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Should You Pay For Employee Cell Phones?

FieldPulse | October 25, 2016

Managing a Distributed
Investing in business technology is often a smart move, but should employee cell phone plans be a part of it? Modern service businesses rely heavily on mobile technology for dispatching, invoicing, and communication, but there’s a difference between buying a few tablets and giving your employees something they take home at the end of the day. If you’re looking to invest in your workforce or change how your employees use technology in the field, this guide is for you.

At one point in time, employee cell phones were a white collar status symbol; these days, large businesses are transitioning away from that model to a ‘BYOD’ model (Bring Your Own Device). Now that cell phones are more affordable and more powerful, they’re cutting those benefits in favor of more relevant ones. For small business owners, however, mobile technology is becoming increasingly affordable. As a service business owner, there’s a lot to consider when determining what technology is right for you. Should you have company owned devices or a bring your own device policy?

Managing a Distributed Workforce

Even when your service area is small, keeping track of where people are and what they’re doing is hard. Most people already own a cellphone, but the degree of coverage they have can vary wildly. The cell phone plans that people can afford aren’t always the plans that offer the best service, and dead zones and poor battery life can easily disrupt communication on the road.

Companies that offer employee cell phone plans do so for a variety of reasons, but most of those reasons concern standardizing communication. It’s easier to reach employees who are on call or at remote job sites when you use standardized technology. Company-owned phones typically come with a few strings attached, such as required response times or monitoring, in exchange for providing technology that workers couldn’t otherwise afford. This is a great way to iron out the usual kinks that come up when trying to communicate with a distributed workforce.

Standardized phones also reduce the issues that arise from employees who own out-of-date, jailbroken, or otherwise abnormal phones. When your business relies on mobile technology to process payments and dispatch workers, the last thing you want is broken technology getting in the way. Employee cell phone plans aren’t perfect for every business, but they’re a useful tool in many situations.

The Downsides

Most cell phone providers will sing the praises of employee cell phone plans, but there are downsides to consider before making the investment. Phones are expensive, fragile, insecure, and fairly personal possessions. If your business is already making do with personal devices, making the jump to employee phone plans might be an unnecessary expense.

While owning and configuring the phones your employees use on the worksite is great for security and communication, it can easily turn into a cash-sink. Employees tend to respect company-owned devices less than phones they’ve bought themselves, and that can lead to frequent replacements in hard-labor niches like construction and remodeling.

Employee phones also come with a fair bit of overhead labor, as you’ll need to purchase, insure, service, and monitor both the phones themselves and the user accounts that come with them. If you’re running a small business where you only have five or ten employees to worry about, that’s a lot of work just to avoid dead zones and outdated hardware.

Company-issued phones won’t fix excessive cell phone use, either. If you’re having problems with phone use on the clock, giving your employees better technology for free might just exacerbate the issue.

Company Culture and Shift Creep

Being on-call indefinitely is stressful; don’t use company phones as a way to get around proper shift scheduling. While company phones can be attractive for business owners, they can make life more stressful for employees.

Employee phone plans should provide a layer of insulation between their work life and their personal life, not erode it completely. Phone plans are ideal for situations where customers need to contact workers directly, but there should still be clear guidelines as to when and how employees should be contacted. Building a company culture where workers feel like they can’t relax is an easy way to end up with high turnover and poor performance.

If you do need your employees to be on call, create a schedule so they can anticipate when they’ll need to be available. If you create a situation where it feels like their shifts never end because work follows them home, they’re much less likely to appreciate (or respect) a company phone.

Making The Right Decision

If your company relies on mobile technology and your employees don’t own their own (or the right) technology, employee phones are a good idea. If your customers need to contact your employees directly or you need mobile employees to handle inbound calls, get a phone plan for your workers. If you need security, reliability, and accountability for a mobile workforce, investing in the technology you use is common sense.

If your employees already own the right devices and the expenses don’t equal out at the end of the month, steer clear. The monthly costs that accompany cell phones can easily be avoided by using tablets or other smart devices; don’t pay extra for phone services if you don’t need them.

If you’re looking to give your employees a second phone number to separate work and personal life, consider looking at IP phone mobile apps such as Google Voice/Hangouts, which offers a free secondary phone number that can be added to any cellphone.

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