Historically, the introduction of new technology in the workplace has been closely controlled by management and IT professionals. The advent of smart phones and tablets has changed this model in much of the developed world as employees bring their own devices, and ideas about how best to use them, to the office.

In a recent survey of companies from industrialized economies, 60% reported that most of their employees used personal computing devices at work. Companies that were once reluctant to accept consumer-driven change at the office have come to accept, if not embrace, an approach that has led to increased sales, productivity and greater flexibility and worker satisfaction.

Just over three years after the launch of the first commercially successful tablet computers, the consumer-driven office is quickly reshaping the way business is done in emerging markets as well. However, in emerging market nations such as Vietnam, the relevant legal regimes have struggled to keep pace. As a result, businesses that wish to benefit from consumer-driven office technology must take care to ensure compliance with privacy, advertising, publication, telecommunications, information security, internet content and other relevant laws and regulations.

Employers have discovered that the ways that employees use technology in their private lives inform how they will be most productive using technology at work. Just as in their private lives, employees in today’s office collaborate in real time using a variety of applications on their smart devices, exploit social media, collaborate via applications and store and share documents on the cloud. The result is a more collaborative, less centralized and more mobile IT workspace. While these changes confer important benefits, they also create significant risks when companies fail to update their IT / computer use policies to keep pace with changes in the workplace and the law.

Like other emerging market jurisdictions, Vietnam’s privacy laws are still developing as legislators struggle to develop regulations that keep pace with changes in the way people live and work. Vietnam still does not have a unified privacy law, or a specialized law protecting privacy in the employment context. In general, a loss of control over the technology, and in particular the devices, that employees use to communicate for work purposes in the modern office can result in a weakening of employer’s authority and ability to monitor work-related communications. In order to ensure compliance with the law, company policy and to uphold the corporate image and values, care must be taken to make sure that management has the proper authority and means to appropriately maintain visibility of, and successfully address, employees' improper use of social media, chat applications and the cloud using employer-provided or personal smart devices that may negatively impact the company’s business. Therefore, computer use and other relevant employment policies must be updated and tailored to the practical realities of the modern office and enforcement trends under local law.

The widespread use of social media for marketing, customer service and other more specialized purposes facilitates communication with customers and stakeholders, provides better and more timely market information and leverages existing company initiatives. However, in Vietnam and other emerging markets, the use of social media may also pose significant legal risks. Social media campaigns may run afoul of advertising and publications laws as the authorities of Vietnam and other emerging market jurisdictions try to regulate what they may regard as unauthorized foreign advertisements targeted towards consumers in their jurisdictions.

New reporting requirements for “internet incidents” and “data breaches” and other information security regulations are being developed and implemented that may be relevant to the use of social media for business purposes. In Vietnam, in particular, there is a notable trend towards greater control over on-line content in general which may - depending on a number of factors - require registration or possibly secondary licensing for social media sites used for business purposes.

It is likely that the rapid adoption of smart devices by consumers in emerging markets will herald the same rapid change in office technology that is now being witnessed in more developed jurisdictions. Although companies in emerging markets must embrace these changes or lose competitive advantage, they must also carefully manage risks by keeping their computer use and other relevant corporate policies up to date with fast-changing developments in the law, and by introducing appropriate measures or controls for the use of social media, personal devices and other aspects of the new office to mitigate against potential legal liability.

Andrew Fitanides