by Curt Finch

Is Your Company’s Software Exiting with Employees?

Apr 16, 20124 mins
Consumer ElectronicsIntellectual PropertyLegal

When a company allows employees to use their own laptops as their primary computer, should they install company-purchased software on that computer?

There is an interesting situation emerging due to the increasing prevalence of personal laptops in the office. As it becomes acceptable and even encouraged to use a personal laptop for work-related purposes, the question of software installation is bound to come up. Many times, it is necessary to install productivity software on a work computer. Microsoft Office, Adobe software, Final Cut Pro, and many other programs are necessary for particular roles. The question becomes: When a company allows employees to use their own laptops as their primary computer, should they install company-purchased software on that computer?

At first glance it may seem like a bad idea, but consider that there are economic and efficiency benefits for allowing an employee to use their own computer, particularly if it has advanced capabilities relative to existing office computers. In many cases, it is possible to save money and increase productivity by doing this. It is important, however, to preserve the value of a company’s software investments and make sure people cannot walk out the door with those programs. Following are some tips to limit the abuse of company software while allowing for the flexibility and potential value of personal computers in the office.

1. Set Clear Usage Rules

Believe it or not, this is often the best way to curb any potential issues. I believe it is actually very rare for employees to intentionally undermine company wishes, particularly if the company shows enough respect towards an employee to trust them with valuable software on their personal device.

In most circumstances, employees misuse company property because they simply were not aware of what constitutes a misuse. An employee might think nothing, for instance, of allowing a spouse or friend to use the software to create a personal project, but if your company considers that a breach of security, that needs to be communicated before the software is installed.

Note that clear usage rules are required. Too often an employee agreement takes the form of a vast and complex legal document. If your company requires this level of detail, fine, but employees will likely glance over it without paying much attention. Make sure that usage rules are set out in layman’s terms so that employees can quickly reference them if necessary. Employees will remember a handful of rules much better than a 20-point list.

2. Determine Subscription Availability

A good way to allow for software installs on employee computers while limiting the potential for software going “missing” is to determine whether a monthly or annual subscription is available, and then configure it for manual renewals.

This has many benefits. An employee might only need the software intermittently. When it’s needed, activating a one-month license is generally less expensive than purchasing the software outright. Also, if the software is still on his computer when he leaves the company, the only money lost will be for the amount of time remaining on the license. The entire Adobe software suite can be had in a monthly licensing setup, and many other popular programs can as well. Odds are there is a way to make this work for you.

3. Track All Employee Software

When an employee leaves, it is important to know what licenses are stored on his personal computer to make sure valuable software doesn’t leave with him. Keep an updated list on file that lists all company software, to whom each program is licensed, any license expiration or renewal information, and whether it is kept on a personal or work computer.

It is particularly important to keep track of any auto-renewal licenses. If an employee leaves with software that the company continues to pay for without realizing it, it can become a significant financial drain over time. Employees who leave with company software will likely not report it. Unless the requirement for uninstalling company software is made clear, they may believe that the company simply doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the lost software.

It may or may not be the best decision for your company to allow employees to install software you’ve paid for on their personal computer. There are certainly pros and cons to be considered. Expense and security are just two aspects you need to address when drawing up a policy. If you decide to give it a go, I hope these tips help to ensure a positive and productive experience for everyone involved.

I’d love to hear your experience with this – let me know if you’ve had software go out the door without realizing it.