Telecommuting—working for a company somewhere other than inside its office—was once the exception, reserved for a very few trusted employees. The Internet, and particularly the Net-based communications technology known as VoIP has removed previously existing barriers and made telecommuting far more common—and beneficial—to business than it was before the advent of VoIP.
As an employer, imagine being able to hire the most qualified person for the job, even if they did not live your city or state. Consider that you could reduce your office space and the related expenses, without cutting back on your workforce or the quality of your company’s product. Hire freelancers for projects on a per-job basis. How about being able to maintain a uniform company consistency, so far as concerns your customers’ perception, regardless of employee location? This is all possible thanks to the Internet, specifically VoIP hosted PBX.
What is VoIP hosted PBX?
Simply, “VoIP” is an abbreviation for “voice over Internet protocol,” which is the technology that allows people to communicate by voice over the Internet (as opposed to a telephone network, over radio waves, etc.). “PBX” stands for “private branch exchange.” It’s a term most commonly associated with the phone systems in offices or businesses, which usually consist of a switchboard (i.e., a switch, which may take up a closet or even an entire room) and a lot of extension telephones which can call in, out and amongst themselves. “Hosted PBX” replaces the footprint and purchase and maintenance costs of a room full of phone switching equipment with a far more flexible Internet-based system.
The Rise of the Remote Employee
The most recent U.S. Census Bureau Annual Community Survey found that more than 3 million Americans regularly work remotely for their employers—a whopping 79 percent increase between 2005 and 2012—and the trend forecasts is that nearly 5 million will telecommute by 2016.
Prior to that, due mostly to communications obstacles, telecommuting was the province of perhaps only veteran executives and company owners. Otherwise the distrust factor was pretty high. And it’s understandable: How willing would you be to pay, say, an administrative employee whose activity you were not able to routinely monitor? How would you know you were getting your money’s worth?
Virtual PBX (another name for the hosted phone system described earlier) has eliminated such concerns, making it far easier for employers to know with confidence what their remote employees are actually doing there at home or in a satellite office (or even in a Starbuck’s). It’s also enabled millions of people to earn a living without the negative impact on the environment and quality of life that can come with long commutes, traffic, gas prices (or the need to own a lot of business attire.)
How does VoIP PBX make is easy for your business to employ remote workers?
In a VoIP phone system, no matter where they employee is located, they use their phone (or tablet or computer) to connect to the Internet via VoIP. From there, their devices function like office extensions. VoIP PBX has all the features that businesses have come to expect from conventional PBX—such as music on hold, call waiting, call transferring, call queuing, dial-by-name/extension directories and voicemail, to name just a few—but it also has tremendous flexibility and, most importantly, employee monitoring features.
i-Phone and Android phone apps: Virtual PBX services have applications that enable a remote employee to use their personal smart phone as a company phone. The app separates the personal and company lines; enables switching between multiple business lines on the fly while concealing the employee’s personal phone number; enables extension dialing, transferring, etc. as if the employee were on an in-office extension; and collects call detail records for call accounting and reporting. (More on this under “Monitoring.”) “Softphone” software can be installed onto an employee’s computer or tablet, enabling it to function like a VoIP phone, with the same range of features. E-mail and text messaging can also be conveniently tied in, such as for notification emails for missed calls; voicemail-to-email (in which the message is recorded and a sound file is automatically emailed); and voicemail-to-text message transcription.
A company’s use of virtual PBX to monitor remote employee production is what has truly taken the gamble out of employing telecommuters. Hosted PBX monitoring tools include:
- Call accounting and reporting: This is software that monitors and documents employee telephone usage—incoming, outgoing and internal. The collected data can be used to create reports so that you can see who is calling who, where, when and for how long. Call accounting and reporting can be used to measure such things as telephone use expense and employee productivity. (Who are your real stars and who are the underachievers?) The collected data can be sorted or filtered in numerous ways (e.g, to generate reports on calls matching various criteria, such as longest duration), which can also be exported to spreadsheets for analysis purposes.
- Call recording: Record individual employees or conference calls. This is particularly useful for quality control of remote customer service employees or other kinds of employees that have telephone contact with your customers, vendors, etc. Conference bridge: This feature employs a dedicated conference phone number and uses PIN codes for remote attendees to access the call. The call administrator has access to software or a Web-based interface to schedule the calls and alert or remind attendees via email. In most cases, the hosted PBX conference bridge will prompt call attendees to give their name, so that other attendees and the call administration know who has joined or left the call.
- Ad-hoc or Scheduled Conference Calls: A conference bridge is an excellent tool for daily or routine conference calling and can be used with call recording to create a record of the call (such as for management review or for the use of someone who missed the call). With a conference bridge, you can setup a conference call and have email reminders sent to attendees, or give out your conference bridge number and pin number to others for a quick ad-hoc conference call anytime.
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A statistically significant number of people now work remotely and the trend suggests that this number will continue to grow. This growth has been made more feasible by the Internet but it is the emergence of Net-based communications—particularly hosted VoIP PBX, with its range of employee monitoring features—that has completely taken the risk out of employing remote workers. With hosted PBX, businesses can now benefit from the many advantages of telecommuting, including a broader labor pool and the realistic possibility of reduced expenses.