06/25/2014 09:13 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2014

Securing the Mobile, Wearable, Anywhere Workplace

One day, your desk will be irrelevant. Your stop-and-go commutes will end. Your briefcase will sit empty. I'm not talking about changes that will come with your retirement. Workplace transformation is happening today, and its effects will continue to spread as new technologies enable knowledge workers to do their jobs from multiple devices and innumerable locations. There's lots of good news in this shift. In terms of team productivity, enterprise overhead costs, employee work-life balance, talent acquisition and other factors, the mobile, wearable, anywhere workplace could be a big plus for business -- as long as companies solve the associated data security challenges.

A cross-generational push for workplace transformation
By 2020, chances are good that the majority of your employees will identify themselves as Millennials. The workers born in the '80s and '90s are bringing high-tech, collaborative habits into the workplace. They are the employees most likely to add their thoughts to documents from their tablets after hours, or to throw a digital file into a folder in the cloud to share with a colleague or work on later.

In the meantime, your Gen X employees are pushing for work-from-home privileges. The hours they used to spend commuting now go to activities that increase their productivity and engagement with work. These staffers are also likely to share files in the public cloud if you don't offer them other choices, and they're probably accessing corporate material from insecure networks (think free coffee-shop WiFi).

Even the Boomers on your team, many of whom are moving toward retirement, are contributing to this transformational moment. They are searching for ways to communicate and store their institutional knowledge for the workers who will move up after they're gone.

Technology trends transform, but raise security concerns
Meanwhile, technological advances are giving professionals the tools they need to untether themselves from the office and their computers. As the Internet of Things expands, for example, more and more of your teams' devices will be connected or connectable. The mobile desktop is also proliferating, and more of the players in your company will treat their smartphones and tablets in the same way they once leveraged their desktops and laptops.

Business leaders should also keep an eye on how their employees are using wearable technology. Most of the uses for these products right now are more consumer-focused, but it's a matter of time before wearable tech is adopted into the workplace to help professionals do their job more effectively. Services based in the public cloud have already become influential with knowledge workers, who no longer rely on IT's approval of their on-demand content-sharing practices.

All of these advances, however, raise security questions. If a medical professional monitors a patient with a wearable device, for example, what are the HIPPA compliance implications? What new vulnerabilities are hackers finding in your network thanks to the Internet-connected devices your team uses? Are your employees storing confidential company information in leak-prone cloud folders? And if a staffer accidentally leaves his iPad in the back of a cab, what does that mean for the confidential files he had stored on it?

These are the kinds of questions that push reactionary leaders to resist change. "If the mobile, wearable, anywhere workplace is insecure, let's go back to the way things were," they say. But of course, it's too late to go back, and there are too many potential benefits to moving forward. Instead, we should answer the security questions raised by workplace transformation with new approaches.

Defending the network is a constant battle. Protecting devices is nearly impossible. But securing the data? That is doable, and a data-centric security approach makes the most sense in an environment where workers want to share, edit and collaborate with peers inside and outside your organization, from any device and any location. As workplace transformation continues, secure sharing will give you the ability to protect data, set permissions, track activity and revoke access -- all without hindering the mobility, flexibility and productivity your teams crave.