For many building service contractors, being productive in their own offices — with a desktop computer, phone, files and Rolodex right at hand — is second nature.

Productivity on the road, however, is an evolving art. With new gadgets being introduced faster than users can keep up, and technology itself changing in the blink of an eye, the options may seem overwhelming. But there are plenty of ways for BSCs to stay connected while away from their home base.

Some BSCs opt to keep it simple while others stay on top of emerging technology. As the saying goes, to each its own. After all, it’s not always about the gadgets themselves — it’s about how they can best be used to suit each BSC’s needs.

Staying Connected
From wearable technology such as the Bluetooth earpiece to handhelds such as Blackberrys, the business environment requires being connected more than ever before. Connectivity is the big issue when it comes to on-the-road productivity, because not all of a company’s employees are in one location like they were many years ago, says Jim Kelton, president of Altuis IT, a consulting company in Santa Ana, Calif.

“Now, you have remote offices, you have execs that are traveling, you have people who want to work at home, so the big connectivity issue is, how can I keep my people productive or make them more productive?” Kelton says.

Kelton suggests a number of simple, easy and relatively inexpensive ways to stay connected: using cell phones to read and send e-mail; investing in high-speed digital data service for a laptop; and carrying a digital voice recorder and a digital camera.

Many BSCs have already switched to Blackberrys and similar devices that enable communication beyond telephone and texting capabilities of the standard cell phone. Newer cell phones, however, also connect to the Internet for e-mail access.

“If you go to a trade show, you don’t want to lug around a huge laptop with you while you’re out on the trade floor, but you may not want to be out of connection with your office,” Kelton says. “The good thing about a cell phone is most people carry one around already. With a cell phone, you’re in voice communication but you’re also in data communication with the office, which means if you’re at a trade show all day you can at least be aware of critical e-mails that come in.

From Simple To Fancy
Bob Ambruster, president of Clean Team Inc., Holland, Ohio, likes to keep it simple. He prefers to talk, in person or on the phone, rather than type — and that method has yielded success for the company. For his business needs, a cell phone for voice communication is the best way to stay connected with his staff and with customers. Armbruster estimates he spends about 50 percent of his work time out of the office.

“I carry a very simple phone that’s just a telephone,” he says. “I’ve kind of got a policy — it’s annoying, but my phone’s always on me. If a customer or anybody in the office needs to get ahold of me, all they’ve got to do is call the cell phone.”

Armbruster doubts he’ll ever get a Blackberry, preferring the relative ease of using a cell phone to make calls.

“I think just talking to the person is the most simple way. There’s a lot of neat things out there that we could do… but if we can do things without making it any more complicated — the simpler, the better,” he says.

Some BSCs, however, prefer to rely a bit more on the newest technologies available.

“It’s not ‘big fish eat small fish’ anymore,” says Ben Walker, director of communications at ManageMen Inc. in Salt Lake City. “It’s ‘fast fish eat slow fish.’”

Walker keeps up with technology, preferring to keep his office in his pocket. He had a Palm Pilot, then a Blackberry, and now carries an iPhone.

The former devices were great in their own ways, he says, but both were counter-intuitive compared to the iPhone — especially when syncing up with his Mac-based office computer system. Whether he’s updating billing information, looking at a Web site, driving in a rental car and needs satellite assistance with directions and traffic updates, or checking his stock portfolio while waiting for his next meeting, the device offers a number of ways Walker can stay connected for business. And it means he can take care of the small, more timely tasks without being tied to a computer.

“The laptop is great, but it kind of serves now as a base station when I’m traveling,” he says. “I leave it in my hotel room and when I come back that’s what I do all my big work from.”

How to best maintain productivity away from the office is up for debate, but it’s closely linked to connectivity, and the avenues that keep people connected will only grow from here.

The way BSCs work is being redefined by new ways to communicate and stay connected — no matter the location. The variety of gadgets, equipment and upgrades available for business use translate to increased efficiency and productivity for any contractor willing to do some research and invest in a system that will work for them.