A decade ago, your mobile phone number may not have meant much. In the days before number porting, mobile phone numbers were transient. If you switched carriers or moved, you got a new number.
Things are a bit different today. You can take your number with you from one mobile carrier to another, you can port it VOIP services like Vonage, or forwarding services like Google Voice, and you can even port it to a landline phone. Your phone number, much like your personal email address or Twitter account, belongs to you for as long as you want to keep it.
That can create a problem for companies implementing BYOD programs. If an employees bring their own phones, they also bring their own numbers. For many employees, particularly those that are mobile professionals, their mobile number is the go-to number to reach them. When such an employee leaves that company, what happens to his or her phone number?
That may seem like a minor headache and, for many companies and employees, it isn’t a big deal. If the employee in question is a salesperson, marketing executive, or a business to business account manager, however, things may not be so simple. If customers, reporters, or clients are used to calling an employee’s mobile number, then he (or she) make take important contacts to a competing company when he leaves. Depending on the terms that the employee leaves under, a company may need worry about confidential information that he might mention to important contacts if they call his mobile number without knowing that he’s been terminated.
To use an old-school phrase, it’s the modern equivalent of taking your rolodex with you when you walk out the door.
According to CIO’s Tom Kaneshige, those types of concerns are a big factor for some companies in the decision to support BYOD programs or to avoid them or to exclude certain employees from them.
There are, of couse, some ways around this challenge. Google Voice, which offers users one or more numbers that can be forwarded to any phone number or to a VOIP session is one common solution. Good old-fashioned forwarding through a company phone system is another one. In addition to call forwarding, Google Voice also offers voicemail and texting services, which can be helpful but introduce another concern since any messages, email transcripts of messages, and texts exist beyond a company’s reach in a user’s personal Google account. Basic call forwarding comes with fewer potential issues. In most cases, however, it also comes with fewer capabilities.
Two further options are available for Android handsets that aren’t options on an iPhone. First is the ability to run a virtual instance of the mobile OS, like running Windows on Mac using Parallels. The virtual phone gets its own number, voicemail, text capabilities, and even its own contacts and apps. When an employee leaves, the VM can be deleted. The second option is phones that support multiple SIM cards. These are most popular in Asia, but they are also common in Europe and other markets where users may have accounts with multiple carriers in different countries to avoid roaming charges. That same functionality can be used to give employees a company SIM card instead of a phone.
Some companies have taken to simply writing number ownership into their BYOD policies – dictating that users give up the number or stating that an employee owns his or her number but must inform any business contacts when leaving the company.
Ultimately, there is no real rule when it comes to this situation. VMWAre, for example, went the opposite direction that most companies choose when it mandated BYOD for all staff and made turned their business mobile numbers into personal mobile numbers.
All in all, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a company suing a former employee for a phone number (or vice versa). After all, that’s already happened with one high profile Twitter account.