Rick Yelton
Rick Yelton

I was recently told that when Samuel Morse spoke about his part in the implementation of the telegraph, he often began his presentation with a line something like, “Our invention [the telegraph] is helping to end the tyranny of distance.”

I haven't been able to find Morse's exact quote in context yet, but it does bring up an interesting concept. An internet search unveils that a number of more recent writers have used the phrase “tyranny of distance” to expound on issues such as education and military theory.

In times like we have now, I think mason contractors would have their own insights on the tyranny of distance and time. In my conversations with mason contractors, I'm discovering many are taking projects outside of their normal work area.

Their reasons vary. Some say it's a cyclical thing and they are just following the work. Others say they are hesitant not to follow key customers on projects, as working hard through quality and performance have provided them exclusive work arrangements with these customers. Some also point out that they have developed a recession-proof niche by specializing in certain techniques or project types, thus they only place bids on which they are assured a competitive advantage.

As owners and managers of masonry construction projects, it's important to be aware of this trend. Developing business solutions that help overcome the tyranny of distance could be the difference between success and failure this year.

Distant work causes an increase in employees' travel time. Productivity can be affected, as masons arrive on the jobsite more fatigued. And in time, unless you reinforce your approach to safety, there could be the potential for more accidents.

With distance, communication becomes a greater problem. Managers need to learn to ask better questions. Scheduling equipment and material hauls between jobsites is a logistical nightmare. And on bad weather days, the last thing you want is to have someone drive to a far-away jobsite just to turn around and go home.

Fortunately, a small investment in technology can return great efficiencies. Last month I had an opportunity to try out Ford Motor Company's new Work Solutions package. It's an in-dash computer that can be linked to a contractor's office over a wireless internet connection. The computer can be equipped with software packages that provide gaps, truck tracking, and tool inventory.

Since Ford has developed the product in partnership with Microsoft, it has many of the same programs found on your desktop. There's even a port for a printer. The demonstrator showed me how to pull a job file, and how to make a work order change sheet that can be printed on the jobsite for a signature, then e-mailed to the general contractor's office for approval. Equipment suppliers are introducing new products every week to help overcome the tyranny of distance.

How do you learn of these products? Over the next few weeks we'll be posting some of the more interesting items I have uncovered on our Web site. You'll find them in the lower right-hand corner of the page.

It seems that many of you have been using our Web site as another way to overcome the tyranny of distance and time. Those who have visited our site have discovered we have worked hard to provide almost daily updates on the news, features, code issues, and products that affect our industry. I encourage you to add our site to your Favorites list. And if you get a chance, maybe even enter the global network and add your opinion to my blog updates.

I realize it's often difficult to remember to log-in, so we offer you a free monthly update that is sent around the middle of each month. I encourage you to sign up for this e-newsletter, and include every employee who wants to learn more about our industry.