Teleworking is starting to take centre stage

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In the face of rising energy prices, globalisation, and competitive differentiation, there has been a quiet revolution in the way organisations and employees are revisiting the notion of teleworking. Recent advances in voice and data are redefining the very nature and form of work.

Traditional work-day activities are no longer tied to a specific time or location. In this new scenario, employees can now work collaboratively and access their business network across remote locations. Reducing overheads, improving customer satisfaction, increasing productivity and staff retention are the core business benefits that stem from flexible teleworking.

However, companies are also starting to recognise that their environmental responsibilities can also be addressed, with teleworking helping to decrease ever-burgeoning traffic congestion, air quality problems and cut carbon emissions. Telecommuting or telework is an alternative work arrangement where employees enjoy flexibility in working location and hours.

Within the flexible telework idea, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links. Many employees work from home, while others, occasionally also referred to as ‘web commuters’, use mobile phone technology to work from cafes or many other locations.

The idea of avoiding the daily commute to work is not a new one. But the rising trend in the past few years is due to a combination of factors, including the proliferation of high speed broadband and wireless access, which has made it both less expensive and more productive to work remotely, and the willingness of more employers to embrace flexibility and work-life balance.

The recent increase in teleworking also has a lot to do with new voice and data applications and devices such as smartphones, tablets, instant messaging, and web-based audio and video conferencing. This is coupled with a shift in demographics to workers who are all comfortable using this type of technology and are looking for flexible work, and have an increasing concern for the environment.

Despite the rise in telecommuters, widespread acceptance of telework as a common business practice had been hindered by concerns regarding employee productivity. One of the main barriers to telework has been management trust issues of employees working from home. But a common misperception is that telework is a full-time arrangement. A typical telework schedule tends to be one to two days a week.

Managers increasingly understand that every individual has a different style of working, so by allowing their staff to work how they feel best able to achieve results will only benefit their wellbeing and most importantly increase their productivity and ultimately customer service.

It comes down to a matter of trust. If you trust and respect your employees to get the job done, they will trust and respect you in return and do the best they possibly can, regardless of whether they are in the office or not. Teleworking provides companies with a back-up strategy to continue business operations in the event of a disaster or bad weather. Given that telework employees are geographically distributed, that distribution provides a business with a degree of resiliency.

Teleworking enables continuity of operations during poor weather, such as snow, or traffic congestion which prevents employees from being able to reach the office. It can also come in to play as a back-up strategy in rare disaster or emergency health situations like a hurricane or a flu pandemic. And increasing fuel costs combined with worsening traffic has begun to prompt employees to look to their companies to provide relief and in some cases think about changing jobs to improve their commutes.

Teleworking directly impacts job satisfaction in terms of less motivation to leave the company, less stress, improved work-family balance, and higher performance ratings. With high speed broadband currently accounting for 90 per cent of all household internet connections, and a wealth of telecommunications technologies, such as IP telephony now an affordable business standard for seamless connectivity to the office, the technology to enable home working is now more sophisticated than ever.

Through the use of virtual teams using instant messaging to communicate, having the ability to set up video and conference calls and share documents from the network, there is no need for employers to panic that people working from home or outside the office cannot contribute to the business as a fully functioning member of the team.

Flexible working practices are becoming an integral part of a successful business strategy and can be a critical tool not only in improving the bottom line but also as a starting point to decrease corporate carbon footprint.

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Collaboration the driver to better business

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Effective collaboration with co-workers, partners, customers, and others is critical for meeting an organisation’s goals and driving its productivity. And in a world where work groups are spread throughout a building, across a country, or around the world, fostering productive collaboration is more important and more challenging than ever.

Just about everything that gets done in an organisation is the result of collaboration. Only by working together, by sharing knowledge and resources, and by building consensus about goals and how to achieve them can teams of workers accomplish what none of them could alone.

Collaboration within an organisation drives productivity and competitive advantage. Collaboration with partners extends those benefits across the enterprise. Collaboration with customers builds profitable relationships.

In short, collaboration is a critical ingredient for achieving any organisational goal. This, combined with the changing nature of the workplace, makes it both more important and more challenging than ever to foster simpler, more spontaneous and productive ways to collaborate at work.

It’s no secret that the traditional workplace is changing. The once centralised organisation is becoming increasingly widespread and diverse all the time. The classic warren of beige cubicles in a single location has been replaced by offices across the country and around the globe, by remote workers in satellite locations, and by individuals teleworking from home offices.

With all of these changes, it’s not surprising that workers aren’t what they used to be either. The evolving workplace calls for new ways of working, and the best workers are eager to embrace ways that will make their lives easier and help them be more productive.

In a world where speed characterises the flow of information among vast networks of people, communication with friends, colleagues, and superiors takes place faster than ever.

This challenges organisations to provide the new tools that workers want and need to turn creative collaboration from a special event into a spontaneous and natural part of their work lives.

Recognising the importance of collaboration, organisations need to invest in a range of tools and techniques to foster it, which include multimedia solutions that address the new workplace by enabling people in diverse locations to see and speak to one another, to share documents and presentations, and to interact almost as though they were in the same room.

Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration. All too often people scuttle from meeting to meeting to coordinate work and share ideas, but far too little gets done.

They need the kind of spontaneous, any-time collaboration that people need to be their most productive. And they need to have the intuitive and fast collaboration that the changing workforce is coming to expect.

To be sure, occasional centralised meetings are necessary. But they don’t address the need for ad-hoc collaboration throughout the day. Something more is needed to make collaboration a normal part of a productive work day – a next-generation tool that makes initiating and conducting multimedia collaboration as natural and easy as making a phone call.

That is the challenge that companies tell us they are facing. Pinnacle uses various technologies to make meetings become a whole lot simpler and more spontaneous. Whether you plan them in advance, or start them in response to emerging needs, collaborations can become just another part of a productive work day.

The aim is that there’s no need to send documents in advance or to interrupt productive activity to schedule collaboration – it just happens when you need it to.

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Call Management Reporting Can Slash Business Costs

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Organisations need to take a look at ‘call reporting’ as a way of bringing down their business costs by up to 15%. Logging and recording calls using cutting-edge but affordable software can show a telephone network’s cost, performance, capacity and quality of service.

The old maxim that ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’ has proved to be so true when it comes to communications. Retaining existing customers, controlling costs and seeking competitive advantage have always been difficult goals and a challenging economic environment only adds to that difficulty.

For smaller organisations, often without in-house technical skills and experience to determine which communications products and applications are best suited to their needs, the prospect of using technology for commercial advantage can be daunting.

Our telecoms systems are designed to manage and improve the use of telecommunications throughout an organisation by delivering a wide and flexible range of reports that show them exactly what is going on in a format that is easy to understand and tailored to their business.

As well as the immediate cost savings of up to 15% on calls can be realised as well as the associated savings in staff time, these reports can quickly highlight further immediate savings that can be made by terminating unused lines, redeploying unused extensions, and identifying and eliminating unnecessary and unauthorised private calls.

In addition, real-time call reporting will alert you quickly to any unusual telephone or trunk activity, thus potential telephone fraud can be recognised early and huge expense avoided.

Call Management reports can highlight such areas as:

  • Cost Control – cost of calls, cost of trunk lines, costs by department or individual extension, number of unused extensions, etc. Call logging software can also discover instances of Telephone fraud.
  • Performance Management – looks at how long it is taking an organisation to answer phone calls by operator, department or extension and demonstrates whether they meet acceptable target levels for that organisation.
  • Capacity Management – judges whether the system is being over or under used. It examines trunk usage and call patterns that show where extra capacity is required or where cost savings can be achieved.

Call Management software is a simple to use, yet highly sophisticated management tool that lets an organisation see what is happening within their business when it comes to telephone usage and much more. Quite simply, Call Management can help you run your business better, increase productivity and save you money.

With Call Management you can reconcile your phone bill by seeing reports that show the phone calls you actually made, by number, call duration, which extension made the call. More significantly, you can block calls to unauthorised numbers so you don’t get caught out again. It’s a sad fact that the hacking of phone systems is on the increase again.
Criminals can hijack un-protected systems – usually at night or over a weekend – and use them to redirect calls to overseas locations or very expensive premium rate numbers they own.

The first users general know about it is when they get the bill, often tens of thousands of pounds – and be warned, you are liable and you have to pay up. Call Management can protect you against this fraud by identifying any irregular call patterns and stopping the calls before damage is done.

With Call Management you can also list out your major accounts and identify calls to and from them in simple-to-read reports. How many calls did you miss last month from your biggest customers? Call Management can tell you.

And do you know which of your customers is tying up your expensive customer service desk? Are 80% of your service calls coming from just 20% of your customers? Worse still, are those 20% of customers really spending any money with your business? Once again, Call Management will identify the issues and provide the reports you need.

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Organisations need to look to the future of the way people work

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Organisations should start looking at the future of the way their workforces operate in light of both cultural and technological changes. The differing needs of employees both now and in the future means that organisations should carefully weigh up their technological needs now to ensure they lead the process rather than be led by workers.

We currently have a workforce made up of many generations, but we also have a rapid pace of technological change. In just a few years, someone who used to be well versed on the latest email platforms and online collaboration tools is faced with a plethora of social media channels and smartphone apps.

Such a diverse workforce is divided by different personalities and personal preferences, and different ways of working. For example, research shows that women value flexible working hours and locations, whilst men value choice over tools and technology.

Today’s younger workforce, which has grown up using the web and advanced personal computing devices, appears to be more open to new ways of working, and find the prospect of a ‘portfolio career’ appealing.

Looking ahead, there will be no ‘traditional’ way of working, as organisations look to appeal to a diverse workforce that wants to pick and choose its projects, hours, devices and location. But organisations could be making a mistake if they simply roll out technology to appeal to this diversity.

Technology should not define a business, but become the enabler for a business to define its culture, its spaces and the kind of organisation it wants to be.

Many organisations make the mistake of giving employees all the tools they need to work flexibly, but how these are used needs to come from the leadership table. What culture do you want to create? What behaviour do you want to incite? It’s important that direction is given on how employees use this technology.

The emphasis for flexible working is often facilitating this outside of the office environment, but many workers still value the traditional office space for social interaction, sharing ideas and meeting with different parts of the organisation.

The value of flexible working is its inherent ‘flexible’ nature: an organisation cannot promote the idea of flexible working and merely cover the provision of a desk and a chair for their employees’ spare room, they need to look at connectivity, collaboration, and real-time communication.

Over the next twenty years, those workers who knew little beyond the nine to five culture will move into retirement and younger people entering the workplace will have grown up having seen their parents work flexibly.

The experience gained in the education system will be critical in shifting our culture and equipping young people with the skills they need to work in less structured ways. But there is little evidence of the education system adapting in order to prepare students for new ways of working.

The younger generation still struggles with independent work, even at university level, and this could lead to serious productivity issues in the future if our workers lack the discipline to work effectively of their own accord.

It is essential at this early stage in the virtual workplace evolution that we identify the best methods to engender a positive, binding working culture, through self-management skills, promoting ‘leaders’ over ‘managers’ and providing tools – through technology – to supplement this.

Ultimately, balance will be key.

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Crucial communications questions for at-risk companies

Small-Business-CommunicationsWhat would happen if your telephone system failed and you did not have a plan in place to deal with it? Would your business still be able to operate? Would you be able to contact your customers or suppliers? What alternatives could you arrange and how long would it take?

Incidents in recent years have illustrated all too clearly the affect that natural disasters can have on a business. For example, localised flooding has affected thousands of businesses, some of which never recover.

Without timely communication – when, where, and how your customer wants to communicate – there is no customer relationship. Despite all the innovations in self-service over the past decade, the most important connection is often the voice a company can put on the other end of a telephone.

Yet many companies underestimate how fragile that link to the customer is, how many different ways that connection to the customer can be jeopardised – and how broad their options are for ensuring that they never lose touch with a customer.

We help companies with the level of preparedness they need to achieve consistent customer communications through the role of remote technology to ensure continuity and an effective long-term strategy.

A communications continuity strategy is essential for maintaining customer relationships, but upgrading communications systems that increase flexibility have some side benefits as well:

  • IP telephony system upgrades, which are a key solution to the continuity issue, have produced overall communications systems savings of between 25 and 60 per cent.
  • Companies that have changed their communications systems to be more prepared for business disruptions have seen an average savings of up to 85 per cent a year when IP telephony is involved.
  • New systems enable access to voice messages and faxes even if – in the event of a power failure or severe weather, for example – phone systems are down and the office is closed.

To understand continuity, you need to think through your customer’s eyes. They are not tethered to a specific phone or location when they call you. They can reach out from a home or office desk, a cell phone, WiFi hotspot, or a IP Telephony link.

They have little sympathy for an accidentally severed fibre-optic cable, or a road accident
causing a power disruption. All you know is that you are out of touch during crucial moments – moments when a customer wants to initiate a contact.

The effects of those service interruptions can ripple through your organisation with greater long-term effects than a major catastrophe.

When customers can research and switch suppliers and partners in a matter of minutes, during even a modest interruption, your company simply vanishes from the customer’s radar.

The cornerstone of any customer communication strategy is accessibility. Know how your customers will access your company during a disruption of services or locations. On the other hand companies are not structured properly to provide to give employees accessibility to their jobs.

If you are having a conversation with a customer and you are told to evacuate the building for a fire or a drill, the technology exists today to switch that call to your wireless handset, allowing you to walk right out of the building and keep talking, and it will be seamless to the customer.

Relationship continuity is subject to pressures great and small, old and new. Much of the high-profile effort put into relationship continuity planning revolves around high-profile threats – threats of terrorist attacks, pandemics, and devastating, wide-ranging natural disasters of flood, earthquake, and fire.

Although substantial, by their very nature these are not the threats most companies face most of the time. Companies must seek modern strategies to deal with a varied range of continuity threats.

Outdated continuity plans fail to account for modern threats and vulnerabilities. They fail to take an updated view of the importance of ongoing customer relationships.

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Leading the way with ‘Hosted Telephony’

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Hosted telephony services are changing how small, medium and large businesses use voice communications. They can deliver an extraordinary range of business, financial and technical benefits – making business voice communications more resilient, saving money and making it easy to adapt to change.

Office phone systems are often called PBXs – Private Branch Exchanges – or PABXs – private automatic branch exchanges. In the simplest terms, they connect any two or more phone users in the same organisation together.

Of course they can do a vast amount more, providing facilities such as voice mail, conferencing, call forwarding and so on to make life easier. PBXs are sited at the business’ site, and connect to the outside world via analogue and digital circuits, with cabling around the business location to which handsets are connected. The intelligence to make the components work together is within the PABX itself.

Hosted phone systems, by contrast, take most of the switching and intelligence of the conventional on-site system and move it off-site to a remote location where it is managed by a service provider, such as Pinnacle. Equipment at the business’ site is limited to the phones themselves, a switch, and broadband routers.

As a result, hosted systems are usually quicker, cheaper and easier to install and set up than conventional phone systems. As they are hosted remotely, there is less need for on-site expertise or maintenance.

In contrast, premise-based PBXs require equipment to be located on site. The organisation will be responsible for installing, managing and, when required, upgrading the equipment, as needs change.

Hosted telephony services are good for:

  • Small and medium-size businesses.
  • Organisations with multiple offices or remote users, and those that anticipate rapid changes in size.
  • Any organisation wishing to avoid the significant capital cost of acquiring an on site phone system.
  • Organisations with limited on-site knowledge of managing a phone system.

On-site or premise-based systems are best for large, stable businesses with a predictable number of users that need custom features or to integrate their phone system into their business applications.

Hosted phone systems provide small- to medium-sized businesses with abilities and features that are available to larger organisations, while providing the potential to reduce long-term operating costs considerably.

As with any rapidly growing technology, there is a wide variety of providers and a range of features at widely varying prices. Key benefits include: basic operating cost reductions due to lower call charges, the need for only one communications network, and lower maintenance costs.

There is a minimal investment risk, because no significant upfront investment is needed, and straightforward installation costs are based on tested, reliable components connecting to a system which IT personnel already understand.

It is important to make sure that your system has the basic features that you require now for the operation of your business and for its future growth than to drive the cost to the absolute bare minimum. Be clear about your initial and ongoing costs, contract terms and additional costs you may be committing to.

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The benefits of cloud-based hosted IP telephony

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New technology is reshaping the workplace. The widespread availability of high-speed broadband and new mobile technologies is opening up exciting new possibilities.

The way we work, the way we communicate and the way we interact with technology to do our jobs is quite different from ten years ago. One of the key trends to emerge is the so-called move to the cloud.

Typically, an organisation will outsource its IT requirements to an external specialist, instead of maintaining and updating its own hardware and software onsite. Applications and data are hosted centrally ‘in the cloud’ – the provider’s network.

Users then access the software and files simply and securely via their web browsers. This has two key advantages. First, it eliminates the need for extensive in-house IT resource and second, it means organisations can effectively rent the service they need – on a per-user, per-month basis.

Hosted telephony is becoming a significant part of this outsourcing picture. In simple terms, hosted telephony is a telephone system that sits in the cloud rather than in your office.

Users access the system using a traditional IP handset or a ‘softphone’ – a screen-based virtual phone. Calls are transmitted using a broadband connection to the service provider’s network, from where they are routed to fixed and mobile devices.

Hosted telephony means you no longer need to maintain and upgrade costly PBX hardware onsite. The provider, who hosts your system, is responsible for the hardware and software, including system upgrades.

As well as giving your organisation access to low-cost and free IP calls, a hosted system puts a huge range of smart call management features at your fingertips. Mobiles and other devices can also be integrated.

More importantly, hosted telephony gives organisations a high level of control, meaning their entire communications system can be managed easily, right down to the individual user level, using a simple interface.

Increasingly, hosted telephony is available to suit any budget, usually sold on a monthly rental basis, with no initial capital outlay and targeted at delivering a solution at a set price to the customer.

One person can manage an organisation’s entire phone system through an easy-to-use web interface. The system can be configured and settings changed at the click of a mouse – right down to the individual user level.

This means your phone system can be optimised to meet your business needs at any point in time. New users can be added easily by the administrator, without having to contact an external engineer.

Using an IP phone is as easy as using a traditional handset, so there’s little training required. Users can manage their own phone settings, for example, if a user wants to work from home or on the move, they can log into their account and divert calls to their home phone or mobile.

This kind of flexibility can contribute to boosting employee productivity and enhancing customer service levels by ensuring key people can always be reached.

Because a hosted system sits in the cloud, there’s a clear business continuity advantage. Say, for example, a heavy snowfall shuts down your workplace for a few days in winter. Call forwarding can provide an automated ‘failover’ to a user’s mobile, or as long as the company can log into the system via the web, they can easily divert calls to home phones, mobiles or to another site unaffected by the bad weather.

The flexibility of the technology also means you can use a standard geographic number even if calls are being answered in a completely different location. This is due to the fact that the number is hosted in the cloud rather than being tied to the local exchange.

Moving your organisation’s telephony to the cloud clearly has a number of potential advantages – enhancing management control, raising employee productivity, improving customer service and cutting call costs.

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