One effect of the pandemic has been a quantum increase in remote working. In some cases, lockdown and travel restrictions have forced a move to work from home. Adopting e-commerce as a business platform has meant interacting digitally with customers and suppliers.
In remote working the need to communicate remains, and is even more important to maintain team morale. Virtual meetings using applications like Zoom, NetMeeting, and Skype have become the norm.
For many, remote working and remote meetings are very new and they are wary of the technology and unsure of how they should interact with other meeting attendees. Sometimes the first few meetings are less productive than the face-to-face equivalent as people find their feet and create a new working culture.
Here are five tips to help you make your Virtual Meetings more productive.
Have a clear understanding of how the meeting is to proceed
Meeting basics do not change with remote meetings. Invitations need to have a clear statement of the subject and objectives of the meeting. Supporting material can be sent with the invitations and attendees asked to familiarize themselves with it.
Have an agenda, and defined comfort and refreshment breaks. Because they are not in a communal meeting and perhaps at home, attendees may tend to just wander off when they feel like it if no breaks are scheduled.
One point that is a subject of much discussion in business media is that long presentations are not practical in a virtual meeting. If they are required, then they must be short and designed to promote discussion. Use screen sharing to keep everyone at the same point.
Don’t let a few individuals dominate the meeting
It sometimes happens, in both virtual and face-to-face meetings that one or two individuals try to dominate a meeting. If that happens, other attendees will tune out, sit back and go off to check their e-mail.
In the first few meetings, a facilitator will help to manage proceedings and make sure that the meeting stays on track and that all voices are heard.
No Multitasking during a meeting
Attendees can use their smart devices to do other things while at a meeting. They check email, read and write on social media and even play games. They are, to all intents and purposes, not there.
It is a lot easier to do that at a virtual meeting. Attendees can appear to be present but are really doing something else, and no-one will notice.
The facilitator must explain that multi-tasking during a meeting is not allowed. If the meeting software allows it, perhaps the facilitator can be notified when someone changes focus from the meeting to another software application.
One problem in working from home is that of the unexpected visitor distracting an attendee. Pets, children and spouses have been known to gate-crash meetings. That must be discouraged.
Insist on Video
A lot of communication is non-verbal, and the effectiveness and productivity of a meeting are significantly reduced if attendees are available in voice only. If attendees can see each other’s facial expressions and body language, it goes a long way to making a better meeting.
Have an audio dial-in backup though. Some places might not have a sufficiently strong Internet connection capable of supporting video.
Finally, sit close to the webcam. This helps to avoid distractions in the background.
Make sure the Technology works
There is nothing more frustrating than a delay to the start of a meeting because of technical problems. It’s a real momentum killer.
Problems can arise because some doesn’t have the correct technology, or because their video isn’t working, or simply because they are not familiar with the meeting software.
For all attendees, particularly first-timers, it is essential to have a one-on-one with the facilitator to make sure all problems are resolved.
An organization should set a standard for the software to be used for virtual meetings. Remember though, that customers and suppliers may be using different software, so some pre-testing will be needed if it is a multi-application environment.
The usual mantra is that an ounce of preparation saves a pound of trouble. Be flexible and realise that procedures will need to change. Virtual meetings can be productive.
VoIP for Business has become a fixture in the marketplace. Most businesses use it, appreciating the many benefits it can bring them. The benefits associated with VoIP for Business have been highlighted by the increases in remote working and working from home following the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. That has, in turn, driven a need for video conferencing as an essential corporate communications medium.
In the past, whenever an employee left the office they were uncontactable, with the possible exception of the evening at home or in their accommodation on the road. This made communications between staff, the office, and each other difficult at best.
All that has changed with the advent of Business VoIP. Simply put, with Business VoIP and it’s inbuilt video-conferencing capability, individuals and teams need never be uncontactable, inside or outside the office. True mobility is possible.
If we extend the traditional definitions of conference calls, that of a group in a static setting using tabletop microphones and cameras, to include ad-hoc group video calling with smart devices, to and from anywhere, the benefits of conference calls to a business are undeniable.
The Benefits Include:
Using VoIP Conferencing for group meetings between staff at different locations is much cheaper than video conferencing using a PSTN connection. Because the calls are routed over the Internet, rather than the PSTN, toll charges can be avoided in most cases. This is particularly beneficial in conferences involving long-distance and international connections.
Improvements in the mobility and accessibility of staff
The ability of smart devices like tablets and smartphones to support video calling over WiFi brings great benefits in accessibility and mobility.
A member of staff can make and receive voice and video calls and participate in group and individual video-conferences on their smart device exactly as if they were sitting at their desk. Depending on the capabilities of the smart device, this can include other VoIP features such as call forwarding and pick-up, voicemail placing and retrieval.
For remote workers, what is different today is the growing availability of WiFi, both at clients premises and in public spaces. Most businesses have WiFi, and public spaces, such as shopping malls now provide free WiFi, either themselves or thorough their tenants. Most hotels now provide free WiFi, and some municipalities provide it as a public free service.
Using public WiFi means that remote and mobile workers can now connect to the corporate network from anywhere there is WiFi.
Full integration of remote and mobile workers into the workforce is now a reality.
Staff make voice and video calls and conference calls using smart devices and a WiFi connection to the corporate network rather than by cellphone or PSTN. Being able to interact visually with another staff member brings teamwork and communication benefits. Errors in communications and misunderstandings are reduced.
That allows remote and mobile workers to participate fully in teamwork and teamwork events, exactly as if they are onsite in the company of the rest of the team.
VoIP Conference Calls can assist the process greatly by pulling together local and remote teams to look at and resolve a problem.
As a result, response times and the quality of responses are improved. Being able to be contacted at any time by colleagues and customers means staff members can respond more quickly;
Being able to take immediate actions and be more visible to staff and customers means they can be more effective without the worry of being out of touch with other team members.
Improvements in workplace efficiency
As an example of administration improvements, staff no longer need to organise meeting locations. Video conferencing means that all participants can participate from where they are.
Having staff available to other members of staff and customers at all times for group video calls, wherever they are and at any time, brings significant improvements to workplace efficiency and effectiveness, and for external viewers, to the company’s business profile.
Overall, Business VoIP brings significant tangible benefits to an organization by reducing communications costs and keeping staff contactable. The intangible benefits of improved communications leading to improvements in teamwork and staff morale are not so easily measured but are undoubtedly there.
Now that VoIP is commonplace in business, the focus has moved from implementation to management, particularly the management of VoIP Quality.
The concept is simple. VoIP traffic is a series of ethernet packets. The packets must arrive in the same order as they left and not be damaged or lost in transit to ensure that both parties can talk comfortably. One of the primary measurements of VoIP Quality is that of VoIP Jitter, something that can seriously affect VoIP traffic quality.Continue reading
Most, if not all IT Departments are under cost pressure. They are being asked to continue with business as usual and provide support for remote working and work from home imposed by COVID-19. Some are also managing the transition to full online e-commerce. With no increase in budget or staff.
One solution that is becoming increasingly popular is outsourcing VoIP systems to a Managed Service Provider (“MSP”) that provides both software support -and VoIP Phone maintenance. That fixes some budget costs and frees staff to carry out more urgent tasks.
Managed Outsourcing, in this case, only part of the VoIP environment is outsourced. A typical case is the maintenance and installation of VoIP Phones. This will involve having MSP staff on site. Full outsourcing, on the other hand, the MSP takes responsibility for the operation and management of the full VoIP environment. This can be accomplished either inhouse or on an MSP’s premises. In-House, the MSP manages your existing environment. They can also duplicate your environment on their site. Typically users outsource management to the MSP and hand full control over to them.
If you intend to use an MSP, you are embarking on a long-lasting business relationship and one in which the MSP will have access to most, if not all, of your business secrets.Continue reading
Most businesses, small and large, now use VoIP technologies as the core of their Unified Communications strategy. The benefits, financial, operational and to their business profile are undeniable, making VoIP a no brainer.
Within VoIP, there are several options that an organisation can choose to improve the quality of service. Among these are SIP Trunks.
SIP Trunks replace the physical connections provided by traditional communications suppliers. Simply put, a SIP Trunk is the digital equivalent of the conventional physical link. It is usually called a data circuit. It supports voice, data, streaming media and video services, the basis of a business Unified Communications environment.Continue reading
Most, if not all businesses use some form of Business VoIP.
Simply put, it is the transfer of the business internal and external voice communications to a digital platform. Business VoIP can be part of a larger digital Unified Communications environment comprising VoIP, video-conferencing and Social Media.
A Unified Communications implementation ranges from full-blown onsite hardware and software implementations to outsourced managed solutions to virtual software running on a single PC server. Continue reading
The impact of digital convergence and improvements in technology have generated widespread adoption of VoIP phone systems by businesses and individuals. Businesses use them to substantially improve their business profile and improve communications efficiencies. All users use VoIP to substantially reduce their communications costs, particularly for long-distance and international calls.
There is one major difference between the traditional PSTN phone systems and digitally hosted VoIP phone systems. That relates to performance during a power outage. Power to PSTN systems is provided by the PSTN supplier and PSTN phone systems, therefore, they continue to work during a power outage.Continue reading
One of the more significant developments in computing in recent years has been the wholesale adoption of VoIP systems by businesses and increasingly by home and mobile users. Simply put, VoIP systems remove the costs and restrictions imposed by the traditional PSTN service providers.
Because of digital convergence among other things, the initial objective, to replace PSTN connections with digital connections has grown by leaps and bounds into fully-fledged integrated communications environments supporting media connections, not just voice.
Businesses are now presented with options among others to improve their presence and reduce their costs. Here are five such.
Cost reductions through Call Security
In the past, PBX systems were location based. Extension numbers were tied to a physical location such as a desktop. The ability to restrict calls was linked to the physical device. Anyone using the handset could only make the calls that were allowed for that extension number, for example, local calls only, no national or international calls.
VoIP systems are by contrast person based in that an individual uses a PIN number to log-on to the VoIP system wherever they might be. They can log-on from the traditional desktop handset or by using SIP technologies from a smart device. Call security, therefore, becomes person based rather than location based. The ability to make calls resides in the individual profile. Applying call security according to individual needs becomes that much easier.
Using VoIP can make a business seem much larger than it actually is. Two examples are automated call forwarding and departmental assignment.
With automated call forwarding, calls made to a local number are automatically forwarded to a central number. In this way, a company can seem to have a local presence, but in actuality operate a central support organisation. Many companies have done this with their call-centre operation. For example, British Airways operated a centralised call centre in India. All calls to a local or national call centre were automatically forwarded there.
With a departmental assignment, different extension numbers can be published for sales, finance, procurement, and so-on. However, they can be automatically forwarded to a single extension number. The company looks like it has different operational departments when in reality it does not.
Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”)
An organisation that operates a call-centre to provide customer support can tailor its VoIP system to support a CRM environment. The VoIP system can be linked to a database application. In this environment, the call-centre operative will have customer information displayed on a local computer screen when that customer calls in. The data is retrieved using the incoming telephone number. The operator can then answer the call with “Good day <customer name> “ giving a much more personal and warm aspect to the interaction.
Often details of previous and current interactions with that customer are shown giving the ability to deal more effectively with the customer. VoIP provides that capability.
Automated Documentation Support
A large part of customer support is providing documentation, usually product related. This obviously can be accomplished via a website application, but most VoIP systems can also provide this facility.
The requestor dials a number, taken for example from a media advertisement and is presented with the option to email a document to a specified address. In this way, the requestor receives the information they want, and the company has an email address for future marketing activity. All without any manual intervention thanks to VoIP.
Automated Call Handling
There is nothing more frustrating than calling an organisation and being forwarded from extension to extension as your call is not answered. The use of calling, hunting and auto-forwarding groups maintained by the VoIP system can significantly ease that pain.
While they are similar there are differences between calling and hunting groups. Calling groups allow anyone in that group to pick up a call for anyone else in the group. For example, a call to an extension where the normal answerer is unavailable can be picked up by someone else nearby. This is especially useful after hours where desks are unattended.
Hunting groups automate this process. If a call is not answered after a certain time interval it is automatically forwarded to another extension number. Calling and Hunting groups often work together to improve customer service.
Auto-forwarding is particularly useful for support and alarm calls. The VoIP system can be programmed to auto-forward calls to a particular number to another number, for example, the duty engineer. The forwarding can be done manually by manually programming the number into the extension profile itself, or in some cases can be accomplished via a calendar. In this way, incoming calls should be answered, not just ring out.
The increasing sophistication of VoIP systems now enables small businesses to punch above their weight and bring improved customer service levels at little or no cost.
Even before digital convergence gave fresh impetus to the VoIP revolution, VoIP was being adopted by small and large businesses worldwide.
The development of SIP and the emergence of SIP Trunk providers allowed further progress to be made by providing mobility and integration with other digitally based communications to provide a Unified Communications environment.
SIP Trunks work by using a SIP capable PBX to replace the physical connections provided by traditional POTS suppliers. In essence, a SIP Trunk is the virtual equivalent of the physical wire provided by the POTS supplier, instead of running over a digital connection (data circuit). It can support voice, data, streaming media, and video services, an ideal combination of services for businesses seeking to implement that Unified Communications environment.Continue reading
In recent times there has been a quantum increase in the use of digital communications, both in the business and domestic sectors. Businesses use IP Telephony to reduce their communications costs, improve interactions and service levels with staff and customers and present a better business image to the world at large.
Domestic users can now use VoIP to talk with and see far-flung friends and relatives easily and cheaply over long distances from their smart devices using VoIP capable apps like Skype and WhatsApp. No more expensive long-distance calls.
The terms VoIP and IP Telephony are often used interchangeably to describe digitally based communications. Are they, in fact, the same thing, or are there technical and non-technical differences?Continue reading