General Telephony

Spring Cleaning – VirtualPBX Recommended Network Hardware

spring cleaningIf you didn’t realize, this week saw the official last day of winter on Monday. And while that may be a little challenging to believe for some of our PBX Parachute customers on the eastern seaboard who were snowed in much of the last week, that also means that Spring has officially sprung. There are plenty of analogies about rebirth and planting seeds for a harvest and whatnot that all speak to a “new beginnings” attitude this time of year, but we focus on something else. As much as we may not be proud to admit it, we are just like many others and look at Spring as a time to clean house, sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively. It is this sentiment that was the motivation for us to review our listing of Recommended Network Hardware to make sure we are offering the best options available to our customers.

Recommended Network Hardware

Why bother with a list of recommended network products, you ask? Well, let’s just say that having been in the industry for as long as we have, we’ve had occasion to come across the latest bit of “Snake Oil” insofar as new hardware products are concerned. Additionally, throughout our years of third party Network Monitoring and maintenance, we’ve also seen plenty of businesses suffering from subpar hardware choices that may have saved them a few cents up front, but ended up costing them much more in the long run. That’s why we’ve regularly maintained a curated list of recommended hardware options at various price points for our customers. Between bad actors and uninformed purchases, plenty of businesses are often at a disadvantage based on the quality and reliability of their hardware decisions. Plus, considering that a hosted business phone requires so very few actual physical devices to operate, reliance on those devices operating at a satisfactory level is at an all-time high.

Why These Products?

To actually make it onto the list of VirtualPBX Recommended Network Hardware, a product has to pass through a series of stringent barriers first. Beginning with thorough stress testing of the actual performance of the item, we first check the data thresholds of a product. Then we subject them to a variety of durability and reliability tests that ensure the item not only can meet the performance claims of the manufacturer, but will it also handle the occasional surges beyond those limits that are commonly reached through the course of a product’s lifetime. Then we look at a combination of factors including pricing, competitive landscape, and even go as far as to make sure the manufacturer satisfies the overall sustainability and ethical standards that we subject all of our business partners to. The end result is a thoroughly vetted, exhaustively tested, and value certified array of Recommended Network Hardware for businesses of all sizes and on any budget. So go ahead and take a look at the latest updates to the product list and compare them to what you’re currently using in the office. Not sure if your network challenges are related to the hardware you’re using? We can help! Just reach out to one of our Networking Hardware Experts and we can help assess your current hardware situation as well as walk you through your options, so get in touch now!

The Future of Recommended Hardware

If you’re anything like us, new technology is something you’re passionate about. That’s why we wanted to also let you know that in addition to the updates to our Recommended Hardware, we also have some exciting things in the works for entirely new products, not just a list or recommended ones. However, it’s a little early to totally let the cat out of the bag, so we can’t share all the details just yet. That said, sign up now to receive notice when these all-new products hit the market. We expect you to be more than impressed with what they’re promising, so it should be worth your time, trust us.

Also, if you haven’t seen us posting all about it on Twitter or Facebook, we’ve currently got part of our Social Media Team down in San Diego for the Social Media Marketing World conference, so make sure to follow along as we share the latest tips and tricks of the social experts!

Leaving the Office Doesn’t Mean Leaving Work Behind

Did you know that 55% of Americans don’t use all of their vacation time each year? First of all, that’s bananas. Taking time away from work, even if it’s only staying at home for some me time, is proven to make you happier and healthier. Plus, I personally think it’s the best time to reassess bigger life goals and aspirations. It just makes sense. Meeting due dates, maintaining inbox zero, and just preparing for the days to come is enough to keep you busy. That’s why my favorite vacations are the ones that make doing those daily operations extremely difficult if not downright impossible. I don’t mess around. When I want a vacation, I’m all in. On the flip side, if there is a business or personal emergency, the last thing I or my employer would want is for me to be Missing In Action.

Staying in Touch… When You Want To

At this point, I doubt many readers are disagreeing with me. Vacation = good and responsibilities = compliance. But how do you comply? If you’re already a VirtualPBX customer or a frequent visitor of the blog, you may have a few inklings, but this is how I do it.

  • VirtualPBX Softphone – There is no way I am going to take a desktop phone through airport security on a weekend trip. Conversely, I am not about to give out my personal number to all of my coworkers, our business partners, and our customers. Cue the VirtualPBX Softphone. Personally, I have the app installed on my mobile phone and my laptop and use each as the situation calls for. If anyone needs me, they just call my extension as they normally would and I will answer provided I have adequate data or wifi.
  • Follow Me Calling – Ideal for the times when I have successfully removed myself from adequate internet access, our Follow Me Calling feature on both vConsole and Dash kicks in. For any employee who ever needs to answer calls while on the go or outside of business hours, I strongly recommend adding your mobile phone in your Follow Me Calling flow. This ensures that when all other options are exhausted, your call can still reach you, even without giving your mobile out to anyone who asks. Provided you want to answer it, that is…
  • Forwarding Voicemails to an Email Address – I don’t always want to answer calls. Especially not on vacation. Especially when it’s not urgent. But I also don’t want to miss out on timely opportunities. That’s why I get a copy of each voicemail sent to my email inbox. This works great for forwarding voicemails to those in the office who can act on them right away.

Not in the Office, But Not on Vacation Either

I recently found myself in a very lucky position. My partner is a grad student studying specific politics in Peru, and as an integral part of his program he was required to complete on-site field work. This field work was due to last 13 months and I was absolutely not prepared for us to be away from each other for this length of time. Luckily, VirtualPBX embraces remote work and places trust in its employees to remain productive and available. So I joined him! I had previously answered business calls on hotel balconies and forwarded voicemails while capitalizing on free airport wifi while traveling in the past, but I discovered that setting up a home office abroad was an entirely different experience. Here’s what I learned:

  • Internet Services Vary Internationally – Did you know that not every ISP will provide internet to every device? Neither did I. Our ISP of choice did not support the latest macOS and for a few days I played device tango – doing work on a Mac and passing files to my Android mobile phone where I would ultimately email or Slack them to a coworker. It was annoying. It was far from productive. And it was a solid lesson in vetting services thoroughly.
  • Have an Internet Access Backup… Or Two – Guess how patient I was with device tango? Not very. Always have a second location you can depend on – a cafe, a co-working space, a library, something. I also strongly recommend looking into a USB option or hotspot to deliver your internet, but be aware that the rates and connection quality of those can vary widely.
  • Enjoy Yourself! – New environments are more difficult when you don’t jump in and embrace them. I found it was easy to fall into a routine and completely forget that I was in another country with ample adventure at my doorstep. Plus, no matter how fleeting the moment is, take advantage – you only live once! (See my evidence of that below!)

Staying in TouchStaying in TouchStaying in TouchStaying in Touch

Why Businesses Should Adopt Remote Working for March Madness

March Madness BracketIt’s that time of the year again! March Madness is here and the annual NCAA College Basketball Tournament is one of the most widely participated in, and often divisive, sporting events of the year for spectators. It’s typically a point of contention among fans because with over 64 teams (don’t get me started on the adoption of the “First Four” because we’ll be here for hours) from all over the country including teams from conferences typically invisible from the national spotlight, there are plenty of opinions to go around. While the conflicting predictions and inevitable upsets can cause a little consternation and a lot of excitement, one prediction that seems to remain constant each year is the cost that this tournament our national economy suffers. According to ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, estimates for this year’s March Madness expect that 50 million workers will fill out brackets and, on average, spend at least one hour of their work day focused on the games themselves. Estimates on the costs of when 20% of the national workforce commits an hour a day over the course of the tournament range from $1.3 to $1.9 billion in lost productivity. Using this as a lens through which to work habits during March is just the context we need to consider a new approach to working through it and the other remaining 11 months of the year.

Where We Work During March Madness

It’s no secret that people spend time watching and playing along with March Madness at work. It’s so well known, in fact, that there’s even a well-known feature on the streaming feed of games called the “Boss Button” that surreptitiously changes your live basketball feed into a working spreadsheet. You know, because you’re super hard at work, right? The point is that we know some employees are going to be hooked to the tournament each year, so it’s time to let work be flexible to accommodate it. Still need some convincing? Here are some non-sports related points to consider when you pitch your new Working From Home policy to HR.

  • Boost Productivity – Have you ever heard (or been guilty of?) the phrase that work expands to fill the time allotted? Well, it’s true. Working from home has yielded anywhere from 10-20% increases in productivity. Considering that 1 hour out of a typical 8-hour workday is 12.5%, you actually stand to gain productivity over the course of March Madness by working from home.
  • Improved Job Satisfaction – Being flexible with your in-office working requirements is definitely going to go over well with the employees who are following the tournament, but it will have lasting effects well beyond basketball season, too. You can expect about 25% of your telecommuting workforce to experience a sizeable increase in job satisfaction over their in-office counterparts.
  • Improved Work-Life Balance – A staggeringly high 80% of remote workers report an improvement in their work life balance by not being required to go into the office each day. In the current business climate where businesses are offering more benefits focused directly on improving this aspect of employment, what better way than to leverage the resources your employees already have; namely, their homes? And, of course, their televisions and sports networks, too, but let’s not get distracted from the benefits too quickly!
  • It’s Better For the Environment – The average commuter spends at least 45 minutes a day commuting and the vast majority of them do it in a personal vehicle while not carpooling. Also, considering that over 40% of all jobs can be done at home with the proper connections and telecommuting tools, that is a potential savings of nearly 500,000 tons of greenhouse gasses to be saved each day that all of those workers stayed home.

The Cost Savings Outlast March Madness, Too

Obviously, considering that this is my bracket here in the blog, I am biased on how important the March Madness tournament really is to the American workforce. What isn’t slanted in anyway, though, is the fact that an advanced telecommunications system routinely saves businesses anywhere from 40-80% on their service charges over an on-site PBX system. Combine those costs savings with the reduced overhead on ancillary office charges from power use to furniture wear and tear, and the savings begin to make a better case for working from home than March Madness ever could. Plus, you can try it out before you roll it out, too. We always provide total access to our award-winning Dash VoIP Plans for free with our Hassle Free, Free Trial. So get started today if you want, or, if you need to catch the next game, make sure to let us know on Twitter or Facebook how your bracket compares to mine. Good luck and enjoy the games!

Sources: Staples Advantage, Workopolis, The Telework Coalition, The Telework Research Network, The Oil Drum, Opportunity Now

Mardi Gras Means it’s Time to Party With VirtualPBX!

Mardi GrasBreak out your brightest colors and bake yourself a King Cake because today is Mardi Gras, the traditional bacchanalian celebration of the last day before Lent. Sure, Fat Tuesday as it’s known in English, is typically associated with the days of revelry across the streets of New Orleans, but there’s no reason why they should have all the fun. In fact, the weeklong celebration of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is actually nothing more than the Brazilian equivalent of the same occasion. Even though the Brazilians seem to make our own celebrations seem relatively tame by comparison, the point is that events like Mardi Gras, like most traditions, can be enjoyed by anyone anywhere. In light of that attitude of celebration, we’d like to focus on shared experiences and what they can mean for us in the workplace and at large.

Mardi Gras Celebrations For the Office

Okay, we all know some of the racier and even scandalous shenanigans that can ensue at the two major festivals mentioned above. Let’s be clear on one thing before we proceed; VirtualPBX is in no way suggesting that you introduce a one-way ticket to an HR violation into your own office party. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a little celebration at work, and in fact, those types of social occasions are often cited as one of the best ways to strengthen interpersonal working relationships in the office. Of course there are some folks (present company included) who would love to find an excuse to party everyday, but striking a balance is important because, c’mon, we’re running a business here, right? Remember to keep that in mind when designing a work get together. Treating employees to a Mardi Gras spread of donuts or cupcakes is likely going to be a pleasant and welcome surprise, but make sure to not make a habit of it. Because once you’ve conditioned your team to expect a party on Boxing Day, the law of diminishing returns is likely to have kicked in completely at that point.

How to Party With Remote Workers

Obviously, we are big proponents of the benefits of working remotely. If that is news to you, then welcome to our blog for the first time! Anyway, the logistics involved in coordinating a party across multiple offices and time zones can be pretty overwhelming. Unless a holiday coincides with occasions like sales meetings or trade shows when your team in one place, in which case you should definitely throw a party, you’ll have to get creative to make the event special. Because we use our own hosted voice system, Dash, to work with, we have a widely distributed workforce that feels like we’re just a cube away. Plus, seeing as how we know how to cut loose between rolling out new products and features, we also know a thing or two about making the most of a celebration, too. That’s why we’ve been able to put together these quick suggestions on how to make your next party fun for everyone, even those workers who can’t actually make it.

  • Think about what services are available for all of the people on your team and coordinate them. For instance, if you want to have a March Madness pizza party, you can surprise your team members who work from home by arranging for everyone to have a pizza delivered directly to them.
  • For Halloween (which we obviously take quite seriously), you can leverage one of the many available video sharing service like one of our partners, Sneek, to have a costume competition that everyone can participate in.
  • Similar to having a distributed pizza party, if you ever have an offsite for your office employees, make sure to keep the remote workers feeling included. You can do that as easily as just sending them a pair of movie tickets, but it’s important to make sure there is an equitably sense of how in-office and remote workers are treated.
  • Involve remote workers in the planning process as best you can. One easy way to make people feel like they had an immediate impact on the quality of an office party is to make a team playlist where everyone can submit music suggestions, then the completed list can be shared with everyone in or out of the office.
  • And most importantly, but perhaps seemingly contradictory to what we’ve listed here, remember to not try and force anything. The positive benefits of letting off some steam in the workplace are great, but parties, more so than most events, aren’t likely to be enjoyed when it feels rushed or obligatory. Nobody likes, “mandatory fun time,” so if it feels like it’s too much, maybe shelve the party until next time when it makes more sense.

What’s your Mardi Gras Look Like?

Taking a page right out of our playbook for throwing a fun party when everyone is in different offices, we’d like to know how you celebrate at work. It doesn’t have to be for Mardi Gras, but if you have a good story or picture of how you were able to involve employees from multiple locations in a celebration, we’d love to hear about it! Share your stories with us on Twitter or Facebook, and we’ll look forward to hearing all about it. Until then, be safe, have fun, and have a happy and productive day at the office, no matter where that may be!

Tech Talks – Pizza & Customer Support Tracking System

VirtualPBX Tech TalksWe’ve been around for a long time and have collected some of the best minds from across several industries, and we think it’s high time they got their day in the spotlight. In this series of blogs we’ll be unearthing some of the technology and talent that power our hosted communications platform.

Pizza Customer Support Tracking System

Jeff Weinstein, Director of Operations & Pizza Afficionado

We live in an age where, not only can you order an item off of Amazon and get it the same day, but you can also track it’s location and progress along the way. Our visibility into the inner workings of the services that we rely on isn’t limited to just the large, multi-billion dollar technology companies. Domino’s Pizza even has a live Domino’s Tracker that allows you to watch the progress of your recent orders. Perhaps it’s because we here are just so accustomed to trackers like these or perhaps because we just get most of our inspiration from pizza, but either way it was with this inspiration that we introduced our first Customer Support Tracking System into our support arsenal. And it is because of that new technology that we’ve decided to sit down with Jeff Weinstein, VirtualPBX Director of Operations, to discuss it.

Let’s just start from the top and let me ask, what exactly is the new Customer Support Ticketing System all about?
First off, to explain the system I think that the concept of tracking a package for a delivery or like you mentioned, a pizza, is a good way to describe the new platform to those who may be unfamiliar with it. So when a customer of ours has an item they want to discuss with us, the moment they contact a member of our Support Team, a ticket is automatically created. This isn’t unheard of in itself as it’s common for support teams to track the progress of their open issues, but we’ve integrated some slick technology so that the progress is visible to the customer who initiated the contact as well. This way, there’s no guessing involved in if their issue is being addressed or not, and it’s a practice that’s very much aligned with our values of transparency. Of course, as much as it’s satisfying to see your issue is being resolved and not falling through the cracks, it sure doesn’t beat a fresh pizza, either!

Okay that makes sense, but if our Support Team is already getting recognized for great service, why introduce this now?
Essentially, this is all about constantly improving upon our foundation of providing award-winning support to all of our customers. So on one hand, we’re introducing an entirely new platform for our customers to follow along in the progress of any issue’s resolution, but on the other, it’s actually just much more of the same for our team. Just like when we launched Dash and were lucky enough for it to have made such a splash when people first saw it, that didn’t mean that we weren’t still unrolling new features and building upon it after the fact. Because we’re always adding more options to our product line, our Support Team has more to become experts on. Fortunately, we’re on top of it all for now, but we’re positive that we can always improve and adding a transparent tracking and ticketing system is the best way to ensure we’re positioned for continued success.

Well tracking the progress is neat, but is there anything else that the new system does for users?
I’m glad you asked, yes! So one of the neat things about this new system is that it’s more than just the tracker and improved ticketing system, it’s also like having an automated assistant help out between steps. What happens is that we have designed the system to, immediately following the submission of a new support issue, respond to the customer with confirmation and with suggested support articles that may help in the interim. We have a vast library of content on tutorials, how-to’s, and even a comprehensive YouTube channel to lean on, so there’s a good chance we can offer some assistance even before we offer assistance, so to speak. Also, back to the process improvement motivation that drives everything we do, customers can even up-vote or down-vote the suggested articles we share based on how helpful they were to addressing their problems. This was the system is designed to both shorten the distance between problems and solutions but also it helps improve the accuracy with which we address them over time.

So Jeff, is there anything from your experience has made introducing a Customer Support Ticketing System easier or more difficult?
Well it’s never easy to be the best, but we try to stay at the top of our game all the time. Fortunately, though, there are some situations from my past that have helped make this integration go more smoothly. Specifically, when I worked with government agencies like at the Department of Homeland Security, the process was obviously a massive priority. We had to introduce all manner of new procedures and policies to an organization that already had systems in place, and more importantly, we had to ensure that there was no interruption along the way. This was good practice for VirtualPBX. Our customers rely on our products to keep their businesses running, so it was absolutely essential that our Customer Support Team was fully accessible to them as we designed, tested, and integrated our new Customer Support Tracking System. It took a lot of late nights and after hours efforts to get it done, but so far our customers’ initial reactions assure me that it was well worth the effort.

Okay one more thing, because there’s a bit of a common thread going here, what’s your favorite pizza?
I’ve got to go with the classic supreame. I like it all.

To learn more about the VirtualPBX Support Team, our new support tracking system, or to contact them yourself to try it our, check out the VirtualPBX Support page. Also, you can find us for more Tech Talks and join the conversation by following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook. And for the record, nothing beats a classic pepperoni in my book.

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