How to make the most of bringing the iPad to work

Whether a company supplied iPad or you're bringing your own to work, here's how to do it right.

Your work tasks may not support the use of an iPad, but Apple's tablet works well for many. Whether you're thinking of bringing your own iPad to work or have had one supplied by your employer, a few simple steps will help you get the most out of your little cubicle mate.

iPad Air palmed
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Most of these best practices will apply to any tablet in the office, while some are specific to the iPad. Later model iPads, iPad Air and iPad Air 2, will work the best but older models can be useful, too.

Know your company's BYOD policy by heart

Those bringing their own iPad to work need to realize that while it's your device, it's sort of the company's too. It's easy to fall into a mindset of "It's mine and I can do what I want." That's mostly true, but the fact is any documents you create for the company belong to it. They are the product of the work they pay you to do, and just as it is on company provided tools, documents produced on your iPad belong to them.

If you're lucky, your employer will have defined policies pertaining to the BYOD program. These are in place to determine how the company willl handle all situations arising from employees using their own equipment for performing corporate tasks. 

Read these policies carefully, preferably before bringing your iPad to work. Make sure you understand what you can, and more importantly, cannot do with your iPad at work. Follow these policies to the letter, especially if they detail what apps are approved for use for work. You may have other apps you prefer but it's imperative you stick to the approved list.

If the policies dictate activities that are not allowed, do not ever do them. Sneaking something past IT because it's your iPad is not worth potential conflict with your bosses as consequences can be severe. It may not seem fair that you can't do some things on your own iPad, but that's just the way it is for BYOD situations.

Poor 4G connection
Typical LTE connection Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

LTE all the way

Many companies with BYOD programs will pay for (or reimburse you) for the cost of data plans. If so, if you've yet to buy an iPad be sure to get one with integrated 4G LTE. This has several advantages that will make both your work and personal iPad use easier.

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Cellular connections like LTE are more secure than public hotspots. If the company is paying for it don't ever use public hotspots, turn on the LTE. Chances are the connection will be faster anyway.

If your company permits it, using LTE for personal activities can be a good way to keep them separate from work activities. If you primarily use the iPad in the office over the corporate Wi-Fi network, dropping off to LTE for occasional personal activities keeps your information off the network and private.

Learn the apps

Using an iPad at work can feel less technical in nature than using a company laptop. The impression that anyone can use iPad apps without training is common. While many tablet apps are simple to use, apps for work can be quite sophisticated. This is especially true of office suites like Apple's iWork or Microsoft's Office.

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Getting the most out of using these apps means spending time to become familiar with the features and how to use them. Company provided training should be taken if available. Just because the iPad is a "simple" tablet, that doesn't mean the apps don't require as much time as desktop apps to learn.

Keep work and play separate

Work-provided iPads shouldn't be used for personal activities, but personally owned tablets certainly will be used for both work and play. To avoid conflicts, maintain a hard line separating the work stuff from your personal stuff.

One way to do this is to organize your iPad in the beginning to keep personal apps and storage away from the work stuff. Most companies now support cloud storage such as OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive. If yours does, use the cloud to store all work documents. Set up all apps used in the office to automatically store documents in the company preferred cloud.

Personal documents can be stored locally on the iPad, keeping them separate from those created on the job. 

Visual cues are a good way to organize the iPad along these lines. It is helpful to move all app icons for work to a home screen page, and your own apps to another. This is a good trick to make sure you don't mix work and play.

Get a good case

Whether you have a company iPad or your own, you'll want a case to protect it since you're probably going to be using it on the move. There are lots of good cases available for the iPad. Those that support using the iPad propped at variable viewing angles are extremely useful, and usually have a handy portfolio form for easy transport.

ClamCase Pro
ClamCase Pro Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

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While many apps, Excel for the iPad in particular, have good onscreen keyboards, many iPad users will find a case with a physical keyboard to be desirable. There are a lot of these on the market in various forms. There are portfolios, simple covers, and others that are full laptop shells for the iPad. It's worth taking a look at the different models and trying out the keyboards if possible.

See related Top keyboards for the iPad Air and iPad mini

One thing most keyboards for the iPad have that onscreen keyboards lack are four arrow keys. These make working with office apps much easier than it can be without them.

Conclusion

Using an iPad for work is not for everyone, but may be perfect for some. Having a tablet that is used for both work and personal activities requires some thought and preparation to keep the two worlds from colliding.

Understanding the company's rules governing using iPads at work is vital to making it a good experience for both you and your employer. Don't do prohibited things with the iPad, and use allowed activities to full advantage.

After using the iPad at work a while, you might uncover other uses or procedures that will benefit everyone. Tell the folks supporting the iPad, respectfully of course, and perhaps they'll see things your way and make changes to the program.