For building service contractors, the use of cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA), Blackberrys and iPods are an integral part of the business workday. But since those gadgets are also part of many of their employees’ personal lives, BSCs are finding it necessary to amend policies to make sure their workers remain focused on their jobs.

While mobile devices such as cell phones make it possible for BSCs to stay in touch with supervisors and front-line workers, their use can affect performance, safety and appearance.

Keeping Up Appearances

Don Zerivitz, CEO and president of Pro Clean Building Maintenance in Winter Park, Fla., says he lays down the law regarding cell phone use with each employee’s initial training. If a customer observes a janitor using the cell phone, the assumption is that that employee isn’t doing their job, he says, creating a serious image problem.

“We’ve had too many calls in the past where the perception is, they’re not getting their money’s worth,” Zerivitz says. “So we continue to [re-train employees] and we say there’s absolutely no reason for you to be on the phone unless there’s an emergency you have to deal with.”

As a parent, Joseph K. Schulman, founder and CEO of Gold Bond Building Services Inc., Jackson, N.J., says he understands that cell phones are a great way to keep in touch with kids at home from time to time or in case of an emergency — but he discourages on-the-job use.

“I’ve had instances where people have abused the privilege of having their cell phone with them and they’re constantly making or receiving calls while they’re on the job, which is really bad for productivity and for consistency and quality,” Schulman says.

Schulman provides his supervisors with cell phones, and much prefers that method to the old way of using telephones at job sites to check in and to communicate. His supervisors are allowed to use some minutes for personal calls as long as they don’t go over their monthly allotment, he says.

Some BSCs have had to show employees the door when their cell phone use has turned into abuse. The only time Helena Van Epps, president of All Around Janitorial LLC in Appleton, Wis., has fired an employee in the past three years, it was over his constant cell phone use. Workers are allowed to carry their cell phones on them, however, if they agree to keep them in a pocket and on vibrate in case of emergencies.

Most BSCs do prefer that their employees carry a cell phone in case they need to relay information while they’re at a job site or on the road — but employees shouldn’t use the phone while driving, so Van Epps’s policy requires them to pull over to talk.

Motivation or Distraction?

Safety concerns also dictate policies on mp3 players and iPods.

“I would be all for having music but from a safety standpoint, our director of safety says, ‘No way,’ and I support him,” Zerevitz says.

At Gold Bond Building Services, Schulman says he doesn’t want his workers using iPods, especially if they’re using equipment such as vacuum cleaners. Not only are workers unable to listen to their machines’ performance if they’ve got earphones on, but having wires dangling could pose a risk to the employee or equipment.

If they’re not interfering with work or safety, music players may be allowable. Van Epps, whose accounts include stores in shopping malls, has a more tolerant approach to her workers listening to music. If her employees can get the job done and have a little fun listening to their favorite tunes, she’s got no problem with that.

“It seems like it motivates them more when they can listen to music, and it makes it more fun and less stressful. I’ve got one girl taking a second language, and she puts that into her iPod and listens to it at work,” she says. “You’ve got to keep your employees happy, too.”