We received the following note from a reader:
"One topic I would like Michael to address is the use of company cell phones. I have purchased company cell phones for my Superintendents, Foremen, and what I consider other important personnel. All have "Samsung" smart phones, so that we can not only talk, but email data and correspondence, photos, text messages, etc, from the office to the field and from field to office. I buy the phones with Otter Box protective covers and expect the "guys" to take care of them and use them. So far so good. It is a valuable piece of communication for our "team." I know Michael is opposed to this and would really like for him to go into the reasons why in depth."
It's hard for me to argue his approach; it sounds like he's doing a lot of things right. Let me clarify my opinion.
I am not opposed to the use of cell phones on the jobsite as long as their use isn't abused. If the phone is used solely to communicate information about the job, and the calls are direct and to the point, that's good. If those who are given a phone know and follow the ground rules, no harm done.
Howsomeever . . . it doesn't take long for phone conversations to drift into sports, relationships, the rumor mill, etc. Phones can be a distraction, with text and Facebook notifications pinging while you work. There's a tremendous temptation to check what's going on rather than focus on the work.
It's handy to run to your phone to answer a trivia question for a discussion that's keeping your mind occupied while you do routine work, but now both your hands and your mind are far from that work. Why would you want this happening with employees on a jobsite when you're paying those employees by the hour?
If you don't believe phones are a distraction and often an addiction, watch your crew at the next morning or afternoon break and see what they do with their time. Most of them will go to a corner and fuss with their phone. The 10-minute break turns into 15, 20 or more.
The only people on the jobsite who should have phones are those running the job. Mechanics working at the jobsite don't need a cell phone. You might argue that they'll discover the need for this or that to get the job done, and that's what a phone is good for. My response is they're paid to think ahead and have a list assembled for the lead person at least a day before it's needed. If they're thinking ahead, they won't need a phone. There won't be last minute surprises.
I can see a mechanic carrying a phone during working hours if their wife is about to give birth. I can also see the need for a phone if a family member is in hospice. Beyond that, mechanics don't need a cell phone on the job.
So, I'm not opposed to companies allowing or even providing phones on the jobsite for those who are running the job. However, there needs to be a very clear understanding of what use is and isn't allowed, and you need to enforce that rule. If you don't, you'll be paying double for every minute your workers are fussing with their phones instead of their work, and that can quickly add up to a sizeable chunk of change.