At the beginning of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel “1984,” protagonist Winston Smith dutifully arrives at the Ministry of Truth every day for work, “correcting” historical records for his employer to live out the ultimate corporate mission statement: “Whoever controls the past controls the future. Whoever controls the present controls the past.” By the novel's conclusion, Smith has rebelled against both his employer and the fabric of society, initiating a cataclysmic destruction of the Ministry. But nothing so grave could actually happen from monitoring employee movements, communications, and hours on the job, right?

Well, probably not. While no one likes a meddling supervisor, the chances of your truck drivers uniting under a revolutionary banner and burning up inventory to protest GPS tracking devices on your fleet is pretty far-fetched. But with advances in technology enabling instant access to employee locations and movements, the line between tracking workers for cost analyses versus over-the-shoulder micromanaging and even spying is a narrow one, especially from the employee's perspective.

In “Track or Trust,” a collection of Big50 Remodeler approaches to monitoring employee hours compiled by Nina Patel in the July 2004 issue of REMODELING, a sister publication of PROSALES, several professional remodelers report using a combination of employee self-reporting with productivity-enhancing technology. John Aurgemma of Warwick, R.I.–based Rhode Island Home Improvement relies on an honor system, requiring employees to turn in a daily log of time in transit to jobsites, mileage, and time on the job. The company also has recently added technologies to employee phones as a backup. “We're using a tracking device through their Nextel phones that tells us when they arrive at and leave a specific location, so we can compare what they say with what we track,” Aurgemma says.

One such product to recently hit the market is uLocate, a service for Nextel customers provided by Framingham, Mass.–based uLocate Communications. While uLocate is promoted to increase productivity, service, and the safety of employees, the issue of privacy “absolutely comes up,” says uLocate vice president of marketing Frank Schroth, who adds that “Employers can quickly overcome privacy objections by holding brief employee training and information meetings” as they roll out a program. According to Schroth, these types of meetings help eliminate any big-brother backlash, especially when the technology aids a driver stranded in the middle of nowhere or a customer questions delivery times.

Indeed, implementing technologies that combine cell phones, GPS, and the Internet can help you plan more fuel- and time-efficient delivery routes, give customers instant and accurate communication on orders and deliveries, or simply prevent your drivers from getting lost. However, if you find yourself increasingly using technology to simply check up on employees, you have a larger issue to tackle. In and of itself, technology is not going to create the utopian construction supply organization. At some point, you ultimately have to let go and place your quality, service, and reputation in the hands of your crew.