Most companies discovered something during Covid, namely that many of us can be quite productive working from home (WFH). As things get back to normal (whatever that means), what remote options will your company allow and what are the technology implications?

A survey by the Pew Research Center (“How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has — and Hasn’t — Changed the Way Americans Work” Pew Research Center, Washington D.C., Dec. 9, 2020) showed some very interesting facts about working from home:

  • 89{3c6be4297db6c6dead22aac82e61edad92a520b73a55778b8446ff6b78406501} of respondents said they preferred to work from home instead of the office.
  • 81{3c6be4297db6c6dead22aac82e61edad92a520b73a55778b8446ff6b78406501} use video conferencing tools at least some of the time, and they reported less “Zoom fatigue” than expected.
  • 57{3c6be4297db6c6dead22aac82e61edad92a520b73a55778b8446ff6b78406501} use an instant messaging platform like Slack or Google Chat.

What is your strategy/policy for deciding where workers should do their jobs? Given that most offices are back open (at least partially and often fully), you must have had to ponder your options. The following are some technology tips to ensure your workers are productive no matter where they (and you) end up working.

Don’t Send Customers to Voicemail!

It’s critical to keep in mind your customers’ needs, so they don’t suffer because of choices you make on behalf of your staff.

As the pandemic unfolded, we came across dozens of companies where incoming calls for sales and customer service were being sent to a voicemail box, to be returned later. This is a sure way to let your customers (and prospective customers) know you don’t care. Rather, consider setting up physical desk phones at home, or computer- or cellphone-based “softphones” (an extension on your computer or in your pocket). It allows staff to answer and make calls from anywhere, using the office phone system and main number. Most cloud-based service providers offer this, and usually for free, for each office extension user.

For example, we serve a call center that takes all of the billing calls for a hospital. During Covid, the agents have been able to work seamlessly from home, answering thousands of patient calls per day.

The most textbook example of softphone use is a pediatrician who gets a call at 8 p.m. from a worried mom who selected the “emergency” option from the office menu. If the doctor uses his cellphone app, the mom is never interacting with him via his personal cellphone number. And when he calls her back, she will see the office number, not his personal number. Then the next time she calls, she will still be calling the office.

Find-Me, Follow-Me

Most of today’s better phone systems offer a way to ensure calls gracefully find you, no matter where you are. Customers won’t know where you are, only that you answer when they call. Methods we use are “Simultaneous Ring” (ringing several extensions and a cellphone at the same time) and “Call Cascading” (ringing the first extension, then the second one, then a cellphone, if needed). You can usually also schedule these follow-me methods based on your status (“available”, “away”, “working from home”) or by the time of day (business hours vs. after hours). It’s convenient and avoids bothering you when you don’t want calls.

Video Calling/Screen Sharing

We at CCi Voice have allowed (and even encouraged) working from home since 2005. It’s helped us find and retain better employees. However, we recently discovered the wonder of video calling like everyone else and it’s become an indispensable part of our business day. Be sure you have an easy-to-use tool available to your staff that allows face-to-face communication with only a click or two, so you don’t become socially disconnected (one of the biggest work-from-home complaints).

Another key component of collaboration is screen sharing. “Hey, come look at my screen,” is natural when two workers sit within 10 feet of each other. It can be similarly quick and easy using a video-screen-sharing app like Zoom or LogMeIn. We use Sangoma Meet (meet.sangoma.com), which is currently free and allows users to share individual applications or their entire screen with a single coworker or a team of employees and customers on a call. This will encourage faster buy-in among team members if they can see a shared image. But it has to be quick and easy or employees won’t use it!

A Good Quality Laptop

One issue we faced early on was the variability and often poor quality of our employees’ home computers. Audio and video apps can be affected by old or outdated computers. Newer processors, with more and faster RAM can greatly enhance the sound and video quality. Most folks at home didn’t even have a camera and microphone before Covid. A nice Lenovo or Dell can be priced from $450 on the lower end, to $750 for a higher-end model, making all the difference for your customers’ experience.

Consider a Text-Chat App for Staff (and Customers)

If your staff is relatively younger, they are probably anti-telephone when it comes to day-to-day communications. They have been texting friends since they were kids. The same thing applies to email. Many companies have a distribution email for staff to email each other as a group, or for customers to reach them (e.g., [email protected] or [email protected]). The use of a texting app like Slack, Microsoft Teams or our tools from Sangoma are better at reducing clutter. You’ll only get messages about the project you are working on, and not ALL messages hitting your company.

Let us know if you need help sorting through your options and making hybrid (WFH or in the office) work for your business. This will help you be the most flexible and keep attracting the best talent, while maintaining high-quality customer service.

Michael LeBlanc is president and CEO of CCi Voice in Redding, Connecticut, a leading, locally owned and operated phone company that provides telephone and computer network equipment, software and services in Southern New England, New York and New Jersey. For over four decades, CCi Voice has been the go-to company for thousands of businesses, schools and nonprofits that need to install, maintain or upgrade their critical communications infrastructure, voice and computer cabling, as well as video surveillance. For information, visit CCiVoice.com.

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