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Giving Employees Business Cell Phones: Best Practices

Staying connected with coworkers, suppliers and clients is essential in many positions, and cell phones are a convenient, versatile way to do that. Not only can your employees place and field calls from their phones, but they can also check emails and access various data via apps and cloud-based technology. If you have employees who use their phones for work frequently, distributing work cell phones could be a beneficial move. Explore the pros and cons of offering company cell phones and the best practices for managing them. 

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Options for cell phones at work

If your employees need to use cell phones routinely as part of their work, you’ll need to decide how to handle the situation. One option is to provide a company-owned cell phone that the employee uses for work purposes. Employees typically keep those phones with them at all times, which makes it easier for you to reach them outside of work hours if necessary, such as for on-call work.

Another option is to have the employees use their personal phones for work. If you choose this option, you’ll typically offer a reimbursement that covers some or all of their monthly cell phone costs. You can decide how much to offer as reimbursement based on how much they use their personal cell phones for work purposes. 

Reasons for offering a business cell phone to employees

Offering a company phone to every staff member is a nice employee perk, but it isn’t always necessary. However, there are some situations in which offering business cell phones is a good idea, including:

  • Remote work: If you have remote employees or staff members who work outside the office regularly, offering a company phone helps them stay connected. Think of it as a replacement for the office phone they would have at their desk if they worked in your main location. 
  • Job performance improvement: Depending on the industry, employees may expect to have a business cell phone to perform their tasks. For example, a social media manager at a marketing agency must frequently access native smartphone apps for popular social media platforms, so it could be easier for them to do their job if they have a dedicated device for accessing your company’s accounts. 
  • Mandatory apps: If you require your employees to use mandatory phone apps, offering company-issued cell phones could be a good move. Having apps on personal phones can get tricky, especially when the employee leaves since the data is still on their personal devices. 

Pros of offering a cell phone to employees

If you’re on the fence about offering a phone for work, looking at the benefits of paying for phones can help you decide if it’s best for your company. Here are some pros of offering a cell phone to employees and how they can directly benefit your company:

1. Consistency

Offering a business phone to employees can introduce consistency to the workplace. When employees all work on the same operating system and access the same smartphone apps and tools, collaboration is seamless across devices. If you’re training the group on a feature, having the same cell phone distributed to each individual can help them better understand the new procedure.

2. Saving money

If you’re deciding between offering cell phones to employees or reimbursing them for part of their existing personal plans, you may save more money with a corporate cell phone plan. Carriers are sometimes willing to negotiate with small businesses, which can help you save even more.

3. Increased employee availability

When you provide a dedicated work phone, you might be able to implement new rules for remote employees, after-hours work and on-call availability. With business phones, employees may be better able to respond to important items quickly. For example, it could benefit a 24-hour call center to have an IT professional on-call at all times in case the computer systems crash. Once you distribute business cell phones, incorporate language in your cell phone work policies of what’s expected of employees. 

4. Recruiting tactic

Having a company-provided cell phone is considered a perk for many job seekers. Making this known in your job ad could attract more applicants. Knowing they’ll receive a business cell phone could tempt them to accept your job offer. 

5. More control

When you own the phone, you can determine what type of security you use, what apps you can require and how you monitor the phone. This can be important if your employees routinely work with sensitive information. 

Related: 11 Tips to Effectively Manage Remote Employees

Drawbacks of offering a cell phone to employees

Even with the perks, offering work cell phones can have some negatives. Here are some potential drawbacks of offering a cell phone to employees:

1. Managing multiple phones

Employees may not want to carry two cell phones, so they could be resistant to using a work phone. Clearly communicate the need for the business phones, so you’re more likely to receive support for this change.

2. Additional maintenance

Because the phones are your business’ property, your IT team could become responsible for maintaining these devices on top of any existing technology they already manage. They may need training on the device, so they’ll know how to troubleshoot related networking issues.

3. Initial and upgrade costs

Although you may save long-term on monthly costs, your company may be subject to a large initial charge for new cell phones and upgrades when needed. You might also have additional costs if employees lose or break their company-issued phones. 

4. Employee misuse

Creating policies for work cell phones can help educate your employees on what you expect. However, you can’t control everything your employees do with their work phones. You might have some employees who misuse their company cell phones or fail to complete routine tasks, such as installing updates that could affect security. 

Creating a work cell phone policy

Having a work cell phone policy helps you manage how company phones are used. Before you issue any phones to employees, draft a policy to add to your employee handbook. Things you need in your policy include:

  • Work phone eligibility: Identify who receives work phones if you don’t give them to all employees. For example, you might only issue them to remote employees or salespeople who frequently make sales calls. 
  • Cell phone use: Explain how and when employees can use their company-issued cell phones. For instance, you might specify that employees should them for making work-related calls, texting work contacts, accessing work email and using work-approved apps. You might also specify that employees should never use them while driving.
  • Security requirements: Outline the security responsibilities employees have, such as installing and updating security apps, using a passcode, creating strong passwords and using two-factor authentication. 
  • Phone care: Let employees know how they need to take care of the phone. For example, you might talk about doing regular phone updates or leaving the phone in a secure location when not at work.
  • Phone upgrades: Include information about when phones will be upgraded and how you’ll handle that process. 
  • Departure procedures: Explain what happens with the work cell phones when an employee leaves the company. Describe how they need to prepare their phones and what they should do with them before their final day. 
  • Disciplinary action: It’s also a good idea to establish consequences if employees misuse their cell phones or break the policy expectations. Detail possible disciplinary action for various infractions, so employees know what will happen if they use their phones inappropriately.

If you decide not to issue work phones, you still need a policy regarding cell phone use at the office. Include any restrictions on when and where employees can use their personal devices at work. If you allow them to access work email, apps and other information, include security protocols to ensure client and company information remains safe. 

Frequently asked questions about giving employees business cell phones

What is a cell phone stipend?

A cell phone stipend is money paid to an employee for their personal cell phone use to conduct work for your business. While it’s usually distributed monthly, you can work out what’s best for your business and employees. 

Should companies provide cell phones to employees?

Whether a company should provide cell phones to employees depends on the industry, the work the employee performs and what’s in the company’s best financial interest. Companies typically provide cell phones when they expect employees to spend a significant amount of time on the phone outside of the office building or after normal business hours.

Can you require employees to use their personal cell phones for work?

Yes, employers can require that their staff use their personal cell phones for work, but they typically compensate the employee appropriately for that use. Some states might require you to reimburse your employees for using their personal phones for work. The best practice may be to disclose cell phone expectations to employees before hiring and any time you update cell phone policies.

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