For a business to be successful, communication is key in the construction industry. There are many factors in making a profitable decision on the jobsite; information on the field needs to be provided to the contractor by the foreman, workers, designers, engineers, architects, and purchasing agents. In addition, keeping track of equipment, locating employees, and transferring information in real-time helps increase productivity and profit. Poor communication on the other hand, can lead to wasted time and lost profits.

Keeping in touch with everyone in the field is not a new concept, but the options contractors have today are better equipped, faster, and more reliable than previous methods. Depending on your needs, you can choose from cell phones, two-way radios, a wireless/two-way combination, GPS, or a device with the capability of all combined.

Know your needs

Understanding who, where, and why the communication device is used will better help your decision in choosing the appropriate equipment. A foreman has different communication needs than his or her crew. A device that can handle rugged use is most likely only needed for workers onsite rather than in a truck or in the office. So selecting one device for all your employees may not be the route to take. “Construction workers tend to need devices that can withstand heavy usage and tough conditions. They also need devices that can enable quick, instant communication with individuals and large groups to stay on top of ever-changing job and schedule updates amongst various contractors, vendors, or other employees who may be at one of many jobsites,” says Christopher Pitts, director of construction-field services industry solutions, Sprint.

The LM80 Layout Manager by Trimble is used to transfer real-time landscape data from the jobsite to the office.
Trimble The LM80 Layout Manager by Trimble is used to transfer real-time landscape data from the jobsite to the office.

The Buzz from Motorola offers many features. It has a built-in speaker phone; is GPS enabled; meets military standard 810F for dust, shock, and vibration resistance; and works with Sprint voice and data national networks. Users can connect with up to 20 people at once. The GPS capability allows a user to monitor real-time worker location, dispatch phone-to-PC messages, find points of interest, and send bilingual driving directions. In addition, drivers can improve traveling efficiency with voice-guided and onscreen turn-by-turn directions with 3-D moving maps, receive traffic alerts, and one-click rerouting. Other features include the ability to send voice e-mail to an entire group, as well as send pictures and full contact information while on the phone. The photos appear on the recipient's phone and the sender's phone simultaneously so they can view and discuss the contents.

Another popular phone in the construction industry is the Sanyo Pro 700. Like the Buzz, it operates on the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network and features the walkie-talkie Nextel Direct Connect service. In addition to sharing other features with the Buzz, the Pro 700 has a Mobile Sync feature that allows the user to automatically synchronize contact information between an online tool and the phone, allowing for easier entry, access, and full secure backup of contact information. “Rugged devices with Nextel Direct Connect capabilities continue to be the most popular simply because nothing else meets the needs of simple, instant one-to-one or one-to-many communications in a durable handset,” says Pitts.

There is, however, more to communicating than just talking. “Of course cell phones trump everything in terms of general use and benefit, and have so for a number of years,” says Scott Prewett, chief technology officer of Exaktime in Calabasas, Calif. “I don't know of a single contractor that does not carry one and use it constantly throughout the day.” Aside from contacting your employees, keeping track of when they arrive to a jobsite and when they have completed their work for the day also is important information to run a successful business.

The PocketClock/GPS from Exaktime allows employers to track when employees clock in and out from a jobsite.
Exaktime The PocketClock/GPS from Exaktime allows employers to track when employees clock in and out from a jobsite.

Exaktime offers a new product called PocketClock/GPS. This software transforms a PDA or Smartphone into a mobile time clock. “With our new GPS version,” says Prewett, “it records the GPS location each time an employee clocks in or out.” The device allows an employer to verify the location of every employee throughout the day and to confirm that they are clocking in and out on the correct jobsite. Prewitt continues, “In our world of attendance tracking, one thing we are seeing is that more and more companies have begun tracking worker cost codes or types of labor in addition to just tracking attendance. It helps enormously with job costing and saving on workers' comp premiums.”

One more wireless device in the market is the LM80 Layout Manager from Trimble. The device incorporates a new controller and office software for real-time two-way data transfer between the project design team in the office and the general and landscaping contractors at the jobsite. It creates a digital replica of the landscaping plan in the field and then connects to both mechanical and robotic total stations for an accurate, fast, and simple layout. “As landscaping sites become more complex, they also become more difficult to verify designs and contractors to perform layout,” says Pat Bohle, Trimble's building construction business area manager. With a device such as the LM80, communicating back and forth from the jobsite to the field is simplified.