Author: Casey Houser
Posted on June 4, 2020 by Casey Houser
We’re now six months into the global spread of COVID-19. It has caused dramatic loss of life and an altering of the economy most people have never seen before.
In order to keep employees safe, many businesses have adjusted their work practices to include telecommuting. We put out a call to all interested businesses to share their working from home tips for success. Now, after sorting the overwhelming response we received, we’d like to share their experiences with you.
We hope you can find some wisdom here from the wide range of businesses we had the pleasure of getting to know.
Generalized Advice and Experiences
Several of our respondents talked about their company’s experiences and the manner in which they have used various online tools to go remote. Their shared stories highlight what a lot of us are seeing in our own workplace situations, and they mark the need for both cooperation and community in the workplace.
Chat Software in a Sea of Challenges
Robert Moses, founder of The Corporate Con/noisseur spelled out what it seems that a majority of businesses are facing. Moses said The Corporate Con/noisseur has offices in Atlanta, Raleigh, and New York city and that all employees in all offices transitioned to home work beginning in March.
“This shift was, initially, difficult on all of us and required both patience and understanding from the top down,” Moses said.
“Initially, before the pandemic, many of our internal communications occurred via face-to-face meetings between centralized teams,” Moses continued, noting that the Slack communications platform helped pull all the remote workers together so they could be productive. The company has used Slack extensively, and within its talks to “dramatically reduce meetings and the number of emails sent,” other project management software has been considered.
Moses called The Corporate Con/noisseur stronger and more resilient as a result of dealing with this restructuring of everyday work.
Repurposing Online Chat Software
Steve Johnson, a developer at Too Much Tina Marketing also noted that Slack has become an important tool in keeping the team connected. What’s unique here is that the chat service has been extended into a conduit for data archiving.
“Each of us have created a personalized Slack forwarding e-mail address and set it up as a new contact in our phones,” Johnson said. “This allows each of us to forward e-mails, texts, URLs, screen shots, and other pieces of content into Slack where it can be shared, discussed, tasked, and archived for future reference.”
Johnson also noted that the Too Much Tina Marketing team has invited clients to participate within Slack. Their clients have found it useful for communications about business matters. Moreover, Johnson said, the Too Much Tina employees have tried to make Slack a fun and inviting place, which has urged clients to try Slack that were initially hesitant to adopt another piece of software.
Relying on Voice and Video
In some cases, businesses have actually stepped away from text-based chat platforms in order to keep their operations running smoothly. The work from home tips for success from Dan Edmonson, founder and CEO of Dronegenuity, included call-outs for phone calls and video-based chat because, in Edmonson’s words, “allowed us to experience the benefits of in-person interaction.”
Edmonson noted that Dronegenuity had previous experience with remote work, so the transition to remote work for the entire staff wasn’t overwhelming. However, team members were accustomed to weekly meetings in a co-working center so everyone could stay on track. Because of this, Edmonson continued, “a remote working environment has required our team to focus on communication methods that closely resemble the feeling of in-person communication.”
Making Real Life Virtual
This type of experience that mimics in-person meetings also takes place for Leo Young, a realtor for Coldwell Banker who said that interactions with prospective homeowners have gone virtual.
“Where possible,” Young said, “we conduct business remotely, such as with virtual showings instead of in-person showings, virtual home inspections instead of in-person home inspections, and digital closings instead of in-person closings.”
Young commented that all the realtors in his area have been “very understanding to accommodate and reduce physical interaction.”
Prioritizing Company Culture
Sean Nguyen, a director at Internet Advisor, told VirtualPBX that a special video chat session was created to keep morale high among the changing work culture.
“I feel like it’s my job to ensure that I keep the team spirit alive,” Nguyen said, “so I’ve set up a daily ‘social’ video call, in addition to whatever ones we have for work purposes. It’s helped us tremendously. It’s a time that we set aside for us to just chat, see each other, catch up, talk about our families, etc.”
Nguyen noted that this daily video call has helped keep the company culture alive. It’s allowed the Internet Advisor team to stay connected in a way that’s not specifically tied to work tasks, hopefully “coming out the other side an even stronger team than we were before.”
Tips, Tricks, and Statistics
Other respondents were more forthcoming about their working from home tips for success and the statistics associated with their transition to remote work.
Maintaining Mental Health
Sunny Ashley, founder and CEO of Autoshopinvoice, spoke about the reality of maintaining a balanced life when working from home.
“Working from home blurs the line between your professional and personal life,” Ashley said. “It doesn’t allow your mind to have a clean break between working hours and after-work hours.”
To combat the blending of home and work, Ashley recommended creating a sustainable schedule and creating physical boundaries between those places. This can manifest in the creation of a schedule that works for you, including finding a “productivity sweet spot” when you know you’re best at tackling important tasks. Checking email, responding to messages, and other less cognition-intensive tasks can be saved for a time outside that zone.
Physical zoning can be created by setting aside a space for your work – no matter how simple.
“Dedicate one chair, table, or room in your house purely for working,” Ashley said. “Your mind will begin to build a habit of associating the furniture or space with work. When you get up to do something else, it’ll be easier to adjust back into home life.”
Tyler Brooks of JAM Paper & Envelope recommended bringing the traditional workplace into the home office by way of familiarity.
“Put on some music or a podcast, whatever you normally listen to while at work at the office,” Brooks added. “This is also a really great method of getting into the head space to complete your daily work tasks as normal.”
For some businesses, it’s important to keep a close eye on the tasks at hand. Tom De Spiegelaere, founder of Tom Spicky says use of Time Doctor software helps track employee productivity.
“Through the software,” Spiegelaere reported, “I’m able to know a few things – how much time an employee spends on each task, whether an employee is visiting any unproductive sites like social media, and whether the employee is really working at the time.”
Importantly, a heavy dose of disclose comes along with this activity tracking.
“I tell my employees that we’re using the software to monitor their productivity,” Spiegelaere concluded. “I believe it’s important to be explicit in the matter.”
Jane Flanagan, the lead project engineer at Tacuna Systems, also advocated for the use of Time Doctor, noting that login and logout times can be recorded and that time stamps can be associated with specific tasks.
More than that, Tacuna employees are expected to meet short-term goals throughout their work weeks.
“Working from home should not mean ‘anything goes,’ so we set up rules and guidelines concerning time, work hours, work to be done, communication, conduct, and others,” Flanagan said about Tacuna’s structure.
A More Hands-Off Approach
Although strict time tracking might work well in some offices, it isn’t the path forward for every company. Michael Lowe, Car Passionate said his employees are allowed to adjust their schedules to fit their own preferences. There’s only one overarching goal: work must be completed on time.
“All staff have the ability to work when they want as long as the work gets done,” Lowe said. “Easy. Right?”
Lowe noted that work-life balance has always been a high priority for Car Passionate. The company’s switch to remote work has brought in new ways to keep the balance intact, such as virtual meetings through Zoom, quiz nights, and online game competitions.
At Car Passionate, video chat helps the team stay connected. Email, Lowe pointed out, is the company’s primary method of communicating about projects and workloads.
Take Advantage of the Small Things
One of the working from home tips for success from SEO manager Jen Penaluna is to find simple ways to access important information. At Bigfoot Digital, Penaluna called out trust and transparency is key elements to a successful remote work atmosphere.
Bigfoot Digital uses the team collaboration platform Team Huddle, and Penaluna noted a specific feature of that software that helps identify the mood of any associate.
“The added bonus of using Team Huddle for team management,” Penaluna said, “is that each team member can add an emoji to their check in, so I know who’s happy or who’s stressed and can help out accordingly.”
Emojis can range from the serious to the silly. Their inclusion in a remote work atmosphere, however, may see their power of emotion identification come into play in a productive way.
Less Can Be More
Don’t be afraid to communicate less if it suits your business. Several companies listed here have shared their desire for increased communication through a number of audiovisual platforms, but that type of path isn’t always a great fit.
“Though most experts say you should communicate more, I say to use caution,” said Tim Reitsma, the co-founder of People Managing People.
Reitsma, who has more than 10 years business consulting experience, reported that his employees have found a lot of creativity in the content they have created from home – possibly as a result from the company’s limited connection requirements.
“Employees can quickly get disengaged if their Slack messages are blowing up with irrelevant messages all day long,” Reitsma said. “We only send Slack messages and have Zoom video calls when it’s absolutely necessary.”
Challenge Your Operations Model
Tiffany Bradshaw, a wine educator and executive director for Boisset Wine Collection, had to change the fundamental manner in which their business was conducted.
“I am a wine educator who does wine tastings through Airbnb experiences,” Bradshaw said. This would include samples of wine for participants who, because they will be trying multiple types of wine in a sitting, won’t need a full bottle for any one type.
The need for isolation during coronavirus, however, made it so in-person wine tastings were out of the question. Bradshaw had to begin completing wine tastings virtually.
“It’s obviously much more difficult when people have to buy huge bottles of wine in advance as opposed to just having a 1 ounce pour of each wine,” Bradshaw said. The obstacle has not stopped the operation, though. Now Bradshaw is challenging the core nature of the wine tasting process, using video calls as the important link between business and customer.
Take Advantage of Market Needs
Big businesses aren’t the only ones that have a need to go remote. Freelancers have been affected just as much, either through working from home rather than a co-working space or by dealing with other companies that have begun remote work.
Freelance writer John Boitnott spoke about how his personal circumstances haven’t changed much in the past few months.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones, I think,” Boitnott said. “I’ve been working from home primarily since 2013 so not too much has changed for me.”
What has held his freelancing career stable in this time, and what has kept him connected to clients, is the common need for written content.
“Most companies recognize how vital content is to their business and want to keep their strategy in place. The truth is, content is so important in terms of search engine ranking and lead generation that very few can afford to limit it as a part of their ongoing strategies.”
See what you can rely on in your business’s market to help provide stability in your own work.
Consider Your Working From Home Tips for Success
What is it that helps your business succeed in this time of remote work?
If you’re finding success, that’s great. But if there’s still improvement to be made, we hope that the reflections offered by these business have given you some food for thought.
For further reading, check out our profile of two VirtualPBX staff members who share their working from home tips for success as mothers of young children.
Posted on June 2, 2020 by Casey Houser
VirtualPBX is reaching beyond voice-only capability with its first Video Conferencing beta test.
This beta test allows our participating VirtualPBX Phone Plan customers to conduct 1:1 video chats on a range of devices. Customers will be able to use their existing phone numbers, so there’s no additional setup required for anyone to get started.
Feedback during this process will be essential for building out the capability of our video service. We intend to support all video-capable devices that would normally work with our Phone Plans – including our own VirtualPBX Web Phone that’s offered to all customers regardless of plan type. Video capability will also expand to allow group conferences so entire teams can join multimedia meetings.
Supported Devices in Beta
Our initial device support during this Video Conferencing beta test includes these desk phones and software-based phones:
- VirtualPBX Softphone
- Yealink T5 Series desk phones
- Linphone 3rd-party softphone
- Bria 3rd-party softphone
Coming soon, we will also add video capability to our Web Phone. This will allow customers to hold video-based conversations on their laptops or smartphones through the Chrome and Firefox web browsers.
Our team is currently testing a number of other desk phones and software applications for video capability. As they are approved, devices will be cleared for use during the beta test.
Stay Tuned for Group Chat
Initial video conversations for our Video Conferencing beta test will be between only two participants. All VirtualPBX Phone Plan numbers are capable of completing video calls, so when the system is ready for group chat, participants will be able to complete larger calls in the same manner as 1:1 calls.
Group chat will arrive soon as we continue to test and refine our video feature. We will rely on customer feedback during this process to judge the quality of video transmissions as we transition from 1:1 to 1:many. Eventually, entire departments will be able to speak to one another between a range of different devices.
Start 1:1 Video Today
Interested participants can learn more and sign up for our Video Conferencing beta test at this link. Both existing customers and new customers are eligible to join.
If you don’t yet use a VirtualPBX Phone Plan, we’d be happy to speak to you about which plan best fits your business. Talk to us today about getting started, and mention Video Conferencing if it’s a feature you’re excited to use at your business.
Posted on May 27, 2020 by Casey Houser
One of the more understated features of our Advanced Call Reports software is its ability to deliver call center metrics to your email inbox.
Within Advanced Call Reports, you can create as many reports as you need in order to analyze your KPIs associated with inbound and outbound calls. How you then retrieve those reports is up to you – either on-demand through your dashboard or through your email.
The benefit of automatic delivery to your inbox is that can be faster than on-demand pickup and it can keep you on schedule throughout the busy workday. Let’s explore those ideas a little.
Consolidation of Activities
You probably check your email every morning and spend at least 10 minutes sifting through new messages. As a call center manager or team leader, your email keeps you connected with company departments and with the broader world of business through subscriptions to various services.
What if your call center metrics could become one of those services?
It’s easy to make that a reality. Creating a schedule within Advanced Call Reports requires only that you create a report and know when you need to see it. It’s as simple as selecting the Create Schedule button, choosing the Report you want to see, and marking its recurrence (daily, weekly, monthly…) and time of day when you want it delivered.
Emails with call center metrics then arrive when you need them. Taking a few minutes here saves you the need to sign in to Advanced Call Reports on your daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It consolidates the locations you need to visit to gain the same information, which is an excellent advantage to anyone with a large to-do list.
Keeping You on Time
The automatic delivery of call center metrics like Calls by Ring Time or ACD Queues Pro Agent Status also offers a secondary benefit: it keeps you on schedule.
Most of us, from time to time, slip up and forget about that weekly meeting or quarterly analytics overview. When that happens, it’s often a quick scramble to attend the meeting or cobble a report together. What if you could save yourself from yourself?
Properly spaced report deliveries can remind you about your appointments by association. Your Monday-morning email of “Sales Dept. Weekly” can immediately prep you for the morning meeting with that department. A “Company Metrics” report delivered a week before your quarterly presentation will keep your managers’ meeting in the forefront of your mind.
You will be reminded of upcoming events and shown the necessary business metrics you need to make each meeting a success.
Keep Your Call Center Metrics in Order
Our Advanced and Enterprise Phone Plans give you access to Advanced Call Reports among a host of other included features like ACD Queues Pro, Call Recording, and External Storage to Amazon AWS.
We’re available 24/7 to discuss how VirtualPBX Phone Plans can meet your needs and to show you how Advanced Call Reports fits into your business. Start a discussion today to see how we can keep your call center metrics organized and fit alongside your busy schedule.
Posted on May 21, 2020 by Casey Houser
The key performance indicators (KPIs) associated with your business show the specific ways in which your activities are successful. From Marketing campaigns to Sales calls, Support tickets to Engineering uptime, it’s important to be accurate in your measurements of daily business dealings.
The VirtualPBX Advanced Call Reports tool gives you access to all the call metrics that run through your business. No matter the department or type of call, you can create on-demand and automated reports that show exactly how your KPIs are taking shape.
We’d like to run through a single example – accessing the Ring Time of inbound calls – in this week’s blog to give you an idea of how exactly you would retrieve information about a call. The steps here are repeatable with all manner of call data, and we’d be happy to share a Free Demo with you so you can see more of Advanced Call Reports in action.
Your Phone Plan Setup
Consider for this example that your business accepts inbound calls associated with a single phone number in a marketing campaign. You want to measure the Ring Time for your associates who answer those calls.
Creating a Filter
The first step in KPI reporting with the Advanced Call Reports tool is to create a Filter in which you will select specific criteria that meet your goals. In this example, you will be creating a Filter that selects a DID phone number (555-123-7890).
Selecting the Create Filter button in the Filters area of your Advanced Call Reports dashboard will open a window where you can input the Name of your Filter and specify its Conditions. You can add as many Conditions as you prefer; in this case, selecting Direct Inward Dial allows you to enter the phone number you want to track.
Now you can join the Filter to a Report, which will display data related to what your Filter allows.
Creating a Report
Entering the Reports section of Advanced Call Reports is the second part of your KPI reporting. Like in the previous step, you will select a Create Report button that leads you to a setup screen. It first displays the types of Report templates available and then lets you customize your data output.
For this use case, selecting the Time-Based Report of Calls By Ring Time will suit the task well. You first choose that template from the drop-down menu and then enter its Name, Filter, and Date Range to meet your needs.
Selecting the Filter you created in the previous step lets you analyze all calls related to the phone number you specified. You can select only one Filter per Report. But it’s always possible to edit a Filter to select for more or less information.
You could change your Filter, for example, to look for more than one DID. If you expand your marketing campaign, this would allow your Reports to match the current state of your campaigns.
Reports can also be customized beyond what their template initially establish. Editing a Report after it has been created will let you see the fields it creates when generating output.
The default Calls by Ring Time report outputs Ring Time, Incoming Calls, Outgoing Calls, Internal Calls, and Trunk to Trunk Calls. For our purposes in this example, it doesn’t make sense to keep any of the fields beyond Ring Time and Incoming Calls, so you might want to remove those from the list.
Additionally, you could add fields like First Answer Time and Last End Time to get a picture of when the first call arrived for the day and when the final call ended. Information like that could expand the scope of how you view the primary information you’re after.
Editing Reports and Scheduling
Once your Reports have been created, you can access them at any time and run the Report while you’re in the Advanced Call Reports dashboard.
Logging into the system, though, isn’t altogether necessary. Instead, you can schedule delivery of Reports to your email inbox to have KPI reporting reach you automatically.
The Schedules setting of your dashboard will present its own setup window after selecting Create Schedule. You will be able to name and describe your Schedule, add as many Reports as you want, and select the cadence in which you receive Reports in your email.
What’s seen here is a Daily cadence – minus weekends. You would be able to see your department’s performance on a daily basis.
You may notice that our Schedule here delivers the Report every evening. This works with our Report that was created to look at the performance of a single day’s calls. If the Schedule tried to list today’s calls early in the morning, it might not see any calls available since the work day had not yet begun.
KPI Reporting at Your Business
Take to heart the idea that Advanced Call Reports is customizable to nearly any situation your business will encounter. It addresses your KPI reporting with specificity while making the information easy to access.
Advanced Call Reports is available for use on our Advanced and Enterprise Phone Plans. We’re here 24/7 to help you choose a phone plan that fits your needs and to discuss how you can meet your own KPI reporting goals with our included system features.
Posted on May 19, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s guest post was written by Ecommerce Platforms, a reviewer of online store software.
Lockdown means that speaking online is now the primary method of communication and it comes with its own quirks – it’s not a given that someone who adores speaking face-to-face will enjoy a video call as much.
In today’s post, I’ll cover a number of work from home communications considerations and show you how to get the most out of your communications from contending with training issues to dealing with outside distractions.
While not all of these will be relevant to everyone in your business, each of them will likely concern someone in your company, so I hope you will consider all of them and then apply these lessons to your organization as they fit.
Training Issues to Contend With
Not everyone is tech-savvy – those who are will be surprised at how difficult it can be for a non-techy to set themselves up for online communication.
Take one of my friends.
He’s an operations manager at a call center, one whose staff worked almost exclusively from the office prior to lockdown.
Now, I won’t go into all the details of how that’s affected him, but here’s one example.
A member of his team was being remotely set up to work from home. My friend asked them to hit the spacebar. The reply was “what button is that?” It took 10 minutes for the staff member to establish that it was the “long one.”
That might be an extreme (and extremely painful) example, but its lesson still applies to you – you need to be prepared and plan for all work from home communications considerations because you may need to spend a long time explaining things to people.
Having the Right Equipment in Place to Communicate
I’ll admit that I take for granted that I have the right equipment to work from home and communicate with colleagues and clients. I often work from home, meaning I have up-to-date experience with what I require.
But you shouldn’t take this for granted with your employees because you’d be surprised by how much equipment they might be missing.
There are a number of equipment shortfalls and pitfalls you can expect.
Think your employees have a computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, microphone, camera and all the other communications essentials? It’s important to consider that they might not own all these personal devices. It could be necessary for you to supply a laptop but additional equipment as well.
You might confidently think to yourself, “it’s fine, my employees have a PC and all those other things.” But I’ll toss a curveball at you – data protection.
It’s not enough for them to have their own equipment. They need company equipment that’s secure and will pair well with each other.
Think about, for instance, that you’re like me and you work with two screens. At work you can connect your device to your monitor fairly simply – all you need is a micro USB to HDMI and you’re done. There’s no security risk in connecting your device to a monitor to create a second view for your work.
At home, you might have an all in one PC (I do) that’s not company-supplied. To connect it to workplace servers or equipment might require the installation of special software. It might even be easier to supply employees with company equipment rather than format their personal computers to become more secure.
The level of dedication this requires will vary depending on your security needs. In the most extreme cases, it could require deliveries of the right equipment to employees at their homes. This could take weeks to orchestrate, essentially making setup time one of your most important initial work from home communications consideration.
Deciding on the Communications Platform to Use
You can rest here for a bit. Because while deciding on the communications platform to use is enormously important, it’s actually quite straightforward.
I’ve used the following communications platforms and can offer a few pros and cons I’ve experienced with each:
- Free to use
- Has a nice tile view for seeing call participants
- Participants need to have a Google account
- Needs a high and stable bandwidth
- Up to 250 people per meeting
- Free for 40 minutes of group chat
- Security is a concern
- Multiple reports have shown information security concerns and video chat interruptions
- Great functionality with collaborative tools
- Works well on mobile devices
- Permission settings can be difficult to use
- Can experience lag issues
That gives you an idea of what to expect and some things to consider. However, you will need to try these platforms out yourself and establish if they meet the communications needs of your business.
Outside Distractions Can Impact Communication
When working from home, it can be difficult to remove yourself from distractions. Even if you have lots of experience working from home, chances are that you won’t have experience of doing so while your whole house is at home.
The potential for distraction creates plenty of communications issues. Here are a few specific events you could encounter:
- A Google Hangouts presentation being interrupted by a noisy child
- A cat racing across a laptop and interrupting a Microsoft Teams chat
- Neighbours playing music loudly while you’re having a Zoom call
Basically, you can demand professionalism from your team, employees, and superiors, but you can’t expect that it will always be delivered upon because you’re not in the office – you’re in people’s homes.
Be prepared and considerate of circumstances. Diplomacy is key when something unexpected happens.
How People Cope With Online Communications
It’s easy to assume that online communications are the same as face-to-face interaction. You can still see people’s faces and take clues from body language.
The thing is, though, online communications really aren’t the same as speaking in person. The most personal of these work from home communications considerations is that people cope with this challenge in different ways.
You might be the sort of person who speaks confidently when standing in front of a room of people. However, when you’re on set with dozens of squares of people’s faces on a screen you may shrink into yourself a little.
Some people will experience communicating from home differently than communicating in the office. Managers should be aware of and accommodating to this possibility. A few informal test runs can ease everyone into the new way of communicating, and it can give you the chance, as a company, to test-run several video chat platforms before committing to one.
Make Your Communications Smooth
Business communication during lockdown is quite different to what you’ve experienced prior to COVID-19. Not everyone in your company will have had experience working from home. Even among those who have, regular video conferences and remote work can require adjustments as a new normal develops.
Take my pieces of advice to heart as your company makes the move to working from home. You will be better off when you’re aware of the benefits and challenges this type of work environment will create. And the more you know, the smoother your daily communication will be.