Posted on February 2, 2021 by Casey Houser
All team members at VirtualPBX work remotely at least part-time, and many of us have amassed several decades of work-from-home experience. Our new e-book about remote team management compresses those years of knowledge into a handful of helpful chapters that can be useful to your whole team.
Today we have launched Chapter 1 of Managing Remote Teams – the first in a series that will be offered on our website in the coming weeks. The first chapter discusses the history of remote work and the benefits for businesses that choose full- or part-time remote work environments.
Why Go Remote?
In large part, companies will want to pursue remote work because it can save them money and because it’s accessible. Both those attributes work hand-in-hand to give businesses incentive to let their employees work from home.
There’s a historical precedent to remote work. Did you know that IBM had a large percentage of its workforce working remotely in 2009 and that, during that time, it saved hundreds of millions of dollars annually?
Your own remote team management doesn’t have to mirror IBM’s style. Yet you can take heart that other companies have paved the way and done so with lesser conditions than modern tech now provides everyone.
Benefits of Modern Tech
Since that time, broadband internet access has become more commonplace, and new gadgets like smartphones have taken over the consumer and business landscape. Think about the last time you went without your phone. It has become a part of your life, and your mobility as a worker has improved because of it.
Increased access to digital technologies support what IBM was pioneering in the previous decade. Now any business, large and small, has the ability to go remote because the tools necessary to do so are widespread.
Better Work-Life Balance
Remote work also helps your employees live more fulfilling lives.
Studies show that employees who have the freedom to work remotely are substantially happier with their jobs and their lives overall.
On-the-job performance may also increase when you allow individuals to work from home. Employees often are able to concentrate better and find atmospheres to work that are less distracting and more conducive to completing daily tasks. In this way, remote team management is improved automatically by simply allowing for the change in workspaces.
Bolster Your Remote Team Management
The first key to managing a remote team well is knowing how the history of remote work has taken shape. It pays to be knowledgeable about the ways in which your own company can benefit from remote work’s past.
Our e-book expands on these topics to give you a deeper sense of how work-from-home situations have evolved over the past decade. Within only a few pages, we hope to show you that remote team management can be simpler than you expect and that, no matter your industry or company size, your business, and your employees can benefit from remote work.
Download our e-book today for a quick, convincing read that can get you started in thinking about the switch to a work-from-home culture.
Posted on January 7, 2021 by Casey Houser
Throughout much of 2020 and into the early days of 2021, teachers have relied on remote learning to connect with their students, and they’re consistently looking for new resources for remote learning to make this process easier within a society still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
At VirtualPBX, our role in this process has been to assist educational facilities by providing them with the tools necessary to keep their school systems running. This can result in educational advisory groups like Collaborative Learning Solutions (CLS) using our phone system to keep their staff connected while they work remotely and while that staff works remotely and on-site with schools and educational departments.
We’re happy to continue to provide groups like CLS with effective communications tools that keep their operations running smoothly through changes in the workplace. As the state of education further takes shape across the U.S. and globally, we’re refining our services to match the needs of all businesses in this group.
Remote Learning, or Reentering the Classroom?
School closures, and initialization of remote learning, began in earnest in the U.S. in March and April 2020 when COVID-19 exposure started to spread worldwide. Since that time, many schools have remained fully closed or have moved to partial online learning for students.
The beginning of the spring semester in 2021 shows much of that same picture – states and counties divided on how to proceed but hopeful that traditional classroom learning will return before the end of the school year.
- KDVR in Colorado reports that some districts in the state have already brought students back to the classroom. Many districts support hybrid models that either stagger in-person student attendance (for instance, Monday/Wednesday for half of students and Tuesday/Thursday for the remaining half) or bring students back to classrooms in phases (such as elementary students returning one week and high school the following week). Some districts combine staggering and phases, and most appear to plan for a combination of virtual and on-site instruction for the foreseeable future.
- Proposals in California, reports Calmatters, suggest that some students may return to schools in late January and early February. It prioritizes the youngest and most vulnerable children as those who would return first; then other populations are expected to follow in subsequent weeks.
- Fox19 explains that Ohio governor Mike DeWine hopes all children in the state can return to full in-person learning by March 1. Meanwhile, KYMA reports that school districts in Arizona are proceeding with distance learning for the first couple weeks of January and will reassess that strategy in county school board meetings throughout the month.
Mixed Approaches to Education, and VirtualPBX’s Response
What’s clear from the approaches of all school districts is that they value the health and safety of students and teachers above all else. Teachers are also clear about their need for resources for remote learning as they show hesitation to begin in-person learning, in full, while COVID-19 cases have hit their highest daily totals since the pandemic began.
VirtualPBX’s work with CLS shows a similar pattern at the level of education administration. CLS works with school boards throughout California and the U.S. to coach teachers and develop curricula, and it has been that organization’s plan to listen to the needs of individual school boards as they work with those educators. This includes concerns about COVID-19.
Nearly all the staff members at CLS work from a different location because they visit a range of school districts. VirtualPBX allows callers to reach those individual staff members as they work from any location, and it helps CLS remain flexible as the needs of its own staff and its clients change. Employees have the option to use their extensions to accept inbound calls, and they can complete outbound calls just as easily to complete appointments and match the schedules of school boards in their areas.
New VirtualPBX Features for Remote Work
We accomplished a lot in 2020. It was a big year for new features and product releases, including:
- Video Conferencing
- Business SMS
- Multiple Auto Attendants
- Zapier Integration
Both Video Conferencing and Business SMS, in particular, were given priority not just because of wide-ranging appeal, but because they make great additions to the communications capabilities of any company that has remote workers.
Our Video Conferencing feature works as a direct replacement for established competition like Google Meet and Zoom, and our Business SMS feature gives employees the opportunity to keep in touch with brief messages, which are often all that’s needed to report a status or get a co-worker’s attention.
Not all companies will have a need for all our new features, but those that do, especially those that are working remotely, will find a lot of utility in these capabilities.
Flexible Work in a Changing World
It makes sense that a world experiencing considerable, rapid change requires a communications system capable of supporting those changes. We do our best to assist educators by providing them and their supporting businesses with resources for remote learning and remote engagement.
Not all school district have the same plans in place for resuming traditional learning. Virtual classrooms will continue in most places at least into spring. This means that companies like CLS will have a lot on their plate for handling a variety of shifting education concerns and handling tasks as simple as in-person meetings with the sensitivity that those situations require.
Business phone plans help keep organizations connected so they can address these issues. We hope our assistance helps educators stay on track and school systems remain safe to keep children learning both inside and outside the classroom.
Posted on October 8, 2020 by Casey Houser
We recently completed a case study with a legal firm that has been a customer of ours since 2014. The Law Office of Stacy Jacob study shows how that particular firm is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and mirrors what’s happening in the law industry as a whole.
Our research finds that law offices are taking measures like adopting alternative methods of working with clients, reducing workload and staffing, and looking at past economic downturns to help tackle the current state of the world. Those insights are shared here, including an overview of how Stacy Jacob has adapted to her own situation.
Using VirtualPBX to Assist With Remote Work
More often than not, Stacy Jacob is making calls from her office from a desk phone. It’s her go-to device for reaching out to clients. However, she’s seen an increased need to complete remote work since COVID-19 began affecting the operations of businesses everywhere.
Jacob’s response has been to make more of a concerted effort to use multiple devices throughout the workday. The desk phone still takes center stage, but our Call Forwarding feature has helped Jacob use her mobile phone more to take calls away from the office. She has also begun using our mobile Softphone App to return calls to clients when she is working remotely.
These combined devices allow her to keep a consistent brand image no matter where her work takes place. They have been useful by adapting to her preferred business practices, which is a key element to what many other firms are trying to achieve.
Quick Adaptation to New Tech
ABA Journal notes that the legal industry has seemed to adapt more quickly than others in order to create an effective work-from-home environment that benefits both lawyers and their clients.
Jennifer Leonard, head of the Penn Law Future of the Profession Initiative, spoke to ABA Journal and noted that law firms were suddenly moved into an area of “forced experimentation” where audio- and videoconferencing were more the norm than the exception as they respond to COVID-19.
They now regularly use conferencing tools to complete staff meetings and hold litigation with various parties.
Workplace Activity and Personnel Changes
First Legal states that litigation will need to fundamentally change and that legal firms will need to examine closely how they do business.
In particular, First Legal suggests that many firms are making personnel cuts and that regional companies are the ones being affected most. National firms tend to have more monetary reserves and will be hit less forcefully by a sudden drop in new cases.
One part of litigation that can be reformed relatively easily, says First Legal, is mediation, which has become a more common sight since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Mediation can be fully remote, which allows you to further your case while minimizing the strain on local court resources,” the article notes.
Global Legal Post points to a recent survey of the legal industry by Major Lindsey & Africa that says 39 percent of its respondents had already seen a drop in workload. Global Legal Post’s article was written in May 2020.
The study notes that the biggest areas of legal practice hit are real estate and intellectual property. Perhaps it is unsurprising that, in contrast, bankruptcy legal practices reported an increase in workload for the same time period. With many businesses in other industries filing for bankruptcy (including retailers, food chains, and entertainment companies), it makes sense that some legal firms would need to help process the paperwork for those proceedings.
In order to avoid the same fate themselves, some legal practices are turning to history as a source of hope and possible inspiration to weather this storm.
Looking to Downturns Past
As laid out in a recent McKinsey article, there are a number of lessons that law firms can learn from past changes in the economy.
McKinsey says that law firms tend to fare better than other industries when the economy slows down. It connects this idea both to the fact that many businesses – because of the downturn – will need to restructure how they work and that certainty in product costs have proven steady throughout slowdowns such as the recession between 2007 and 2012.
Additionally, law firms in specific practice areas may be able to predict where the most demand, per industry, will occur as all businesses respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, McKinsey points to the industries of healthcare and telecommunications as expected to face fewer ill effects from COVID-19 and will have their legal needs met in the coming months mostly through alliances, joint ventures, and regulatory reform.
The industries of energy, transportation, travel, and leisure may have a more difficult time weathering the pandemic, McKinsey suggests. Their legal needs will likely be met through shareholder litigation and supplier disputes.
It will be on the shoulders of law firms to look at such demand outlooks so they can take advantage of practice opportunities as they arise. Firms that already have exposure to those markets should be in a better position to take advantage of further demand as it arises.
Your Own Response to COVID-19
What we help provide for any legal firm’s needs is a chance to increase their consistency as they communicate with clients in a mix of in-office and remote work. Regardless of your areas of practice, there will be a greater demand from here forward to limit face-to-face contact with customers and firm partners as much as possible. You can see how we handle those communications needs in our Legal Services page dedicated to that profession.
Combining the use of tools such as desktop phones, our Web Phone, and the VirtualPBX Softphone for use on your desktop or mobile devices will let you complete calls from anywhere. The predictions echoed above expect this economic downturn to continue for many months. Your ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic well will depend on your willingness to adopt new tools and methods of work. We hope to join you as your business changes.
Posted on October 6, 2020 by Casey Houser
Some of our business customers approach us with analog phones that they want to use on our VoIP Phone Plans, which are digital in nature. This is entirely possible with an analog to digital phone converter. We typically recommend the Cisco SPA112 Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA).
Customers can benefit from cost savings and simple plan setup when they choose to use their existing phones. When they use analog phones with an ATA, however, they also run into limitations that VoIP phones – built for use in digital systems – don’t have.
When should you use an analog to digital phone converter? When is it best to switch to a VoIP phone? We hope to make that clear in the discussion here.
How an Analog to Digital Phone Converter Gives New Life to Your Phones
An ATA like the Cisco SPA112 can connect your analog phone to the internet. It converts signals that would normally pass through a standard telephone system to one that works through your internet service.
A brief explanation of this process is that the ATA converts analog signals to digital packets of information, and completes that process in reverse when receiving information from a call participant. This type of data conversion involves packet switching (how the internet works) and circuit switching (how analog phone systems work). You can read more detail about packet switching vs. circuit switching in our What is VoIP? guide linked here.
VoIP networks, like those VirtualPBX Phone Plans use, are not built to handle analog information, so the ATA provides conversion for data the VoIP network does not natively understand.
Our customers who use an analog to digital phone converter get to keep their existing phones. They may choose this route for a number of reasons:
Although many entry-level desk phones are affordable even for small companies, conference phones can cost several hundred dollars.
When you are planning to add VoIP phones to your lineup, it’s smart to plan for the future and get phones that will serve you well. Try not to settle on the base model when you really need all the functions of the executive model.
The executive model can be pricey, however, so a good middle ground while you’re saving money can be using an analog to digital adapter with a phone you already own. You can also supplement your existing hardware with our software options like the VirtualPBX Web Phone that runs in your web browser on desktop and mobile.
Ease of Use
Businesses such as hotel chains may have an analog phone in every room for their own customers to use. Such customers may not need all the features of an IP phone, and other pieces of business collateral, such as information sheets, may already reference the existing phones and would be difficult to update on a large scale.
In these types of situations, it can make sense to use an ATA that easily attaches to the analog phones already present in each room. Customers will still have access to all the phone functions they need, and your business can depend on the adapter to keep those phones working for years to come.
Phones that are still working may not be seen as expendable. In fact, we support that attitude.
We want to see our customers use electronics recycling services and upgrade their devices when possible to save from the unnecessary creation of new materials.
Several phone models in our Online Store are refurbished to aid in the effort of conservation and keep working, pre-owned phones in circulation. Our refurbished VoIP phones work as well as when they were new but are available at significant price reductions.
Whatever your reasons for keeping existing phones, an ATA can make it possible to breathe new life into those older devices. Just be aware of their limitations before moving forward.
Switching to New VoIP Phones
The advantages of VoIP phones arise largely from their simple setup and ease of use.
When ordering a VoIP phone from VirtualPBX, it will automatically add itself to your VirtualPBX Phone Plan. You only need to plug the phone into an active broadband internet connection and plug in the phone’s power adapter.
The phone will find your phone plan and register itself as available for use. You can then add it to a user and begin making calls.
This process only takes a few minutes, and it saves you from having to mess with configuration files.
Analog phones don’t have this capability. If you’re setting up an ATA to work with your analog phone, it will require manual intervention during setup.
Many VoIP phones come with physical buttons for a range of features like call forwarding and transferring calls.
These buttons turn complex processes into one-touch actions that can save you time during your workday. Even entry-level phones like the Yealink SIP-T21P have a key for transferring calls. This makes that process as simple as pressing the button and entering a users’ extension.
ATAs often have support for these types of functions. However, they only support the transmission of system data. The functions will only work through the ATA if they already exist as buttons on your analog phone. An employee who regularly needs to transfer calls, participate in conferences, or place calls on hold is well served by a phone that has these functions available.
Busy Lamp Field / Programmable Keys
Busy Lamp Field (BLF), also known as Presence, is an important part of VoIP phone plans that many VoIP phones can use to instantly show you the status of a co-worker.
Is your superior on a call? Is the sales department out to lunch? Has your programming lead left for the day? A quick look at your VoIP phone’s screen can show you those individual and department statuses. Any extension on your VirtualPBX Plan that you program into your phone has the ability to show the status of the person(s) who use that device.
Moreover, many VoIP phones come with programmable keys – also called direct station selection (DSS) keys – that can be set to reach a specific device. For instance, a receptionist could program their sales and marketing departments and their CEO into DSS keys for simple call transferring and easy automatic dialing. BLF status may be shown in DSS keys so you can see the person/department availability before completing the transfer or call.
ATAs don’t usually have access to the type of system information necessary to show BLF or program a DSS. Even an advanced analog phone with these features would be hobbled by the limitations of the ATA.
Should You Keep or Switch?
In most cases, we recommend that our customers buy new phones when they begin using VoIP. The purpose-built phones are meant to interact well with the phone system, and they give you access to all the features that come with your VirtualPBX Plan.
However, there are circumstances where an ATA might work better, at least during a transitional period for your business where you want to save money, determine which phones work best for your business, find which system features you use most, etc.
Don’t hesitate to start a chat with our team to discuss your situation. We’re happy to share our recommendations on which phones best fit your company and offer expert advice on how you can make the best use of a VirtualPBX Business Phone Plan.
Posted on October 1, 2020 by Casey Houser
When researching VoIP phones, you will find that most hardware supports multiple codecs (methods of transmitting voice information between phones). Many of our customers have wanted to know the differences between G.722 vs G.711 and how they work within a business phone system.
These two codecs are a great example of how wideband and narrowband codecs function, and they demonstrate development of this technology over a period of several decades. The following sections will define those terms and give you a wider (bad pun intended) perspective on how these options could affect how your desk phones function.
Wideband and Narrowband Codecs
In order to understand the comparison of G.722 vs G.711, it’s first necessary to learn what wideband and narrowband codecs are.
All codecs, as we’ve explained thoroughly in our What is VoIP? guide, are basically computer programs that encode and decode audio. These programs work with your phone’s hardware to create computer data from sound waves, transmit that information to a second device, and then create sound waves from that data.
There’s a lot of work that takes place within that process. Just know that codecs are analogous to languages and that phones that support more than one codec can speak more than one language.
These languages can be grouped into categories. Two primary categories are wideband and narrowband and are given these names because of the range of audio signals they can process. Wideband codecs typically handle audio frequencies between 50 Hz to 7 kHz; narrowband codecs usually work between 300 Hz and 3.4 kHz.
Wideband audio may be referred to as high-definition voice because it is able to capture a greater range of human speech, which can range from 80 Hz to 14 kHz.
A common method of rating different codecs comes with the Mean Opinion Score (MOS) that’s created from an average of callers’ reviews of the clarity of a call. As you can see in this diagram, each MOS for G.722 and G.711 are similar, but as you will read about in the following sections, they reach those high ratings in different ways.
G.711 was developed in 1972 and is part of the narrowband set of codecs. When comparing this codec with G.722, the most relevant information about G.711 to note are these two points:
- It uses an 8 kHz sampling frequency, using 8 bits per sample
- It has a 64 kbit/s bitrate
The first data point above describes the second. Every time G.711 creates an audio sample, it uses 8 bits of information. At 8 kHz multiplied by 8 bits, you get a 64 kbit bitrate.
The 64 kbit bitrate is how much bandwidth, per second, you need to available in your internet connection to handle a single phone call.
G.711 data is not compressed, so the resulting 64 kbit/s bitrate is large compared to some other codecs which use compression techniques to lower their bandwidth requirements. You can see in the chart on our VoIP Speed Test page that a similar compressed codec, G.729, can fit 16 calls into the space that one G.711 call would occupy.
Audio codecs are always improving and besting their predecessors. In 1988, G.722 was released as a wideband codec. It tries to improve on G.711 by increasing its sampling rate and using compression:
- It uses a 16 kHz sampling frequency, using 14 bits per sample
- It uses compression to achieve its bitrate of 64 kbit/s
For this codec, it begins with an uncompressed bitrate of 224 kbit/s (16 kHz * 14 bits) and reduces that figure to a usable 64 kbit/s that most modern broadband connections can easily handle.
The SB-ADPCM compression used here allows the sound quality to retain its characteristics. Therefore, when comparing G.722 vs G.711 directly, the audio of G.722 is equal to or better than its uncompressed counterpart and may offer more nuance in audio that the narrowband cannot manage.
Which of G.722 vs G.711 Is Better For You?
The answer of which codec you want to use at your own business depends on your individual circumstances. No two businesses are exactly alike in their phone plan use and daily tasks.
A chat with our team can help you decide which codecs are best for your needs. We can speak with you to determine your network bandwidth availability and the volume of calls you handle every day. Then we can recommend which codecs will work best in your situation — whether it’s G.722 vs G.711 or one of the many other codecs available for use, like those shown in the datasheet for the popular Yealink T23G desk phone.
In general, codecs with lower bandwidth requirements work best in networks without a lot of internet speed to spare, and codecs with higher requirements may work fine if your network supports their demands.
These are the types of issues we can discuss on our call. Additionally, we may also suggest Network Services like our VPN for VoIP option that helps your network prioritize traffic to keep your phone calls clear to your employees and customers. All of this will help you find a good fit of phone configuration at your company.