Issuing company-owned smartphones to your employees can boost productivity, increase security and improve communication. But getting a smartphone program off the ground isn't as simple as just buying a bunch of phones. You'll have to pay for a monthly data plan that includes Internet access in addition to calling and texting.
If you want to provide your employees with reliable, secure Internet access on the go, you'll need to purchase a phone plan that includes mobile data as well as calling and texting. But choosing the right plan is tricky, with dozens of complex deals available from all of the major wireless providers.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution, so you'll have to do your homework first. Read on for four steps to get you started.
1. Weighing the cost
What's the benefit?
Before moving forward with a smartphone plan, the first question you should ask is whether or not your business really needs one.
The more mobile your employees are, the more they and your company will benefit from company-issued smartphones. It will be easier to reach them when you need to, and they will be able to maintain contact with clients from any location — without having to use their personal phones. Those phones may be less secure and have limited minutes and Internet access. On the other hand, if your employees spend most of their time in the office, a company smartphone might be superfluous.
Of course, phone calls are just one small aspect of smartphone usage. If email and text messaging are critical to your company's workflow, for example, then company smartphones can really boost productivity all around.
What's your budget?
Buying and maintaining company phones is expensive, so your budget will largely determine what kind of plan you choose. Remember that the monthly cost of the plan is just one aspect of implementing a company smartphone system. You'll also need to factor in the prices of the phones themselves, whether you buy them outright or choose a payment plan. Smartphones usually need to be replaced about once every two years, so keep that in mind.
2. Determining your company's needs
The best way to pick a smartphone plan is to take a close look at your employees' usage patterns. For example, you can probably use old phone bills to get a solid read on how long your employees talk on the phone each month. Fortunately, many modern plans include unlimited talking and text messaging.
Determining how much mobile Internet access your employees need is trickier. Ask yourself these questions: Do your employees require instant access to their email inboxes? Do they need to access company websites on the go? Will they be downloading and uploading files to the cloud so they can work from remote locations, and how often? The answer to those questions will determine how much data you will need in your company's plan.
How much data?
"Data" refers to the amount of content you can download from the Internet, including every email you view, website you access and video you stream. Unlike your office Internet connection, which probably provides unlimited access to the Web, cellular connections usually have a strict cap on the amount of information you can download. If your employee uses more data than is allotted in a given month, your company will be on the hook for overage charges.
These days, the typical smartphone plan includes about 2GB of data per user per month, and the average person uses most of that. One benefit of issuing company phones is that your employees won't have to allocate a portion of their personal data, which is often in short supply, for work-related tasks.
Since data is calculated in megabytes and gigabytes, and not in terms of emails and file downloads, it can be hard to determine how much data your employees will need. If you're unsure, your best bet is to gather estimates of your company's usage patterns and ask an IT professional, or someone you trust, to help you determine what is appropriate for your business.
Rather than doling out data for each individual, most carriers have business packages that provide a single pot of data that can be shared by all employees. That brings up another benefit of issuing company phones: You will be able to set caps on individual devices, to ensure that one employee doesn't hog more than his or her fair share of data.
Who needs a phone?
Chances are, not every member of your team needs a mobile work-phone. As previously outlined, employees are more likely to need such phones the more mobile they are. Management and team leaders might also benefit from a business phone, to ensure that they can always be reached in an emergency. By issuing devices only to the individuals who really need them, you can save a lot of money in the end.
Company smartphones assure that your employees can stay connected, but that's not all. These phones can also provide your company with an extra level of security that isn't possible if employees use their personal devices for work.
For example, it can be hard to be sure that sensitive company emails will remain private on a personal smartphone. After all, it's difficult or impossible to force employees to password protect devices they own. Plus, there's no way to ensure employees won't install unapproved applications that could compromise company data.
Issuing company-owned smartphones lets you control nearly every aspect of how your employees use the devices, including which apps they can install and which options they can select. It also ensures that you can maintain good records-management policies, and keep important data backed up. And you can perform a remote wipe of a company-owned device if an employee leaves or is terminated.
Some smartphone models are compatible with special software that forces employees to log in to a special, secure profile in order to access work apps on their personal phones. For example, Samsung phones are compatible with Knox, a business security platform that keeps work data encrypted and separated from personal activity.
3. Implementing your plan
Choosing a carrier
Network coverage is just as important as price, if not more so, when choosing a mobile carrier for your business. If a particular carrier's network isn't reliable where your employees work, then it's not a good option.
The closer your company is located to a large city, the more options you'll have. While the biggest carriers, such as Verizon and AT&T, offer good coverage across most of the United States, smaller carriers like T-Mobile might really struggle to provide good call quality or fast Internet access in rural areas. On the other hand, smaller carriers can sometimes provide lower rates for local customers.
It doesn't stop at picking a carrier that's strong near your company's headquarters, though. It doesn't matter if your office is in the city if your employees will be commuting or frequently traveling through areas with lower levels of service.
So how do you know which carriers are good in your neck of the woods? Chances are, you already have some idea, since consumers tend to flock to the carriers that are strong in their cities. Otherwise, you can consult third-party sources like Root Metrics, which tests cellular service in most big markets across the country. If all else fails, ask around to see what kind of experiences people in your area have had with the various networks.
Most carriers provide a full breakdown of their services and prices in the form of a chart, so that should be your first stop when directly comparing offers. But things can start getting complicated in a hurry, considering the countless combinations of voice, data and extra services. If you've already taken the time to fully research your company's needs, this step will be much smoother.
Once you've decided that your employees will carry work phones, you'll have to decide which specific devices they'll use. Business News Daily recommends Samsung phones like the Galaxy S6 or Galaxy Note 4, which offer faster performance coupled with excellent security features. These include fingerprint scanners and Knox, which keeps work and personal data separated. Apple's iPhone is another popular choice for businesses due to its ease of use, large app selection and embedded fingerprint scanner. Check out our list of the best smartphone for business to see all of our top picks.
What about extras?
Many carriers offer a range of other services in addition to voice and data plans. From international calling packages to wireless hotspot capabilities — which will allow your employees to connect to their smartphones' Internet connections from laptops and tablets — there is a wide range of extras that can be added to your company's phone plan for an extra monthly fee.
4. Evaluating outcomes
What's the impact?
Don't assume that company smartphones will automatically benefit your business. Regularly take time to evaluate how your employees use their phones, and determine if the devices are actually helping to boost productivity and improve communication.
No smartphone plan is forever; most plans revolve around contracts that last for a year or two at most. If you determine that your current plan is overkill, then you should be able to modify it within a reasonable period of time. As your contract draws to a close, don't be afraid to consider options from another carrier.