Smartphone Smarts: HVAC Contractors Talk Mobile Management
Having a clear cellphone policy in place can be useful for contracting companies
Ever felt like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? Look no further than the smartphone: that little glass god of the 21st century might just be the culprit.
According to a 2017 study by staffing firm OfficeTeam, the average office employee spends 56 minutes a day on their personal cellphone at work. That’s nearly five hours a week. Apply that figure to HVAC contractors with 10 employees, and suddenly they’re paying for the equivalent of one person to sit in their truck and mess around on their phone for an entire workweek.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of January 2018, the vast majority of Americans — 95 percent — now own some kind of cellphone. A whopping 77 percent own smartphones, up from just 35 percent in 2011. The most common uses? Personal email and social media.
It’s not always easy — or productive — to police employees’ private email and social media usage. Company devices can be monitored, but personal devices generally can’t, and it can get tricky when personal devices are used for work or when company devices are allowed to double as personal. That’s where having a clear cellphone policy in place can be useful: spelling out what is allowed, what’s expected, and what’s off-limits in the workplace when it comes to cellphones and other devices, in order to ensure that everyone’s on the same (digital) page.
Tye Leishman, president, Tempco Heating and Cooling Specialists in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada, supplies smartphones and tablets for everyone in his company — for use both on the job and after hours. For him, it’s a no-brainer.
“I’ve never felt contractors should make their employees drive their own vehicles … and I can’t in good conscience ask them to use their own materials,” he said.
It’s a policy he started on day one.
“In the early days, 11 years ago, not everyone had cellphones,” he said. “I just felt that, obviously, we needed it as a communication device, and I wanted to provide that benefit: that they don’t need to buy their own phone if we provide a business phone they can use whenever they want.”
In his remote community — a population of 20,000 and accessible only by ferry or by air — Leishman says there’s a certain amount of “everybody knows everybody” mentality that holds folks accountable for their behavior.
“When you go to the grocery store after hours, on personal time, you know everybody, and there’s a good chance they’re a customer of ours,” he said. “I tell my guys, when you’re in the public, even waiting in line, don’t be sitting on the phone: keep your heads up and looking around, because you could see customers and say ‘hi’ instead of being focused on the phone. It’s really just common sense and personal experience.”
Leishman pays for data, but he doesn’t monitor how his employees use their devices unless he gets an alert for excessive use.
“I’ve never been one to nickel-and-dime guys,” he said. “If someone accidentally used up all the data and it cost us $100, I’d say ‘please don’t do it again,’ because we don’t want to be burning cash.”
ON THE CLOCK
At Clear the Air Cooling & Heating, located in the southern half of greater Houston, CEO Jason Stom also provides his employees with company iPhones and iPads — specifically for use on the job.
“One of the biggest benefits is it keeps all the customers routed through the company,” he said. “When [techs] call out on the cellphone, it has the company’s main line as the caller ID. It keeps everything very clean.”
Plus, it affords the company some control over the devices’ use. Stom uses mobile device management (MDM) software, paired with data execution prevention (DEP) technology, to monitor data/location, install and uninstall programs, and supervise the devices remotely.
Keeping customer data locked down is one of Stom’s reasons for having company devices, as opposed to letting employees use their personal phones for work. The iPhones and iPads, as well as the ServiceTitan software on them, are password-protected, and Stom or his operations manager have the ability to lock or erase them remotely if a device is lost or stolen — or if an employee is terminated in the field.
While company devices are for on-the-clock use only, Stom lets technicians keep a personal phone with them in the field, in case of emergency or if a family member needs to get in touch with them. But apart from that, personal cellphone use during the day, while it’s “very difficult to police,” is definitely out of the equation.
“It’s pretty apparent, when someone’s performance drops off,” Stom said. “We monitor efficiencies pretty closely, check to make sure they are staying on task, and we can tell if they’re just on the phone, wasting time and labor.”
When techs and installers at Clear the Air are assigned their devices, they read a policy that outlines usage, both for talking on the phone and for data. For example, they’re not allowed to download movies. There’s also an inventory of items assigned — hardware, case, charger — and their dollar values. Depending on circumstances, an employee could be on the hook for that amount if something is lost, stolen, or damaged.
“It keeps everything black and white,” Stom said. “That way, if there are any kind of disputes, discrepancies, questions, we have a policy to refer to.”
IPADS WITH BENEFITS
Paul Sammataro has good reason to assign company devices: His business, Samm’s Heating and Air Conditioning in Plano, Texas, sells Nexia smart-home automation, and his techs and sales staff are constantly live demo-ing how the system works, via cellphones, tablets, or a laptop.
Everyone has either an LG tablet or an iPad mini, and they’re 100 percent company-paid. Each comes with a phone number, so it can be used to make calls. If employees want to use their own phones for work, Sammataro lets them do so — but the company doesn’t pay for it.
“What I’ve found is, a lot of employees are so tied to the hip with their cellphones,” he said. “A lot of employees want to use their own, so we let them choose.”
Only one employee has two phones, and that’s the sales manager, who wanted to keep his business and personal communications separate. Most of the other employees don’t want to carry two phones, Sammataro said.
Carl Panyko is a senior service tech at Samm’s.
“When I first started here, I had a personal phone and I had a company phone,” he said.
Since then, he’s ditched the company phone — well, actually, he purchased it for himself.
“I made the choice … because I didn’t like carrying two phones all day,” said Panyko.
Panyko is “all in” on home automation; he has the Nexia system at his own house, so he uses his own connected devices — lights, ceiling fans, garage door opener — and his outdoor camera as a demonstration for customers via his personal smartphone.
“I pay my own cellphone bill and have an unlimited data plan,” he said. “It hasn’t caused me issues; my phone bill isn’t any higher than if I had a company phone.”
Regardless of the device being used and who owns it, company policy is pretty simple about usage while driving: Don’t do it.
“It’s gotta be Bluetooth or hands-free communication,” Sammataro said.
Texting while driving is against Texas law, as is talking with a phone on your ear while driving through a school zone, and Sammataro’s employees know the ticket will be coming from their own checkbook.
While company iPads are meant for work use only, Sammataro doesn’t ask how they’re used as long as employees stay within the shared data plan.
“They take them home, and I would be totally naïve to believe that the iPad would never be used to watch YouTube or something after they clock out,” he said. “If they use it for personal use at home, at night with their Wi-Fi, they’re just getting the benefit.”
Only one employee has ever gone above the data plan since the company implemented iPads in 2013, and after a conversation, he was fine with paying back the extra, Sammataro said.
“My employees know that whatever is needed to do the job, within reason, I will provide it,” he said. “And I’m not sitting there screaming every night, ‘You better not be watching Netflix on that!’ It’s that give-and-take of fairness.”
HOLD THE PHONE
When it comes to distracted driving on company time, Bobby Ring, president/CEO of Meyer & Depew, Kenilworth, New Jersey, isn’t taking any chances. On Jan. 1, he started using a program called Cellcontrol that shuts off cellphone service so that texting while driving isn’t even an option.
“It requires us to put a little box, about the size of a box of cigarettes, in each vehicle,” he explained. “Each phone has an app on it, and the app talks to the box. It tells the phone when the vehicle’s in motion.”
And when it is, the only thing someone can do on their phone is make or receive hands-free calls via Bluetooth. If a text message pops up, the driver won’t receive it until they’ve pulled over or parked. Instead, it sends a reply with a message like “I’m driving right now and not available … I will text back when I stop.” When the vehicle is not in motion, the app unlocks the phone for normal use.
Meyer & Depew provides phones to its employees, and per company policy, Cellcontrol is installed on all of them. Employees have the option of bringing a personal phone to work, too. But if they do, they have to install the app — or face disciplinary action. Plus, if an employee were to have continued issues driving safely even while using Bluetooth, Ring can change the policy. For example, he could set it to no phone calls at all while driving, or whitelist a number so that it’s the only number that phone can call.
Like any change, the move brought some pushback from employees who weren’t thrilled about putting the app on their personal phones, largely over concerns that the company could track them after hours, which Ring said is not the case.
“We explained to them there’s been an increase in the number of accidents, not only us being rear-ended but also us rear-ending other people, perhaps as a result of driving distracted,” he said. “We talked about the potential consequences of seriously injuring or killing someone.
“The whole Cellcontrol idea is to prevent use while driving,” Ring continued. “I’ve got 40-some vehicles driving all over New Jersey … I really looked at it from a risk management standpoint.”
DEVICE POLICY: SPELL IT OUT
Tye Leishman, president, Tempco Heating and Cooling Specialists in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada, said it’s imperative to have a clearly outlined cellphone policy, so employees know what they can and cannot do. Here’s how Tempco presents it to its employees:
Tempco provides cellphones and/or iPads to employees so that work duties and tasks can be completed as required. You are allowed to use the phones for personal calls, texts, etc., as long as the use is reasonable. Personal long-distance charges and/or overuse of data will be charged back to the employee.
Texts received during working hours should be responded to with “I am at work. I will call you when I am off.”
Do not open spam emails.
Information should not be accessed, downloaded, stored, or distributed that is illegal, abusive, threatening, obscene, harassing, or inappropriate.
Unacceptable use of Tempco technology includes, but is not limited to:
- Activities which may damage equipment. You will be responsible to replace any equipment that becomes damaged due to misuse or carelessness;
- Downloading, copying, or transmitting any material which is in violation of any federal or provincial regulation, such as copyrighted material; and
- Any breach of security on local and remote sites, including use or attempted use of another user’s account.
Publication date: 8/13/2018