With tablets and cell phones in the hands of so many Americans (this year, it’s expected that 177 million Internet users will own tablets alone), it’s understandable that these devices are making their way into the office. But companies are still unsure about how they feel about employees bringing — and using — these devices on the job.

Employees claim they’re more productive using their own mobile technology, but is that entirely true? Or is the BYOD trend Bring Your Own Device) just the evolution of playing solitaire on the office computer?

Benefits of BYOD
For small businesses who can’t afford to buy each employee the latest technology, having staff bring their own tablets and phones can be a boon. They save the cost of buying the technology, and the employee is more comfortable using his own device.

Anyone who’s worked in an office with grindingly slow computers knows how frustrating it is to be tethered to ancient technology. But because tablets are lightning fast, using them can indeed help employees get work done faster. Add to that the fact that apps are relatively inexpensive, if not free, and even investing in new software is affordable.

Drawbacks of BYOD
There’s a reason most companies have an IT department: to ensure the security of the devices that access company data. Once you add an unsecure device like an employee’s phone or tablet, you put that data at risk. Should the device be stolen or lost, that proprietary information could get in the wrong hands. And if the employee leaves the company, he’s walking out with access to the company’s system.

For IT, trying to add security to these devices can be a headache. Most companies don’t yet have a policy for how to add external devices to the system, and setting up a firewall or other security measures for these devices could take IT staff away from more important work.

Additionally, not everyone has (or wants) technology, so having some staff that brings devices to work could create discord with the rest of the team. Then there’s always the question of what an employee is actually doing on the device. Checking his Facebook page? Playing Angry Birds? Because he’s “under the radar” in terms of the Internet restrictions set on office devices, he’s got no limits to what he can do when no one’s watching.

Determining Your Company’s BYOD Policy
If your staff has started bringing in tablets, it’s time to set your stance on the subject. How do you feel about them bringing technology of their own into the office? How many people would actually use devices — is it enough to justify allowing it for everyone? Or is it just a handful that might cause more distraction to the others?

Consider what you do at your company. If you have a team of salespeople, using tablets to present sales proposals and get clients to sign up instantly can be a huge boost for the company. But if you run a dentist’s office, there may not be a benefit to adding the technology.

Mobile technology has many benefits…in the right environment. Make your decision and stick to it. Whether you allow devices in the office or not, your employees will respect your decision.