, "you care less about what they bring in on their laptops," Carmody said.

One reason to consider allowing employees to use personal devices in the workplace is to bridge the expectations of younger and older employees. That way, companies can create an atmosphere that helps retain younger workers, while keeping older workers happy.

With that in mind, Emily Ashworth, vice president and CIO at American Water Works Company Inc., has tried to make the workplace more comfortable and appealing. That's why Ashworth, among others, had couches installed at the utility. Younger employees started working from them and having their calls forwarded to their cell phones, she said. "It's fascinating to watch the veterans sort of perceive that as lazy."

In fact, Ashworth said, American Water Works has had to help some employees understand that co-workers like to work in different ways. "I sometimes think my job is part therapist," she said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld . Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com .

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