Posted on March 24, 2020 by Casey Houser
Of all the tips for working remotely we can offer, perhaps the most important is this: Use tools and services that provide your business with solid footing.
VirtualPBX has been a remote-first company for more than a decade. Our team has worked from all corners of the U.S., and continues to thrive in that distributed environment, even under the strain of the coronavirus outbreak that has upended all aspects of life.
We have been able to maintain consistent operation throughout this new year, despite its challenges, in part because of our reliance on our own tools and services. We’d like to share some further information today about the VirtualPBX Softphone and our PBX Parachute service and can help your business stay grounded when working remotely. But first, we want to share a message from one of our company leaders.
We’re Here to Help
Our COO, Lon Baker, recently offered these words to our staff: “We are operating normally and want to lead by example. We must be here for businesses of all sizes to adapt to the new environment in which they’re now working.”
In this statement, he reassured our team that we’re doing OK and that, because of our experience, we need to be more than a developer of communications products. We must be a company that can help any business adjust to its new situation.
This was a message sent in our private Slack chat seen only initially by our staff members. Yet it reaches outside that boundary with its reflection on working life.
We are here for you. Outside our product and services, know that we have decades of remote work experience you can draw on. Start a chat to ask about how we can help.
Moving along, we’d like to highlight the VirtualPBX Softphone as an important tool in your remote communications belt.
The tip for working remotely mentioned at the start of this piece is that you should use tools that provide you with solid footing. The Softphone lets your remote workers prop up their own connection to your office and your customers by turning any smartphone into a full-featured VoIP phone.
The VirtualPBX Softphone works with our Business Phone Plans like any desk phone would. It has access all user Features like Voicemail and Conferencing and may be included in ACD Queues for advanced call routing.
What this means for your remote business is that anyone with an Android or iOS smartphone or a Windows or Mac computer can begin working from home immediately. Your customer support agents can receive calls distributed through ACD Queues and your sales team can participate in Audio Conferences like they would have in normal in-person meetings throughout the week.
To better support your business, we’re happy to now offer all new and existing customers an easier path to using our Softphone.
While the hardship of the coronavirus outbreak continues, customers with hardware phones can request matching Softphones and have the device fee waived for those added virtual devices.
As a developer of VoIP Phone Plans, our offering of a failover protection service often flies under the radar. Our PBX Parachute service – which provids an immediate connection to a backup phone service when primary phone service goes offline – has nevertheless offered our customers the benefit of instant emergency protection for many years.
A majority of our PBX Parachute customers are businesses that use an on-site PBX for their phone system. Those systems can be vulnerable to power outages, so our emergency failover keeps their operations moving by routing inbound calls to other offices or to individuals’ phones.
While not strictly a remote work feature, PBX Parachute does have a connection to your stability as a company. Our tip for working remotely in this piece is that your solid footing is paramount. PBX Parachute can help your business transition to a distributed office by allowing any backup calls reach employees outside your office.
As a reaction to the coronavirus, many customers have deployed their PBX Parachute. Our team is standing by to help negotiate a lower rate on traffic fees or to help companies fully upgrade to the cloud with a hosted PBX plan.
Tools for Working Remotely
If your business has been making the switch to a distributed workplace, consider speaking to VirtualPBX about its tools for working remotely and its experience as a remote company.
We have a wealth of knowledge to share and VoIP Phone Plans that can help you stay connected. Thanks for letting us pass along our experience so you can make the most of a tough situation.
Posted on March 19, 2020 by Casey Houser
Many businesses are seeking ways to take their operations remote. Whether you’re on the path toward full- or part-time remote work, it’s essential that you make use of the proper remote team collaboration tools.
There’s no shortage of online software for you to choose from. Google, Slack, Trello, and Zapier mark an assortment of the big names in the field. And at VirtualPBX, we even have a few features within our Business Phone Plans that can help your team make that transition out of the office.
Keep reading to dig into a few of these options with us – including feedback about how the VirtualPBX team uses all these products on a daily basis.
You may know Google GSuite for one of its individual components. Maybe you already have a Gmail account or use Google Docs for writing documents or sharing spreadsheets.
The set of online tools Google offers is broad (including Gmail, Docs, Drive for sharing documents, Calendar for scheduling events, Meet for conducting virtual audio/video meetings, and several other online components).
VirtualPBX uses many of these Google tools in its daily operations. Our teams keep each other on schedule with departmental calendars like the Marketing calendar for scheduling newsletter release and the PTO calendar to show when employees are taking time for vacations or conferences.
What we like most about GSuite – and what we think you will find is most helpful – is that all the products are built to speak to one another. Individual email addresses are assigned their own email account, calendar, storage space, and so on. And your corporate account with Google can house multiple emails to fit your entire team.
Slack has taken the communication world by storm over the past half-decade. It’s wildly popular with organizations because of how it handles team collaboration.
You can create multiple channels for your business that you arrange by topic or by department. VirtualPBX uses channels, for instance, for Marketing, Sales, and Services teams so they can address one another throughout the day. Our Product Management channel keeps the whole team updated on product development, and our Management channels helps department heads organize their activities.
Your own business’s channels can be about any topic, and you can add as many users to those channels as needed.
Our own use of Slack has benefited us immensely because of how it keeps us connected and, moreover, through its integration with other applications such as Zapier.
Zapier lets you connect all your web-based applications and automate tasks.
One of our most-used Zapier integrations is the Slack notification. Among many other notifications, we’re alerted whenever a form on our website is filled out and when a new user has completed our signup process.
Zapier lets you select a trigger from one application (a form fill on your website) and has a different application react (Slack posts a notification in a channel) to that trigger. This action-reaction format works with hundreds of popular online programs including GSuite products and Slack online chat.
Our Zaps keep us informed about operations that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. How do you know that a form was filled on your website? Zapier makes it easy to be notified about such simple, but important, occurrences. It’s this remote team collaboration tool that has allowed all our web applications to work in concert; it has been an excellent asset to our productivity as a remote-first business.
Among the web apps that Zapier connects to is Trello. This task management software helps you organize tasks by sorting individual task cards into collections called lists. Lists are then grouped into larger units called boards.
VirtualPBX has a board for its Marketing team. That board contains a list labeled “Peer Review,” which contains cards of individual tasks that team members can review. The Marketing department’s individual members have, for example, lists called “Blog” and “Needs Review” as reminders about upcoming blog posts and items to revisit.
You can organize your own collections by how they best fit your teams. Company accounts can fit multiple users; permission settings can allow more than one user to access a community board – such as our Marketing board.
Perhaps best of all: you can link your Trello boards to your Zapier account. As just one example, we notify our Billing about status changes by firing a Slack notification when a Trello card is moved from one list to another (“In Progress” to “Onboarding,” for example).
Several members of our team use Call Forwarding to direct inbound calls to their personal smartphones. This can be used as a primary function, where all calls are sent to that device, or as a backup function (called Failover Mode) where calls are only forwarded when other phones like our Web Phone aren’t active.
Another remote team collaboration tool that gets heavy use around our virtual office is the VirtualPBX Web Phone. Team members can use it in any web browser they choose – desktop or mobile – and take calls like they would with any other phone. Web Phone can access a user’s personal directory and call history, and it can work with our ACD Queues feature.
Our more advanced plans allow ACD Queues to be used for advanced call routing to teams. The VirtualPBX Support team uses ACD Queues to route customer service calls to its agents. You can assign calls in a round robin fashion or in several other configurations. It supports any number of agents that need to take calls. We support our department of remote employees who work all across the U.S. to provide 24/7 service.
Our most endeavoring of customers have also begun to participate in the beta test of our Call Reports software. This application works directly with our Phone Plans to collect data about inbound and outbound calls. It interfaces well with ACD Queues, and to that end, our Support team uses it daily to improve their work with customers.
Choose Your Remote Team Collaboration Tools
These tools, of course, don’t represent a comprehensive list of everything on the market. They also don’t all need to be used together or all at once.
Look through these tools to figure out if any of them fit your business use case. When going remote, it helps to have tools that fit well, so don’t compromise or over-extend yourself. We’ve tested this particular set of remote team collaboration tools over years of daily use.
If you need any help, get in touch through our online chat. We’re happy to help answer any questions you have.
Posted on March 17, 2020 by Casey Houser
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become a concern for everyone. We want to know that our primary goal at VirtualPBX is for everyone to be safe. Please read through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization Coronavirus pages for information about how to protect yourself and limit the spread of the virus.
Many businesses are sending employees home to work, and many individuals are telecommuting for the first time. Our expertise at VirtualPBX lies in communications. Therefore, we’d like to offer you a quick guide on remote work during the Coronavirus outbreak and how you can best get your home workstation set for productive work days in the coming weeks.
Read on for a brief discussion covering internet bandwidth needs and essential devices like headphones and webcams. For any businesses landing on this page, we’ve also provided a brief list of features that a Business Phone System can offer your remote workers, should you need something more robust to accommodate a change in workplace procedures.
Remote workers will have to pay particular attention to the bandwidth offered by their internet service provider. If you need internet access at your residence, both Comcast and Charter are offering free internet access during this outbreak.
Although lags in video and webpage loading may be acceptable at home under normal circumstances, it could create problems when transferring files to a company server or conducting an online meeting.
You can run a quick bandwidth analysis by visiting the Speedtest website. Data on the VirtualPBX site shows that a mere 500 kbps of available bandwidth should be enough to support a single audio call. Your bandwidth will fluctuate, however, when other resources are used, like video playback and music streaming.
Even the most basic of broadband internet connections should support live audio chat, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your local provider for assistance if you need it.
Essential Home Workplace Devices
Because working from home often includes online meetings, this means you will need the proper equipment to attend those meetings.
Most laptops come with a built-in camera and microphone. They often provide more than enough video resolution and audio quality than you will need.
As a consideration to yourself and your employees, you should also get a pair of headphones. This makes it easier for you to hear people talking in your meetings, and it keeps any echo from your laptop from reverberating in your built-in microphone.
A pair of headphones is also a great option for when you’re talking on the phone. If you take phone calls with customers, the headphones and lack of reverb can make your conversations move much smoother.
Be sure to keep your workplace surfaces clean, such as with sanitizing wipes. And if you want to browse our Hardware Store, we have multiple desk phones (some refurbished) and accessories to choose from.
Business Phone System Features
As noted earlier, some businesses will find themselves in the position where they need a phone system that supports conferencing and other remote work functions.
We offer two styles of plans at VirtualPBX. Our Unlimited Minute Plans work well for businesses that complete a high volume of calls. Our Unlimited User Plans offer a limited number of monthly calling minutes (300, 500, or 1000) at a lower price.
All plans have access to remote work features like Call Forwarding and Audio Conferencing for as many system users and guests as necessary. Creating a Coronavirus remote work program doesn’t have to be difficult. We want to help you get the tools you need to make remote work run smoothly at your company.
Switching to VirtualPBX from your current phone system provider can take place in fewer than 15 minutes. We can port your current numbers to our system after a brief conversation with our team.
Remote Work During the Coronavirus Outbreak
If you have any questions about working from or want to get started with a new VirtualPBX Phone Plan, don’t hesitate to give our team a call. We’re happy to discuss our options with you.
Posted on March 12, 2020 by Casey Houser
Want to learn how to create an employee training plan? Here’s your chance.
In today’s blog, we’ll talk about developing a set of goals, creating tasks to engage employees, and iterating to keep everyone up to date, including mentions of our Business Phone System as an important tool in this process.
Your employee training plan is only as good as your goals. And your goals are only as good as the needs they match. You can easily break down the elements of your business to create a complete picture of what you want to accomplish.
Unique Business Needs
Think first about your unique needs as a business. Do your employees all work at a brick-and-mortar shop, or do they work from home? Do the demands of your industry change, or are your employee functions mostly static across several months?
Create a Spreadsheet
Create a spreadsheet of all your employees and their departments. Then list the essential skills each person and department needs to fulfill their positions. You may need to distinguish between skills that can be learned on the job and state/federal certification requirements. Although this blog mostly addresses what you can do in-house regarding employee training, it can’t hurt to list agency requirements in your document.
Your effort here will ultimately help you develop training materials, which is discussed in the following section. The skills of each employee will group together — possibly by department — so you can get a high-level overview of which broad ideas need to be addressed. You may find that topics like “customer interaction,” “website design,” or “product know-how” populate your list. This is where you can begin developing programs that address individuals’ needs and the needs of the business as a whole.
Find Time in Your Schedule
Find time for training to take place. Your on-site or remote training will need a time slot. You could replace a weekly meeting or carve out some time in your schedule. It might even be necessary to complete training outside normal working hours – extending the work day an hour to complete a simple training. Whichever option you choose, make sure as much of your staff is available at once. You can use Conferencing to bring employees together on any device they prefer.
It will probably be best to group trainings by department. This way you can focus on specific employee needs and lighten the head count of any individual gathering.
Your Training Materials
Where do you begin in creating materials to teach your employees?
You know your business best. Therefore, you can speak intelligently about how it functions in all respects. You might not be an expert in all areas of business function, but you know where to find it.
Give a Short Presentation
For many areas of your daily business functions, you can show it in a slideshow and speak about it as a lecture. This type of training is a great way to engage new employees with the manner in which your business acts as a whole. For instance, you can talk about the type of interaction customers expect to have over the phone and use Call Recordings as a showcase for the best examples.
Invite an Expert
For the training of new hires, it could be appropriate to have a seasoned employee discuss the ins and outs of their department. More in-depth training sessions could benefit from the wisdom of an expert from your industry – perhaps the CEO of one of your customers – who can speak about how they’re best served by your employees.
Consider External Resources
Sometimes, you need to outsource your training to a professional agency, such as for medical equipment training. Other times, it can be a great idea to take employee training off your busy schedule. Educational materials can be found in digital libraries and e-learning websites such as Coursera. In addition, market seminars and conferences offer great methods of allowing employees to learn new skills “outside the classroom.”
Follow Up With Q&A
No employee has ever walked away from a mandatory training video thinking, “That was great!” They want to be engaged; so engage them. Give your presentation and follow with questions. Make your trainings interactive and let your employees’ voices be heard.
Iterate Your Employee Training Plan
Your final, but recurring, task in creating an employee training plan is to keep it going.
Schedule regular trainings to keep your employees informed. Your initial spreadsheet of employee needs can be fitted with a column that notes the date and topic of their previous classes.
If you stay abreast of those dates, you can keep employees on a cycle of learning that matches changes in your business and your market. Even if their positions don’t change much, employees can still benefit from new information about customer demand or product changes. It can also be refreshing to attend an outside speaking engagement (while getting paid, of course!).
You can utilize tools at your disposal, such as the Call Recording feature of our Advanced and Enterprise Phone Plans or our Call Reports online software you can use just like our own Support Team to collect department data and improve customer interaction.
We’re happy to speak to you further about getting started with a Business Phone Plan and discussing your fit with plans that include Recording and Reports.
Posted on March 5, 2020 by Casey Houser
While starting your own small business will take more effort than just reading an article, we’d like to set you up with some pointers.
From business idea to customer contact necessities, think of today’s blog as a list of the essentials. The ideas and tasks that, when you’re starting from nothing, your small business creation journey can’t live without. Let’s get to it.
Have a Business Idea
It should go without saying, but you need a core idea on which to start your own small business. While it can be tempting to say, “I want to control my own destiny,” it could be a disaster if you quit your day job without a plan.
Maybe you want to create a new smartphone accessory or a piece of innovative software. Find the problem in the world that you want to fix. Ask yourself how the world can be made better, and examine your business idea in that context.
Can you improve the lives of others in some way? If so, your product or service may have a chance to succeed.
Create a Business Plan
Do you know who might purchase your product? Adults; teenagers; women; people older than 50?
How about the type of market your product will target? Local; state; national; global?
Or what about the daily functions of your business? Will your initial days of operation focus on product development or customer service?
These are the types of questions you should answer in a formal business plan. Although there are many types of plans you can follow, including this helpful guide from the Small Business Administration, your document will only match your needs, your customers’ needs, and the demands of your market. It will be a unique document.
Spend some time thinking about how your business will function on a daily basis. Consider how you will start and, in the coming months and years, where you want to end up.
Connect to Your Customers
This is also a great time to think about how you will reach customers.
Think about how you want to have a presence in your market. If you will start a small business from home, it’s likely that your online presence will require an online chat service. A chatbot could help you get off the ground and help your customers reach online troubleshooting articles.
Starting a small business from a brick-and-mortar shop will probably need voice presence. You can take inbound calls from customers at your shop – starting with just one phone in a personal office or front desk.
Further Reading for Starting a Small Business
We’d also like to point you toward an Inc.com article that addresses how to get through administrative hurdles (getting a license, obtaining permits, and filling out forms). Entrepreneur also goes into depth about the topics we’ve addressed above and several other steps like obtaining financing and getting feedback.
Make sure your research is thorough. When you’re ready to take your business live, we’ll be here to help you pick an affordable Business Phone Plan that matches the minutes and features you need to be successful.