An Emergency Work-at-Home Toolkit for Business
Twitter just told all of its employees to work at home 100% of the time because of the coronavirus and you may be next when it comes knocking on your office door. It is a scenario all companies should be thinking about at this time and get ready for. Fortunately, off-the-shelf solutions that enable quick, secure and effective implementation of collaboration, communication and business continuity are readily available. Here’s an annotated checklist of key tools to look for that you can quickly roll out to your workforce and help your business come through this period unscathed.
Unified Communications & Collaboration
- Video calling. There’s not going to be time for a measured culture shift to a newly remote, distributed workplace. Adding familiar faces to conversations will help lessen the dislocation and keep people connected.
- Instant Messaging & Presence (IM&P): When you can’t walk down the hall, these tools make it easy for users to see whether a colleague is available for a chat, then instantly send a message.
- Collaboration services: Virtual, always-on meeting room space for ad-hoc or planned meetings so your teams can easily share information and collaborate using any combination of group chat, voice and video conferencing, desktop and application sharing, and file sending.
- Unified messaging: Remote users need access to emails, voicemails, and texts in the format that works best for them, depending on where they are and what they’re doing. Unified mailbox, notifications, and user-defined call routing increase user productivity.
Security & Continuity
While communication and collaboration are essential for remote workplace, so is security and business continuity. It is critical to have the right technology in place that supports the remote staff’s productivity and connectedness, while keeping the company secure. The last thing you need is to adopt a patchwork of complicated applications and systems that tax your IT department and create new risks. Look for solutions that include these elements:
- Comprehensive firewall management: You want your newly remote employees to be safe within the corporate network via secure VPN access that gives them access to critical applications and helps them remain productive. Firewalls can ensure internet traffic from remote workstations gets the same protection as if physically in the office, given they are up-to-date and properly configured and managed.
- Secure endpoints: The laptops now sitting on home office desks can become vulnerable points of entry for cybercriminals, so securing them properly is critical. You’ll want to make sure that they can easily receive security patches, Next Generation AV, secure remote control and troubleshooting support.
- Failover when the cable hiccups: For mission critical positions you want to ensure that there’s not a single point of failure looming. If the home broadband connection goes down and you’re streaming TV, it’s an annoyance. For a business with employees providing essential services, it’s a disaster. There are solutions like managed SD-WAN that will automatically switch to a 4G LTE connection that will keep your folks working for as long as needed.
- Reliable support: It’s always important to be able to call for help when you’re implementing a new system or tool, but that becomes a matter of business life or death when you’re in the middle of crisis management and making changes on a timetable measured in hours instead of months. Consider simplifying your crisis workload by working with a managed services provider that can coordinate all the moving parts during this time so you can concentrate on your business – and sleep a bit more comfortably.
Upwork’s “Future Workforce Report” predicts that 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028. Working remotely is slowly becoming “the new normal” and all companies should get ready for the work-from-home scenario.
If you need a hand, contact us or call: 855-924-1393 to see how we can help.
Here are some additional resources you can use:
Home Office Solutions
Infographic: Tips on Deploying a Remote Workforce
White Paper: The New Workplace Reality
About the Author
Lucie Hys is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at TPx. She is currently leading the marketing efforts for the company’s MSx suite of managed services. She has been working in marketing for more than 9 years, with the last four focusing on the cybersecurity industry. Lucie graduated with an MBA from Florida Gulf Coast University. In her spare time, she is an avid fitness enthusiast and a passionate traveler.
When I was a kid, I will never forget the first time I rode my bike to our local store that I had previously only been able to walk to. The wind in my face, the pavement moving so fast it was a blur. Not to mention how quickly I could get there…it was a HUGE difference! I never realized how slow walking was until I rode my bike.
Of course, I didn’t know it then, but looking back on it now I was experiencing what is known as a Quantum Leap. A Quantum Leap, according to Webster anyway, is an abrupt change, sudden increase, or dramatic advance. Riding my bike to the store versus walking was definitely all those things. I never ever looked at going to the store the same way. I certainly didn’t entertain the idea of ever walking to the store again. Why would I…I had my bike. Fast forward several decades, more of them than I would like to admit, and we have that same type of Quantum Leap going on in business communications.
Unified Communications is redefining how businesses respond, communicate, and service their clients, vendors, prospective customers, and everyone in between. Whether it is the power of a “I need help now” plea to a predefined group of contacts, the ability to effortlessly review a contract remotely with potential for a signature, or just being able to have your office phone “follow” you wherever you go, Unified Communications (UC) is changing the way we all do business. Just like my bike all those years ago changed my ease and ability to go to the store more quickly and efficiently, UC will DRAMATICALLY INCREASE the speed and efficiency you conduct your business. The Quantum Leap you will experience when upgrading to a BEST IN CLASS Unified Communications Solution like UCx will be one that you always remember.
Oddly enough, there are still a lot of you that are still “walking to the store” with your current communications set up. You are not convinced that this technology will help your business. You have no idea how much faster you could be going. There are others of you that may have tried “riding your bike”, only to find that the technology or company you chose didn’t get you where you wanted to be. Our award winning UCx Platform can help you overcome both of these. Just remember, until you make the move to UC, you won’t realize how slow you’ve been moving.
Here are just some of the solutions that will get you and your business into YOUR Quantum Leap:
Many premises-based phone system (PBX) manufacturers claim that the costs of their systems are lower than an equivalent cloud PBX alternative. What the premises guys don’t tell you about is all the extra hidden costs that come as a result of the limitations of the hardware and software in their systems.
Here are some useful questions to ask a PBX manufacturer so you can get the full picture on the cost of their system.
How can PBX systems cope with peaks and troughs in demand? They can’t. You have to buy capacity for peak utilization. This may only occur for a couple of weeks a year, but is so critical to your business that you have to pay extra. With a hosted system, you can just pay for the peaks if and when they occur.
Question to ask: Have you sized this system for my peak demand?
Adding site redundancy will add at least an extra system to your costs. Look at how the PBX system handles calls if you lose the equipment room due to a flood, fire, or electrical failure. Because a hosted system is in the cloud, your business communications service is always available on multiple devices.
Question to ask: Have you factored in the cost of site redundancy?
3. Running out of capacity
On-premises systems rely on servers for features like call recording – and that means they have a finite disk capacity. When you run out of space, you cannot record any more calls. This will be problematic if you have a regulatory requirement that requires you to record all calls. With a hosted system, your recordings are stored in the cloud, so you don’t need to worry about storage capacity.
Questions to ask: How many hours of call recording have you quoted me? What is the maximum I can buy? How much will the maximum cost me?
4. The cost of obsolescence
The average lifespan of a premises-based system is about 5 years, mainly due to the hardware going obsolete in that time. You may also discover that the features your business relies on are no longer being upgraded, leaving you with a system that cannot meet your future business needs. A cloud service is an evergreen platform that continually adds new features to improve employee productivity.
Questions to ask: How old is this product? When will the manufacturer stop developing features for it? Have they stopped already?
Mobile integration with the PBX is cumbersome. It often results in additional call charges on the PBX trunks, with calls being hair-pinned in and out of the system. In contrast, a hosted service is naturally built to enable mobility. Mobile applications integrated with the hosted service enable you to place and receive calls from any smartphone or tablet using your business phone number.
Questions to ask: How is mobility supported on this system? Do calls route in and out of the PBX for call treatment? If they do, how much extra will that cost me in trunk calls?
If a premises-based PBX is not constantly updated and patched, it could be vulnerable to a cyber-security attack. Keeping it current often requires you to pay an annual maintenance fee or large one-time upgrade fees.
With a cloud service, the service provider takes care of these updates for you. Because a hosted phone system lives in a highly secure, carrier-class network, it’s purpose-built to protect you from service interruptions, denial of service attacks, and other situations that could impact your communications.
Questions to ask: Has this type of system had any reliability or security issues? How much does it cost to keep it current?
7. Maintenance costs of the hardware
With PBX systems, you need to factor in the maintenance costs of on-premises hardware: that is, all the server hardware that may fail due to over-heating or spikes in the power supply. With a cloud service, all the system hardware is located in the service provider’s data center, so you have no direct maintenance costs.
Questions to ask: What are the annual maintenance costs of the hardware and software in this system? Will they rise as the system gets older?
8. Integration costs
Need to integrate with a CRM system? This is the most common requirement of a PBX. It normally costs you extra to get a system integrator to perform what can be a complex task. With cloud-based systems, the integration is already done and can be switched on at a moment’s notice.
Questions to ask: Which third-party systems have you integrated this PBX with? How much will it cost?
The more features you switch on in a premises-based system, the more likely it is that your system will need an upgrade to the processor board. This is rarely factored in at the time of purchase and can end up costing you thousands, because you are in effect replacing the entire core of the system. With a hosted system your performance never changes, thanks to the virtually limitless amounts of processor capacity available in the cloud.
Questions to ask: What happens if the system slows down due to switching on extra features? Do I have to pay for another upgrade? If so, how much will it cost me?
System management can be costly and is often overlooked. Phone systems need to be maintained. That can cost a lot, especially if your system is integrated with other applications or IT services. Outsourced management to a third party will incur charges for a minimum number of service calls per year regardless of use. With a cloud service, you can easily self-manage the system with a simple web interface. For example, you can easily manage remote sites that don’t have a large number of personnel on-site to manage the system.
Questions to ask: How many hours per week would it take to manage my system? How much will it cost to hire an engineer to support this?
To stay competitive you need to focus on your core business, not that box in the closet. With a hosted solution, the management of increasingly complex business communications is done for you off-site. It all happens in the background while your employees use advanced features like HD voice, video conferencing, and virtual collaboration to reach new heights of productivity.
Winter is finally abating and warm days, long holiday weekends, and summer vacations lie ahead. As companies prepare for barbecue season, setting up call forwarding and preparing holiday phone schedules should be on the to-do list. The good news is, a unified communications (UC) platform like UCx can help companies manage all of these needs through complex call routing and collaboration, so your team can enjoy the summer season without impacting productivity or your customers’ experience.
First and foremost, companies can better serve their customers and partners by letting them know when the office or store is closed over long weekends and during summer breaks. Much like an out-of-office responder for email, a holiday greeting means that callers won’t be left wondering why no one has gotten back to them. For example:
“Thanks for calling Our Amazing Company! Our Main Street office will be closed on Monday, May 27th in observance of the Memorial Day holiday.”
And for some businesses, the doors may be closed for the day, the weekend, or even for the whole week, but callers may need to still get through to you if necessary. In this case, you’ll want to communicate that too:
“To leave us a message, please press 1. If this is urgent, we’re still here to help — please press 2.”
If you’re a UCx user, off-hours greetings and call routing can be set up in the Auto Attendant and Call Forwarding functions, respectively.
For the Auto Attendant, you can set up separate holiday, vacation, and off-hours greetings and save them in the Announcement Repository ahead of time. You could even program a special message for the annual company picnic if you choose.
Companies can also make sure calls are properly routed during off-hours by programming alternate dialing menus in UCx’s Call Forwarding feature.
Call Forwarding allows you to redirect incoming calls to another number you specify, which could be anything from your mobile phone to a colleague’s extension. There are several different types of Call Forwarding to choose from, including options to forward all inbound calls or just calls from certain numbers.
Comprehensive UC systems also make it possible to set up geographic routing, or georouting, to forward incoming calls to their destinations based on their originating location. For example, you might want to have calls from California go to your sales rep Jack in Los Angeles, and have calls from any of the six New England states go to your sales rep Jill in Boston.
When the time comes for being out of the office, it’s a simple click to activate the right greeting and call forwarding pattern for the occasion. You can also automate when these call flows kick in by scheduling your business hours into an automation system.
If you’re a TPx customer, simply log in to the UCx Web Portal and click “Schedules” on the profile home page. By clicking “Add,” you can enter a new Schedule Name (such as “Vacation” or “Memorial Day”) and select a Schedule Type (Holiday or Time), and click “OK.” Once it’s added, you can access it from the Schedules page, click “Edit” and enter starting and ending times.
Regardless of which UC platform and provider you use, it’s a good idea to test your greetings and call flows before you need them – it’ll help reduce some of the stress that comes with getting ready for a holiday or vacation. Enjoy your summer!
About the Author
Nicholas Clapper is a Senior Manager of Product at TPx. He has more than 10 years of experience in product management, and in that time he has built up his expertise in hosted voice services, particularly the BroadSoft platform. Nicholas leads a cross-functional project team at TPx that manages the company’s hosted communications products, including the UCx Hosted Unified Communications Service, SmartVoice SIP Trunking, and Internet access circuits. He is always looking for ways to help businesses communicate more effectively and more efficiently.
If you’ve read your managed service provider’s SLA (service level agreement) and wondered if you need an advanced degree in engineering to understand it all, don’t worry – you are not alone. Read on to get a plain English definition of these terms, and you’ll be speaking like a networking geek in no time!
Let’s take a look at three important network performance metrics, and learn why they matter to the successful deployment of your VoIP or unified communications service.
Latency is the time it takes a data packet to travel from point-to-point on the network. Each step your traffic takes through the network will add to its latency. Latency higher than 150 milliseconds (ms) will cause unnatural delays in an audio conversation. On a video call, high latency could create a disconnect between the audio and the video (which I like to call the “badly dubbed movie” effect). If latency becomes too high, you could experience periods of no audio or video at all.
You may know jitter as that feeling you get when you drink too much coffee – if so, you might want to consider switching to decaf. The jitter we’re talking about here is an inconsistent arrival of packets between two endpoints. Jitter of more than 20 ms will cause delays in packet arrival which, like high latency, will result in delays in your audio or video.
Packet loss happens when a packet does not arrive, arrives out of order, or arrives too late. Lost packets don’t go into a “packet lost and found,” though – they’re just discarded. Packet loss over a network will cause choppy, poor-quality audio and video. The good news is that you’d have to have a pretty high level of packet loss for the service to degrade to that state. Even if you lost 3% of all VoIP packets coming in, your audio quality would still be better than what you’d hear on a cell phone.
By the way, the Bandwidth Speed Test on the TPx website will measure the latency (ping) and jitter of your current Internet connection, in addition to your download and upload speeds. Remember, though, that a test like this one is just a snapshot of a moment in time. Try running the test several times, particularly during the times of day when you know your network is busy, and you’ll get a better picture of your network’s VoIP readiness.
Are there any other strange networking terms that have you stumped? If so, just let us know – we’re always happy to help.