There are two primary solutions for the debate surrounding employees’ use of mobile devices in the workplace. Companies that want to let employees access email and information on mobile devices can either give employees company-issued devices, or let employees bring their personal devices. These options have been coined “choose your own device” (CYOD) and “bring your own device” (BYOD), respectively. And each has their own sets of benefits and challenges, which have been covered in-depth on our own blog and many others.

So far, the discussion around CYOD and BYOD has focused primarily on the hardware – the devices themselves. But perhaps the solution that provides safest, most secure and most convenient way for employees to work on mobile devices lies not in the hardware, but in the software.A software solution that created phones with two distinct, separate systems – one for work and one for personal use – would provide the best of both worlds. Employees could continue to use their own personal devices, on which a secure virtual environment could be created for work. Thus, the answer may not be strictly CYOD or BYOD, but phones that switch between multiple virtual environments.

Creating multiple virtual environments

Multiple virtual environments aren’t a new concept in computing. For years, the hard drives of some computers have been virtually divided into separate drives, and running two different operating systems on a single computer is fairly common (think of library or school computers that run both Windows and Mac). Other examples include remote desktops that allow IT workers to access and control customers’ computers from other devices, and emulators that let kids (and adults) play old video games on new computers).

The idea of creating a separate virtual environment on a computer to accomplish a specific task is well established. However, it hasn’t yet been widely applied to mobile devices. Initially, companies favored CYOD policies, and employees simply had two devices – there was no need to create separate virtual environments on a single device. But as more and more companies move from CYOD to BYOD, there will be an increasing need for such a solution.

The benefits of multiple environments

There are many potential benefits that could come from focusing on a software-based solution to CYOD and BYOD. From an employee’s point of view, this solution provides the convenience of BYOD. Employees can use their own smartphones or tablets, they don’t have to carry around multiple devices, and, assuming programs are developed to support multiple platforms, can even choose the device manufacturer and operating system they prefer. This solution also reduces potential concerns about the privacy of employees’ personal data.From an employer’s perspective, this solution has the advantages of CYOD policies, too. Most importantly, the virtual environment created for work can be set up to be as secure as the employer needs it to be. The employer can install antivirus software, firewall applications, and password protection requirements. Everything sent and received in the work environment can be encrypted for added security. Advanced programs may even be able to prevent employees from using this environment on unsecured networks.

Along with addressing security issues, a software-based approach can also help address concerns regarding employees’ use of devices both during and after work. Inside the work environment, inappropriate and/or time-wasting sites can easily be blocked. And after hours, access to the work environment can be blocked, so employees are not tempted to work on projects or check work-related emails when not on the clock.

Finally, this approach would make it easier to manage the data on a device after an employee leaves a company. With BYOD, the legality of erasing an employee’s device, which may contain sensitive company information on it, is questionable. But with a multi-environment approach, the work environment could be wiped off of the device, while leaving personal data intact.

A developing solution

Right now, software-based solutions to CYOD and BYOD are not well developed. However, they’re not too far off. In the near future, companies may no longer be discussing CYOD vs. BYOD, but multiple environments for personal devices instead.