By Nina Patel. Mark Sass uses two-way radios for efficient and fast communication between himself, his office administrator, and his carpenters. He likes the ability to make instant contact. "You don't waste time leaving a message," says the president of Sass Construction, Excelsior, Minn. Plus, he says his workers aren't tempted to have long conversations like they might be with cell phones.

Gary Crowley says he can't remember how he and his staff communicated before he had two-way radios. The owner of Crowley Construction, Burlington, Vt., says if one of his carpenters has a problem, he can radio Crowley or the production manager and quickly figure out a solution.

Sass advises company owners to have a written policy about the use of the radios. When he gave his staff the radios, Sass had them sign a contract. It makes clear that the combination two-way/cell phones are tools that the crews should use to do their jobs. Each worker receives about 200 phone minutes per month. If they go over the allotted time, the contract states, they will be billed for it the next pay period.

Photo: Charles Steck

Crowley doesn't have written rules, but his crews know that having a two-way radio makes them accountable. Crowley monitors their communication and doesn't hesitate to get on line if someone is talking off topic. "I just step in and say, 'Can we talk about that later?'" he says. Sass has a chain of command for communication, too. The lead carpenters know if there is a problem, they have to talk to the production manager, who in turn will contact Sass if necessary.

The plan Sass chose offers unlimited use of two-way communication and 500 minutes on the mobile phone. He carefully checks his bills and says if someone abuses the radio, it's usually a sign of a larger problem.

Crowley agrees. He had a problem with a crew member who would turn off the radio when he wanted to leave the job early. "It helped me weed out a bad employee," Crowley says.