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The Millennials are filling up the workplace with new habits, preferences and expectations of technology. What do these new ways of working mean for company policy and security?

Corporate IT managers are faced with the challenge of finding ways to accommodate the shifting mobility landscape – where home technology tends to exceed that used at work – without creating vulnerabilities for company data.

In the shadows

For many Millennials, also known as Generation Y and born between 1981 – 2000, BYOD (or bring your own device) is the default way of working. If they are coming directly from a university environment they will be used to working on a mixture of personal devices, university-owned IT and cloud storage. In essence they use whatever tools will get the job done which, while being a bonus for productivity, causes havoc for IT departments trying to keep sensitive data within their own control.

These activities, which occur out of sight of the IT department, are often collectively referred to as ‘shadow IT’. This could include sending files via personal web accounts, making use of consumer storage services or taking documents out of the building on a personal hard drive, leaving no trace.

Combatting this problem can be difficult for companies committed to restricting employees to corporate-owned devices. Restrictive policies are likely to discourage Millennials, who will seek more freedom and flexibility elsewhere and even with the strictest policies there are likely to still be regular infringements from staff who feel overly constrained. Within the 21-32 year old age group, 12 per cent admit to storing work passwords using personal cloud based accounts, 16 per cent admit to doing the same with financial information, 22 per cent with critical private documents such as contracts and business plans and 33 per cent to storing customer data1.

Embrace the change

One of the most effective ways of dealing with this is by implementing a secure BYOD or Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) policy. Giving your staff the freedom to work from their own devices in a secure way can alleviate many of the frustrations felt by employees who feel tethered to out of date technology while protecting the interests of the business.

BYOD doesn’t have to mean handing over all control and responsibility to the users and nor does it have to lead to extra work for already stretched IT resources. Using the correct device management software will enable IT managers to get secure access to employees' smartphones and tablets, monitor use and even update security settings over the air. BYOD also brings extra benefits for data protection as users have usually invested their own funds into the device, they have a vested interest in keeping it safe, leading to fewer ‘left on train’ incidents.

Far from viewing this shift as a threat, businesses should be looking at Millennial ways of working as an opportunity to support greater productivity and pave the way for flexible working practices that boost employee satisfaction. All that’s needed is the right strategy, technology and policies with security at the heart.