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 April 2, 2020 by Casey Houser
Of all the situations the VirtualPBX remote team faces in managing its Business Phone System, being a work at home mom may be the most stressful. But after interviewing two of our staff members about how they handle that reality, we learned that their challenge may also be among the most rewarding.
We asked our Marketing team member Jennifer Merrigan (and mother of Jade, who is one-and-a-half) and Services team member Kathy Melendez (and mother of Apollo, who is three) to reflect on how they balance work and parenting.
Their answers provided much valuable insight about the nature of remote work and the mental fortitude necessary to stay as productive as they are.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being a work at home mom?
Jennifer: By far, the most challenging thing is that my child is completely dependent on me.
I have to get creative about where I work and, importantly, how I work. I try to get smaller tasks done when she’s awake and playing. And when she’s napping, I try to focus on more in-depth tasks.
Kat: The most challenging thing is to work around the baby needing their mother.
The child will always want their mother, whether they’re with a babysitter or at home, and of course them being at home makes it even more apparent. What I’ve always tried to do was take my child to daycare.
Part of the difficulty now, in dealing with COVID-19, is to manage at home without the break that daycare provides. It’s important to find a space where you can stay isolated, like a coworking space, but now that daycare is inaccessible and coworking spaces are closed, I have to find different ways of working from home with a little boy who wants to see me every five seconds.
How do you find time to work and be productive throughout the day?
Jennifer’s daughter, Jade
Jennifer: I use hyper-focused bursts of work and energy to accomplish my tasks. Often, I only have 10 or 20 minutes to finish something small, so within those spaces, I do everything I can to complete as much work in as short amount of time as possible.
This requires that I consciously divert attention to my work or my child, instantly, as necessary. It also depends on scheduling to a certain degree. I know when playtime or naptime will regularly happen, so I plan as much as possible.
Every day presents something new, so I need to have a flexible schedule and a flexible mindset to handle everything that comes my way. There’s a lot of preparation that comes into it.
Kat: Being a work at home mom can require you to lean on others for support.
I have two older kids and an oldest niece that sometimes help take care of Apollo. If they’re not around, I do my best to juggle my primary methods of customer contact at VirtualPBX: phone and online chat.
When it’s possible, I try to use the phone when I know I have space to myself. Then when I need to pay more attention to my child, I’ll take time in online chat.
How do you deal with stress?
Jennifer: I try to make time for myself.
Every day before dinner, I unwind by doing a quick workout. This helps me stay fit, and it can help me mentally by releasing endorphins. It’s a nice change of pace from the scatter of the work day.
My husband, Jesse, will usually take Jade and give her a bath while I unwind. We can then put her to bed and take some time in the evening to really relax. I like to catch up on reading and watching shows online.
Kat: I like to take my child for walks. We’ll go around the block during my breaks at work.
Exercise after work is done can also help a lot. I also like to drink herbal teas; they help calm me down and release some of the stress.
What’s your best tip for mothers who are now working from home?
Kathy’s son, Apollo
Jennifer: My biggest tip for work at home moms is that you should have the mentality that you’re still going to the office to work.
Have a routine. Get dressed in what you would normally wear to the office. Go to your “office,” wherever that may be – a separate room, your kitchen, the living room.
My routine is to wake up at 6, get dressed for the day, have breakfast with Jade, and check my emails before starting today’s tasks.
Without my routine, I would procrastinate a lot. Your routine will depend on your job; try to work out something that fits your situation.
Kat: Be organized. Make sure you have a dedicated space for your gear. It’s not like the office where your computer and phone stay at your desk. Your home will get messy or disorganized. Try to prevent that as much as possible.
Also, take advantage of the time you have when you’re not working. Get enough sleep at night.
Any final takeaways for work at home moms?
Jennifer: Try to stay positive. Even in these tough times, I try to make the most of my situation.
We used to take Jade to a clubhouse where she could play, but it’s been closed, so we made our own little splash pad for her to play in.
I really appreciate that we can still have fun.
Kat: Enjoy your kids and everything they offer. In all the mess of coronavirus, the hectic nature of suddenly working from home, the huge changes in routine… it gets intense.
I try to be prepared to make work as easy as possible. And I look for the good moments with my kids both inside and outside of work hours.
Posted on February 11, 2020 by Casey Houser
Today’s blog post was written by VirtualPBX COO Lon Baker, whose expertise with the VirtualPBX Phone System makes him an excellent pick for the discussion of Kari’s Law and its implementation.
In 2013, a tragedy took the life of Kari Hunt Dunn. Out of this tragedy arose Kari’s Law, which was passed in 2016 by the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 408-0 and followed with unanimous consent by the U.S. Senate.
Kari’s Law requires that all phone systems be able to recognize “911” to reach emergency services – without requiring the user to dial a prefix. VirtualPBX has always provided this capability for all its VoIP users across the U.S. and is proud to partner with Intrado to ensure customer safety and security through reliable and accurate E911 services.
No More “9” for Outside Line
Kari’s Law requires phone systems to be configured in a way that allows people to call 911 without dialing any additional number, code, prefix, or post-fix, regardless of location or device.
It has long been standard practice for private phone systems to require the dialing of an extra digit to reach an outside line. An internal call could be completed by dialing the extension “555”, for example
But to dial an external phone number that begins with those same digits — like 555-1234 — “9-555-1234” could need to be entered.
Dunn’s fate was tied to this phone system requirement when, in need of emergency services at a hotel in 2013, her young daughter was unable to complete a call to 911 for her. Kari’s Law removes the need for extra dialing when an emergency call must be placed.
What Businesses Must Know
VirtualPBX is continuously improving its E911 implementation to meet and exceed industry best practices and legal requirements. Our phone system is in full compliance with the fundamental requirements of Kari’s Law.
Other businesses that deploy multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) will want to be aware of the following dates:
- Existing businesses must comply with the requirements of Kari’s Law by February 16, 2020
- Enterprises with fixed MTLS phones are to comply with the new requirements by January 6, 2021
- Businesses with non-fixed MLTS devices on- and off-premises must comply no later than January 6, 2022
Kari’s Law and the Future
While Kari’s Law is just the latest of important E911 communications legislation to be passed, there will certainly be future protections laid out in law in the years to come.
VirtualPBX will remain dedicated to working with its partners to stay compliant with all communications standards as they arise.
Posted on January 28, 2020 by Casey Houser
All models of the stages of business growth eventually discuss the topic of expansion.
This is exactly what it sounds like: the point where your business has established itself in a market and is primed to increase its reach. It’s a point where you might decide to add more employees, seek more revenue by finding other markets to expand into, or add another office across town.
This stage requires commitment to realistic goals and the addition of support channels like a business phone system. Let’s look at two perspectives of this stage and the role a professional phone system plays in getting you ready to face it.
The Success-Growth Substage
Back in 1983, the Harvard Business Review published a study of various small business growth stages.
It remarked that, within five primary stages, a small business can reach the Success-Growth substage. In that substage, the company will need to lean on its cash reserves to develop greater management capabilities while remaining profitable enough to keep its growth afloat.
Growth and Maintenance
Similarly, the FusePhase blog notes that, in its discussion of the four stages of business growth, that businesses can reach an Expansion (Maintenance) phase.
“This is the stage when your hard work seems to be paying off,” it says before pointing out that up-to-date financial records are important here because – you guessed it – hiring additional staff in order to scale the business will become a primary concern.
The Role of a Business Phone System
Where does a phone system fit into all this?
No matter which set of business growth stages you subscribe to, it’s inevitable that your growth from small- to medium-size business (and again from medium-size to enterprise) will attract more attention from customers. You will need to reach beyond online chat software to handle their concerns.
Allowing customers to speak to a live sales representative can offer a more personalized purchasing journey than an online form can provide. Likewise, a live customer support network can help easily smooth troubleshooting tickets.
Businesses in the growth stage don’t have to spend a lot of money to gain this presence. VirtualPBX Per Minute Plans offer expanding companies the chance to add unlimited users to their phone systems while gaining features like Auto Attendant and Ring Groups to route inbound calls to all their new hires.
You can boost your growth stage today with a new phone plan from VirtualPBX. And when the time comes, you can upgrade plans when your business reaches yet another expansion point toward enterprise status. Your midsize business will thank you now, and your enterprise will continue to see benefits when it moves beyond the present tipping point.
Posted on December 17, 2019 by Casey Houser
This week’s blog will take a look at an often-requested topic of discussion: how to answer the phone at work.
Of course, there are many approaches to the practice – ranging from professional to Buddy the Elf (who we admire for his creativity and expeditious approach to office procedures). Your own office likely has its own rules for how to say “hello” to incoming customer calls.
We’ll provide a few examples here for your own exploration. Feel free to add them to your office script or incorporate them into your own freestyle method of handling calls on our Business Phone System.
How to Answer the Phone Professionally
In order to create a consistent image, many businesses have their employees follow a standardized method of answering the phone. Their approach for how to answer the phone at work prioritizes consistency and professionalism in order to best address customers.
This can be an excellent asset when used properly. Consider what a business of your own size might say to an inbound caller.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs may wish to answer the phone in a standardized, professional manner to make themselves look more established then they actually are.
Image is everything, so why not emphasize that strength? You can try either of these scripts to fill the room with your presence:
Hi. This is Stephen from XYZ Corp. How can I help you today?
Hi. This is Stephen from XYZ Corp. How can I direct your call?
Although these scripts are short, they carry a lot of weight. Each one introduces the caller to the speaker (Stephen) and company name (XYZ Corp.), and each one gives the caller some type of direction (either to state their purpose or to determine the direction in which their call needs to be routed).
Many of these same types of qualities can be found in the Auto Attendant Phone Script Examples blog where we list additional scripts for use in your automated teller. You may want to consider use of the Auto Attendant, depending on your business’s situation. Whichever style of call handling you prefer, however, there’s no substitute for direct, dense messages that let the customer know you’re able and willing to assist them.
One sentence can make you appear capable of handling any task your larger counterparts are already trusted to handle.
Midsize and Large Firms
Larger businesses demand call routing that works efficiently. When an auto attendant isn’t in use, a live receptionist can make proper use of Ring Groups and a well-placed script to give customers a quick path to the proper departments.
How to answer the phone professionally in an enterprise? Try this:
You’ve reached BIG Corp – your source for paper and ink. This is Stephanie. How can I direct your call?
Thank you for calling BIG Corp. This is Stephanie at the reception desk. How can I help you today?
In both these cases, the script gets to the point and offers the customer essential information about the person and office they’ve reached. The scripts here are snappy and personable. They should be effective at giving the caller a sense of place and at giving the receptionist a good starting place for routing the caller to an appropriate location.
Creative Ways to Answer the Phone at Work
The scripts we’ve introduced here can be molded to fit your own business. You can include or omit persons’ names, company names, and stated locations. Furthermore, you can be as formal or informal as you please.
We do hope that you’ll always focus on the customer. They’re the most important part of the “How do I answer the phone at work?” discussion since they’re the ones seeking information from you.
That said, we’re completely fine with you loosening your tie a bit. Kick off your shoes. Or put on some elf shoes and try to answer the phone like Buddy the Elf.
How to Answer the Phone Like Buddy the Elf
Buddy, from the movie Elf, is shown answering a phone at this father’s office with this line:
Buddy the Elf. What’s your favorite color?
Buddy’s direct. He introduces himself without stammering. He engages the customer without skipping a beat.
It’s an excellent script. While it may not have worked out in the movie – since Buddy is swiftly removed from any area with phones – you can find some redeeming qualities in his no-nonsense approach to customer interaction.
Be Direct but Creative
We hope that you can also find some holiday cheer in your inbound calls this holiday season.
We’d certainly love to hear about your own use of the line, “What’s your favorite color?” But you don’t have to be that ridiculous to make your customers smile.
Maybe ask callers how their day is going. Or start your script with a little of your own playful humor.
If you stay on-point, you can give customers a bit of a laugh while also giving them quick access to your business. What are your creative ways of answering the phone at work?