How one tool can improve safety... and work-life balance too
By Jenny LescohierMay 09, 2022
There’s no question technology has improved many aspects of doing business, particularly in construction, but it comes with drawbacks. We’ve all been distracted by our phones, for example, and that can be very dangerous on a job site.
Many employers see the benefit of providing workers with mobile devices that help them get their job done, realizing that means those same devices get used for personal purposes too. How can construction firms ensure company-owned devices are used the right way in work settings to improve safety and productivity, while also enhancing work-life balance and privacy?
To find out, we talked with Joe Boyle, CEO with Truce Software, about his company’s application that’s designed to do just that.
CONEXPO-CON-AGG 365: Mobility is a key part of everyone’s life today. How does this translate to a construction job site?
Boyle: Mobility has the power to change how we are productive at work. Over the past 10 years, smartphones have become such an important part of our world, and we believe there’s a better way to get the most out of what mobile devices can offer.
To be most effective with technology, we need to change the way we manage it. That’s what Truce is all about: Understanding there’s a time and place for everything.
There aren’t a lot of work environments more dynamic and potentially hazardous than construction. We aim to protect construction environments by preventing device misuse. We are protecting personnel from being so entranced with their phone that they walk off the floor of an unfinished building, for example.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: How does it work?
Boyle: We have customers tell us they bought iPhones for all their employees because they want to know when they’ve got somebody out on site and whether they run into an issue. They want to be able to FaceTime to troubleshoot that issue in real time, for example, but they don’t want that same person taking a video of something they thought was funny while they’re in a high-risk area of the job site or while they’re driving to work.
There are certain times when your phone just shouldn’t be in your hand and your attention shouldn’t be on that screen. Truce is about understanding how to use technology to be productive and get more done on the job site, while limiting unsafe capabilities.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Is this an app users can download? Does the program mute certain functions so they can’t be used when under certain conditions?
Boyle: Think about it like an automatic safety switch. Truce is part of the overall phone experience and the first thing we begin with is policy.
We work with our customers to find out how they want their people to use their devices. What things do they want them doing? What do they not want happening, and what do those scenarios look like?
We begin with acceptable use and then we look at context to say, ‘Okay, you do want your team to be able to access the camera for FaceTime calls when they’re in particular parts of the job site, but not others?’ We use contextual indicators to create an acceptable use policy behind the scenes.
We are changing the experience on the device itself. For example, when you’re not in any type of protected environment, your phone is going to show up and it’s going to have all the apps that you normally use.
If you’re a crane operator, however, we don’t ever want a worker taking phone calls, except 911 if necessary. In that case, workers would be allowed to access a only a particular safety-based app for how to operate the crane, and nothing else.
All of those applications workers aren’t authorized to access in that specific time and place, they simply disappear off of the device temporarily. As soon as they exit that work environment, they reappear. It all happens very quickly and seamlessly.
We’re bringing to the forefront those things that are acceptable to use at that time and putting other things in the background.
It’s a real shift in mentality. Historically, companies would buy these devices for their workers and say, ‘We don’t want people misusing the cameras, so we’re going to turn the camera off.’ But that doesn’t help when you want them to be able to do FaceTime calls.
Some companies say they don’t want people accessing social media applications while at work, so they don’t make those accessible at all. That’s fine for when employees are at work, but the reality is people want to carry a single device. So how do you partition the world so that when they’re at work, they have only their work functions available, and when they’re not at work they have all their personal functions?
Truce brings the ability to dynamically modify the way a device functions, so that it’s always making things accessible when they should be and never when they shouldn’t, and that actually ties into work-life balance as well.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: If an employee is doing work-related tasks outside of work hours, does the system work that way as well?
Boyle: Absolutely. We don’t see that get used very much in North America, but in Europe, it tends to be more prevalent - at five o’clock, your corporate applications disappear from the device so you’re not working after hours. That’s part of balancing work and personal life.
A couple of years ago, mobility trends were moving toward using your own personal device and putting work applications on it. Companies wanted employees to have mobility, but they didn’t want to buy everyone a mobile device. When the pandemic hit, it really shifted and accelerated the realization that mobility really matters. It’s a critical component of how we function in the world.
In a lot of cases today, companies are now providing employees with devices and it’s considered a perk. But in order to get that strategy right, companies need to be able to partition these worlds properly, and that’s where Truce becomes a critical enabler.
Workers like that their employer has provided them with a device, but they want to be able to use it for the things they personally want to be able to use it for during off hours. Conversely, with Truce employees know having a company-supplied device doesn’t mean the boss can ping them at 11:30 p.m. and expect a response.
Work-life balance means you have a single device that moves through your day with you and is always bringing things that are relevant and appropriate to the time and place. During business hours, it’s all business applications. And then, come five or six o’clock and you’re no longer on the job site, the device reverts back to personal mode.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Did the inspiration for this idea come from a concern for safety or productivity?
Boyle: We solve for both, but frankly, the origin was safety related. The idea for the platform came from one of the cofounders trying to talk to his son about something and observing his son walk full speed into a wall because he was head down, staring into this device.
Never before have we had something that held our attention quite so much. These devices bring a ton of good, but their misuse is the leading cause of death in the workplace – when they’re used behind the wheel of a car.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What about privacy and personal freedom? Have you received any push back about companies having too much control over employees through this system?
Boyle: Privacy is one of our core values. We believe mobile devices are an extension of our person. I use my smartphone for work, but it also has all my credit card information on it, as well as every picture of my kids I’ve ever taken. This device is deeply personal to me, it’s not just a tool I use for work.
Privacy is a fundamental tenet of what needs to happen with mobile devices. Truce cannot see what you’re doing on your device. All we’re doing is recognizing the context of your environment and changing the experience to what’s allowable, and what’s not allowable on the device at any given time.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Is there a benefit to the bottom line?
Boyle: Does technology help speed job completion rates? Does it help speed productivity on the job site? Does it enable key applications to do all those things? The answers are absolutely, yes. I think the jury is clearly out on that.
What’s the best way to make that happen? One way is through the health and safety on your job sites. Driving down accident rates due to misuse of mobile technology absolutely has a quantifiable ROI to it, in terms of out-of-pocket expenses, insurance rates, and the right thing to do by your workers.
Second, the ability to attract and retain talent is paramount in this market. What are people looking for at work? They want an environment that embraces and actively leans into a work-life balance, and they want an environment that is providing them with the best technology to do their work, and that technology gives them connectivity.
They want that technology to be managed, but they don’t want it to be monitored, which goes back to your privacy question.
Technology works and makes a difference, but how you deploy it and how you meet goals around safety, work-life balance and privacy is where the X Factor comes in.