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General Telephony Blogs

Articles here dig deep into the concerns of the communications industry. Learn about VoIP or the best conference call service for your small business or enterprise. There’s something for everyone.

Focus, Coordination, and Teamwork with VirtualPBX COO, Lon Baker

Change is one of the few constants for businesses, teams, and customers everywhere.

VirtualPBX has changed tremendously over our history, and the change has accelerated thanks to the demands of both our customers and team members.

The biggest challenges in this environment are maintaining focus and coordinating efforts to deliver on our mission — to deliver excellent service where and how people need to get things done.

How We Maintain Focus at VirtualPBX

The loss of focus creates stress, impacts morale, and can create a snowball effect that impacts the delivery of service, completion of projects, and most importantly costs your business time.

At VirtualPBX we strive to maintain focus for our team by reigning in meetings, carefully separating team communication into channels, leveraging our own platform, namely the VirtualPBX Softphone, to communicate the availability of team members, and automating certain tasks via Zapier. We have written about the use of Presence before, and it is critical to understand who is available when you want to speak with them – especially for remote teams.

For meetings we have a firm rule, any meeting lacking a published agenda is canceled, the default meeting length is 20 minutes, meetings start on time regardless of the presence of all attendees, and meeting recordings are used liberally so team members are on vacation or unavailable can catchup.

Coordinating Teams and Processes

We use Slack and our own platform for chat, and over the years have learned to use specific channels for specific topics, to minimize distracting team members.

Coordinating teams is an age-old management challenge, we find maintaining focus requires clearly defining how we manage processes — in our case the use of Notion, Monday.com, Pipedrive, Zapier, and our own Collaboration tools to keep everyone in sync, motivated, and able to perform at their best.

With constant change comes the need to consistently reassessing how your company and team execute. This can drive improvement in your business and your products, like it does for us every single day.

Tech Talks with COO Lon Baker: The Future of Work is Remote

Tech Talks with COO Lon Baker: The Future of Work is RemoteHaving been around for over twenty years we have seen business change in so many ways. From the adoption of what became known as hosted phone services to distributed mobile collaboration applications.

In today’s environment, after over a year of disruptions to the workplace, a growing number of people have had to adapt and develop new work habits; adopting collaboration tools, working from home, and embracing the challenges and benefits. A growing number of employees view going back to the the old ways as a step in the wrong direction.

VirtualPBX Remote Team Management E-Book Cover

The Future of Work is Remote

These employees are now looking for innovative and agile companies that have embraced this new work world and is an opportunity to recruit the best of the best from anywhere in the world.

99% of the best employees do not live anywhere near your company’s geographic offices. Embracing collaboration tools that include voice, video, sms and automation tools, will allow them to seamlessly form distributed teams that will propel their business.

Collaboration Tools Power Remote Teams

At VirtualPBX we use our own tools to manage teams spread out across the United States and overseas. The backbone being our voice platform and Desktop and Mobile Softphone that displays real-time presence information for employees. This allows each of us to see when someone is available, busy, away, on a call or in a meeting.

Our Collaboration tools powers our video conferencing and screen sharing for scheduled or quick on the fly meetings.

Additionally, our platform includes a rich API and integrations with Zapier that helps teams improve our process, automate repetitive tasks, collect business data, or implement email, SMS and Slack notifications for key internal and external events.

All of these tools allow us to have a more connected and effective team than when we had as a geographically based team 5 years ago.

Today we are recruiting remote team members for our Sales, Marketing and Billing teams. Just one of our recent job posting generated 10 time the number of applicants by focusing on recruiting for remote-only positions.

If your company wants to thrive in the new remote work first world, embrace platforms that connect your teams and empower them to build processes to help them work better.

What is Hybrid Work?

Woman on Video Call - Hybrid Work Means Combining Remote and In-Office WorkEven if you’re not aware of the term hybrid work, you’re probably aware of how it manifests in business.

Hybrid work is the joining of at-home, remote work, and on-site work. We’re seeing this type of model become a popular choice for our customers and in the broader business world as our Business Phone Plans get put to use.

Let’s take a quick look at how it may take shape at your business if you haven’t already started a hybrid work structure of your own.

The Demand For Flexible Employment

The COVID-19 pandemic started a recent surge in remote work and has changed many aspects of our lives in the past year and a half.

We saw in April 2020 that many businesses closed their office doors or were forced to do so because of government regulations. Then, when businesses started opening up again, many took the route of remote work because it was easier and safer for their employees.

As we enter the second summer of the pandemic, many regulations have been lifted, and companies are eager to get back to normal. However, they can’t remove themselves from the circumstance that remote work put them in – for better or for worse, both managers and employees saw that remote work was possible.

Unemployment Rate Graph During COVID-19 Pandemic - Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Hybrid Work as a Compromise

When business leaders think of normalcy, they most likely consider a time before COVID-19 was ever-present. They think of employees coming into the office and not working from home.

Yet we know that the flexibility of working from home has had some positive impacts on the lives of employees and on the operations of businesses overall. Consider our customer 1st Classic Limos that used its phone system to stay operation during the worst struggles of the pandemic.

Business leaders know they can’t remove the positive experiences of working from home, so many have begun to start a compromise in what we’re discussing today: hybrid work.

Hybrid work is the mixing of work from home and work in the office, and in the best of times, it can allow businesses to complete all their operational tasks without sacrificing employee happiness. The handling of physical materials can happen in a central location, for instance, while sales and marketing efforts can take place from remote locations.

Still, the use of the hybrid work model is not without its controversy.

Ups and Downs in Hybrid Work

One of the most high-profile controversies surrounding hybrid work at present concerns Apple, which The Verge reported began with Apple CEO sending a notice to employees that they would need to return to the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

Deirdre O’Brien, the senior vice president of retail and people at Apple, backed up this announcement by stating that his company believes “in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future.”

Apple employees pushed back with their own letter – citing the inclusivity and flexibility that fully remote work offers – but were ultimately denied for a broad request to continue full-time remote work. Instead, Apple will reportedly handle all upcoming remote work requests on an individual basis.

Crafting Your Own Hybrid Work Model

The controversy surrounding Apple may put the concept of hybrid work in a bad light. There are probably good points to both sides of the argument about whether fully remote work is appropriate in the long term at Apple. You will need to have a discussion at your own company about which type of work model fits best.

A CNBC article points to three important elements of any hybrid work plan.

First, you will want to create clear expectations so everyone knows how to proceed in the future. Although not everyone will agree with a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday approach like at Apple, it’s still important to draw clear lines to create a standard of work.

Next, it is essential for managers to spend time with their employees. CNBC recommends one-on-one meetings between managers and employees at least once a week. This can help bridge the gap between what’s getting done at the office and at home, and it can allow managers to see how a hybrid work is affecting their work-life balance.

Last, both employees and managers should remain accountable for their work no matter the location in which it’s completed. Employees should expect to complete their objectives when they’re at home the same way they would when they’re at the office. Managers, CNBC notes, can be held accountable when work isn’t completed because they are responsible for providing training and development as the workplace evolves.

VirtualPBX Video Conferencing on Desktop Softphone

Beginning Your Own Hybrid Work Plan?

VirtualPBX can help you put your best foot forward when establishing a hybrid work model at your own business. Tools like Business SMS and Video Conferencing available on many of our plans can keep your entire team connected from any location.

We have helped many companies stay steady throughout the switch to remote work. We’re primed to keep you steady while having employees venture back to the office a few days a week.

VirtualPBX Showcased on SaaS District Podcast

SaaS District Podcast LogoVirtualPBX has excelled in the communications industry for more than 20 years, and this past week, our COO, Lon Baker, was invited to the SaaS District podcast to explain how our company came into being.

In short, Lon explains to host Akeel Jabber that VirtualPBX has been able to keep pace with its larger competitors by listening to customers’ needs and by paying attention to trends in the overall market. VirtualPBX has remained agile and willing to take chances – two characteristics that have proven effective over decades at promoting our growth and the quality of our products and services.

The History of Lon Baker

Lon didn’t start with VirtualPBX as our company was formed. In fact, he told Akeel in their SaaS District conversation, he was heavily involved in a startup he described as a “distributed help desk system.” He and his partner were trying to bring a type of cloud-based service to businesses before there was widespread use of cloud servers.

This effort in the 90s included the use of a VirtualPBX phone service that allowed customer support agents to take calls from remote locations. This was remote, distributed work before public access to broadband made it possible for nearly anyone to work from home.

Bootstrapped Since Day One

“We have been fully bootstrapped since Day One,” Lon continues to say about VirtualPBX as he talks about his transition into the role of company COO. He also calls VirtualPBX a “mid-tier player” that is growing in its breadth of services. However, he emphasizes that all VirtualPBX employees work remotely and that we use our own phone service to make that possible.

This use of our own product is reflected in how customers have adapted to, for example, situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. “When COVID his last year, most of our customers seamlessly transitioned because our system was designed for that. They didn’t have to think about it,” Lon said.

VirtualPBX Dashboard

SaaS Before There Was Saas

The solid infrastructure that VirtualPBX now offers to its customers was created in a garage. It created a new type of service – software-as-a-service (SaaS) – before it was popular and before it was regarded as a possibility.

“We were SaaS before there was SaaS,” Lon noted in the SaaS District conversation. “Pac-Bell, which was our phone company back in the day, said [what we were doing] was impossible.”

“We built our first system in a garage in San Francisco, pulling in T1 lines [from Pac-Bell]. Pac-Bell had no idea what we were gonna do and swore [the end goal] could not be done.”

This type of approach, by going after the supposedly unachievable, carried over from Lon’s days with his own company, into VirtualPBX with its beginnings in a garage, and through the present day where VirtualPBX is reaching beyond itself by keeping an ear to trends in the market.

Business SMS on VirtualPBX Mobile Softphone

Listening to Trends

“What are your peers choosing?” Lon asks in the SaaS District podcast.

It is this question that drives VirtualPBX as a company and gives it direction. Then managers like Lon can think about which industries they want to pursue, such as remote work, and which others they may need to leave behind.

“When it comes to growth strategies,” Lon continues, “it really is looking at what industries are growing and not worrying about the industries that aren’t growing.”

This has urged VirtualPBX to pursue new features like Video Conferencing, which helps businesses improve their remote work capabilities. Meanwhile, we have committed to our voice service and have developed Business SMS as a key feature because they are extremely important to the overall future of work.

“We think that voice and texting are really the bigger players in the market,” Lon noted. “Texting especially. As new generations enter the workforce, they more embrace texting and asynchronous communication.”

Hear VirtualPBX on SaaS District

You can listen to more of Lon Baker’s insights about VirtualPBX and the communications industry by hearing his entire conversation with Akeel Jabber at SaaS District. Or find the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or YouTube.

You can also read more about Lon Baker at his LinkedIn. Stay tuned to our blog for more conversations between Lon and other podcasts that cover the latest in business communications news.

Improving and Maintaining Remote Team Morale – E-Book Chapter 6

VirtualPBX Remote Team Management E-Book CoverOur new e-book, Managing Remote Teams, is coming to a close. With the release of Chapter 6 that we’re announcing today, this marks the penultimate topic in our collection. In this next-to-last chapter, you can read all about remote team morale and how you can sustain a positive work atmosphere while employees are spread across the country.

Did you know that many studies show overall work performance and productivity being much higher when employees work remotely? And are you aware that morale can drop in that type of workplace atmosphere because of lack of personal interaction and feelings of loneliness?

You can make a difference for your team by implementing a few key tasks throughout the day that engage your team and keep life fresh and unpredictable between scheduled deadlines.

Lighten Existing Meetings

If you already meet with your remote staff in daily or weekly meetings, you might want to consider taking a few minutes in those meetings to include non-work topics.

To boost remote team morale, you could ask about what your colleagues’ have planned for the weekend. Tell them a story about an interaction you had recently when running an errand. Share a tidbit about your hobbies, and ask about theirs.

These types of conversations can lighten the mood and make work feel less about process and more about camaraderie. You’re in it together, so you should be able to share fun stories together.

VirtualPBX Remote Team Management E-Book Chapter 6 Graphic of Colleagues Talking

Recognize Team Members’ Special Events

Take some time, also, to recognize the important events that happen in your colleagues’ lives.

Something as simple as saying “Happy Birthday!” in a group chat can make the workday better. You can also recognize anniversaries and novel family events like expecting a child.

Say congratulations or send a gift. Your entire department can help decide which gift(s) to purchase and increase your spending potential.

These types of interactions go a long way toward making people feel appreciated beyond the work they do as employees for your company.

Meet Outside The Workplace

VirtualPBX Remote Team Management E-Book Chapter 6 Block QuoteFinally, our e-book chapter 6 notes that meeting outside the workplace can keep life interesting for everyone involved. Remote team morale can get a huge boost when employees know they will have a destination where work won’t be a priority.

You could initiate a bi-yearly get together for coffee at a downtown cafe. Or plan a larger journey that groups everyone together at a picnic site.

No matter the location you choose, workplace issues can be set aside so personal interaction can move to the forefront.

Check Out E-Book Chapter 6

If you want to read more about remote team morale, check out Managing Remote Teams E-Book Chapter 6. Then stay tuned to our blog for the announcement of Chapter 7, which will wrap up everything we want to address about remote team management and operation.

Sign up now to gain immediate access to all our printed chapter so far. You will read about topics like creating blueprints for business expansion, hiring new employees, and addressing internet security. Moreover, we talk about managing workplace expectations and keeping motivation and morale high while keeping the whole of your business organized. There’s something for every manager and employee to learn.