Managing a Mobile Workforce
Contractors Ponder the Proper Policies for Employee Phones, Tablets
Do you BYOD or CYOD? While these sound like fun new party acronyms, they’re actually terms to describe how businesses are managing the mobile devices their employees use on the job. BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device and refers to employers that let employees use their personal phones at work. CYOD stands for Choose Your Own Device, which means employers provide employees with work phones and/or tablets, sometimes allowing them to select their device of choice.
According to Richard Harshaw, president of Lodestar Consulting Systems Inc., Cave Creek, Arizona, both of these approaches are popular with HVAC contractors.
“Contractors I talk with seem to be split on this,” he said.
“Most older ones provide the phones and tablets; many of the younger ones tell employees to use their own.”
As mobile technology continues to advance, contractors’ policies are evolving to reflect what works best for their companies and employees.
Supplying Company Devices
The more traditional approach is for a company to provide all mobile devices employees need to perform their work. There’s a good reason why many HVAC contractors still follow this practice, and it can be boiled down into one word: control. When the company owns and supplies all mobile devices, it retains control over phone numbers and can monitor data usage.
In Bayonne, New Jersey, In-Line Air Conditioning Co. Inc. supplies all employees with iPhones and provides managers with iPads. According to vice president Matt Dorans, the company is happy with this approach.
“We tried having the guys supply their phones, but then we had to give them a monthly allowance for them,” he said. “At the end of the day, you lose a certain amount of control, plus the worry of replacing damaged devices.”
Supplying all devices needed for work also streamlines administration and setup.
“The biggest benefit is that all of the guys basically use the same type of phone, so setting up email and software is easier to do with a device you’re familiar working with,” Dorans said.
Blue Flame Heating & Air Conditioning in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, follows a similar practice, according to Amy Turnbull, office and accounting manager.
“We provide iPhones and iPads for all sales, service, and field management employees,” she said. “If an employee leaves our place of employment, we want the phone number to stay with our company and not lose any customers.”
Turnbull explained she is responsible for administering all employee phones. “I set up every device with a company-standard unlock passcode, install our merchant credit card portal, and prepare iCloud email addresses,” she said, noting that employees are not allowed to change these settings.
Allowing Personal Phones
Other contractors have switched away from supplying all work devices as they have found that fewer employees want to carry a work phone.
Kobie Kooling Inc., located in Fort Myers, Florida, used to provide work phones, according to president Fred Kobie, “But, our people didn’t like carrying two phones — one work, one personal,” he said. “So, I made it their choice, as long as they agreed to texting and work call policies.”
Now, each employee decides on his or her own whether to use a personal phone at work or use a company-provided phone. Kobie Kooling also supplies employees with iPads, which are used for invoicing and reports.
“Technology is here, and to fight it will only drive it underground,” Kobie said. “Our open policy allows technicians to communicate and have access to unlimited information with their mobile devices. Having the freedom of technology helps them serve our customers. It helps them locate warranties, parts, specialty items, and even YouTube videos that may help in a technical way.”
Rich Morgan, president of Magic Touch Mechanical, Mesa, Arizona, has also shifted away from providing company phones to every employee. Two years ago, Magic Touch began providing employees with iPad Minis and stopped issuing phones.
“Gone are the days of expensive cell phone minutes, and many people do not want to carry two cell phones, so moving to a BYOD policy on cell phones has worked out well for everyone in the company — as well as for the company,” Morgan said. “As we provide iPads with cellular data plans, we have found less need for cell phones, as there are multiple ways to communicate efficiently with the iPads.”
All employees who have been with Magic Touch for less than two years use their personal phones and company iPad Minis. Some long-time employees still carry company-owned phones, but, overall, Morgan’s goal is to move away from company-issued phones for everyone except equipment salespeople.
“We want to own those numbers [of equipment salespeople] and make sure they are always active because many people call back months or even years after a consultation looking to buy our products and services,” Morgan explained.
Overall, he said, “The greatest benefits to this approach are having an efficient way to communicate with the team or individually. Also, the iPads eliminate the need to provide digital cameras and cell phones.”
Addressing Security Concerns
Regardless how a contractor manages mobile devices, security is still a top concern. “This is a huge area for abuse,” Harshaw warned. “If credit card data is stored on devices and the device is lost or hacked, great harm can result.”
He pointed to Target and Home Depot as examples.
“Other customer data, such as addresses, names, and front door key locations, are stored on a device and could be compromised by careless users or exploited by hackers.”
Moreover, Harshaw said: “Any credit card gateway that links directly to the company’s bank account could be exploited by a clever hacker, and the company’s bank accounts and credit ratings may be compromised as a result.”
When personal devices are allowed under BYOD policies, security issues can be even more concerning, according to Gartner, an information technology (IT) research firm.
Earlier this year, Gartner released a survey that reported “a quarter of business users admitted to having had a security issue with their private device in 2013, but only 27 percent of those respondents felt obliged to report this to employers.”
Overall, Gartner summed up the results, revealing that employees show “scant concern for security when it comes to BYOD.”
To prevent security problems resulting from his company’s BYOD policy, Morgan said no data is stored on any of his company’s mobile devices or office desktops.
“All of our software is located offsite at servers in a data center,” he explained. “We all access data based on permission levels, and it’s all accessed on the cloud. Security is no longer a concern for us with this setup.”
As part of Kobie Kooling’s security measures, Kobie said the type of data permitted on iPads is limited.
“We do not include any payment information on the iPads,” he said, explaining that email messages with credit card or banking information are prohibited. “Employees cannot alter payment issues from the field. The only data on the tablets is the current route and any unclosed work orders.”
Setting Usage Policies
Along with security, employers must also worry about how employees are using their mobile devices. Some contractors have set very strict policies for how the devices are to be used. Others are more lenient, but still stress the importance of proper mobile-device etiquette.
According to Turnbull, Blue Flame’s policy states that any personal use of mobile devices on the job must occur during break or lunch hours. She added the company also has a no-streaming policy.
“If [employees] stream, they can only stream on their personal Wi-Fi or Internet,” she said.
Doran added that In-Line requires employees to sign an agreement regarding the “correct use of the phones and devices.” For example, the correct-use policy stipulates that employees may not use the phone for personal reasons. The policy also states that games or any other non-business apps may not be installed on company devices.
At Magic Touch, Morgan takes a different approach, but still sets some limits.
“Regarding personal use of the tablets, we actually encourage it,” he said. “The more proficient they are with the device, the more efficient they can be while using it on the job.” However, he noted his company does retain control over the apps downloaded on company-issued iPad Minis.
“Only management has the ability to add or remove an app from any mobile device,” Morgan said.
Moving Forward with Mobile
While HVAC contractors experiment with different approaches to managing mobile devices, their end goal is the same. Everyone is just trying to find the best way to take advantage of the benefits offered by this technology.
“In today’s day and age, mobile devices are critical in our industry,” Dorans said. “People can’t get too caught up in the personal use issues because it’s something that is very difficult to control. The benefits for our company far outweigh the cons, and, as the technology continues to advance, it will only get better for us.”
Morgan agreed and shared how his perspective has shifted. “A few years ago, it seemed like a risky decision for us to spend the thousands we have on mobile devices and software. If you asked me today, I’d tell you we should’ve done it two years earlier,” he said.
“After the learning curve of older employees is overcome … production, efficiency, accuracy, and the bottom line all increase — and isn’t that what every business owner spends his or her hours chasing?”
Publication date: 2/2/2015