Is it bad to give employees too many tech options?

I’ve long believed companies should offer workers a choice in the technology they use in the office and when working remote. Doing so lets employees use what they feel is the best choice of devices for their work, it can help attract and retain staff, it lessens the likelihood workers will go rogue and source their own technology (a.k.a. shadow IT), and it establishes a positive relationship between IT and the rest of an organization.

Companies like IBM and SAP have documented their experiences in moving to an employee-choice model and have declared it a success. But does that mean it would work for every company? And how do you decide which way to go?

The most important question in developing (or expanding) an employee-choice model is determining how much choice to allow. Offer too little and you risk undermining the effort’s benefits. Offer too much and you risk a level of tech anarchy that can be as problematic as unfettered shadow IT. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Every organization has unique culture, requirements/expectations, and management capabilities. An approach that works in a marketing firm would differ from a healthcare provider, and a government agency would need a different approach than a startup.

Options also vary depending on the devices employees use — desktop computing and mobile often require differing approaches, particularly for companies that employ a BYOD program for smartphones.

PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, and other desktops

Most employee-choice programs focus on desktops and laptops. The default choice is typically basic: do you want a Windows PC or a Mac? Most often, the choice only extends to the platform, not specific models (or in the case of PCs, a specific manufacturer). Keeping the focus on just two platforms eases administrative overhead and technical support requirements. It also allows companies to leverage volume purchases from one partner in order to receive bulk discounts.

The rise of Chromebooks in business expands that choice, as does the use of other operating systems such as varying flavors of Linux or specific versions of Windows. Although Windows 11 has been out for some time now, many organizations are still tied to Windows 10 — partly for simplicity of support and partly because many older PCs don’t meet the requirement of Windows 11. 

Google is making a play for the enterprise by offering ChromeOS Flex, which turns aging PCs and Macs into Chromebooks. This allows companies to continue to use machines that have dated or limited hardware, but it also means adding support for ChromeOS devices. Because Flex is so new, it’s not clear just how feasible it is with varyious hardware configurations.

Then there’s the option of going beyond just specific platforms. Although hardware uniformity makes it easier to deploy, manage, and support a fleet of devices, some users might need specific models, specs, or manufacturers. And even a minimal amount of hardware choice can greatly expand the overhead for deployment and support, particularly when you use multiple manufacturers.