Not long after starting an online marketing company with his partner, California-based David Chan realized that his growing business demanded more manpower and set about engaging a team of remote workers. WebWorkerDaily spoke to Chan to find out what’s worked for him and what hasn’t.
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OnSIP offers most of the features one would expect from such systems, including call routing, voicemail, business hours rules, and advanced features like on-demand conference bridging and text chat from your browser. The service doesn’t offer faxing, though. Read More about OnSIP Hosted PBX: A Business Phone System With Lots of Options
A new study suggests that almost half (45 percent) of the workers at small- and medium-sized businesses spend most (75 percent) of their time out of their offices. In fact, only 15 percent of the businesses surveyed reported that all of their employees work in a single location.
The survey indicates that these trends will continue. In 2010, nearly half of the businesses surveyed are planning to hire new employees who will work remotely at least part of the time.
The survey was conducted online by virtual phone service RingCentral (which we recently reviewed) among their customers, so it is probably not representative of all businesses. However, it is certainly indicative of a trend that should hardly come as a surprise to web workers.
How much time do you spend out of the office?
Image by sxc.hu user sykicktb
It’s WebWorkerDaily’s fault that I’ve bought an iPod touch (s aapl). (That’s my excuse, anyway.) As I looked at potential subjects to write about, I kept seeing cool apps, and I need to be able to test them, right?
But why not buy an iPhone, or a Palm Pre, which I’d had my eye on for several months? The Pre seems to be a good phone, but it doesn’t yet have the apps that the iPhone does. And the monthly fees for Pre service are considerably higher than what I’m paying now. The iPhone’s monthly fees are even higher, and many folks I’ve talked to don’t find it to be a very good phone.
So, keeping my current phone and buying an iPod touch seemed like a good compromise. I can get good Wi-Fi coverage in most areas where I live, so I’ll be able to go online, even without the phone function.
Many of my WWD colleagues already have iPhones. Aliza has recently written about good apps for web workers. Dawn’s shared her favorites, too. But with the holidays coming up, here are some of my ideas for apps to put on that brand-new iPhone or iPod touch: Read More about Must-have iPhone and iPod Touch Apps For Newbies
A few days ago, Aliza provided some excellent planning advice on how to pick a company phone system. I’ve written in the past about three options for incoming service: Google Voice (s goog) (which now lets you use some of its features with your existing number), 3jam, and Grasshopper (which is now reportedly profitable.)
This time, let’s look at a business phone system that provides both incoming and outgoing service, plus actual phones. The folks at RingCentral have kindly set me up with one of their packages, the RingCentral Office. They also offer RingCentral Online, an inbound service similar to those listed above, but we’ll focus on the Office package for simplicity. Read More about RingCentral Office: Comprehensive Internet-based Phone Services
As my virtual social media marketing firm Conversify grows, my business partner Monique Elwell and I are forced to assess and implement technologies to help us do our work better and faster. Both Monique and I are committed to keeping our company virtual and flexible.
While exploring solutions for a phone system that could help our company appear more cohesive and communicate more effectively, Monique started looking at VoIP switching systems or “virtual PBXs.” She focused specifically on RingCentral and Virtual PBX. We’re sharing some of our findings here because we know that many of you may be in the same situation as us: tying together dispersed teams under one phone system to have a more unified corporate presence.
Monique put the following list of questions together that we had to ask ourselves while researching phone systems for our company.
- How many lines do we need? Here we mean the number of phone lines that you expect to be speaking on simultaneously.
- How many extensions do we need? An extension rings to an individual, or to a department (such as sales).
- How much time do we spend on the phone? While we use a lot of email, we decided to go with unlimited minutes to avoid any surprise costs at the end of the month.
- Do we need a system that is incoming calling only, or one allowing us to transfer to other coworkers? We would prefer being able to transfer calls for convenience.
- Do we have to purchase a special phone or use the ones we have? Some virtual PBXs and phone systems do come with hardware while others are entirely online.
RingCentral and Virtual PBX are systems that allow your team members to be in multiple locations and are priced similarly so we’ll talk about those first.
For our team, we each have either a cell phone, a home or work landline or a Skype number that we use as our work numbers. But we lack the consistency of a common greeting messaging tree that instructs, “Thank you for calling Conversify. Press 1 for Aliza, press 2 for Monique, etc.”. While traditional offline PBXs offering this functionality can cost in the tens of thousands dollar range, there are dozens of services offering virtual PBXs and their costs are within reach of even a small startup company,
Ring Central and Virtual PBX use VoIP which these days is nearly indistinguishable from a regular landline, and the quality is far superior to cell phones.
Both Ring Central and Virtual PBX — and many other similar services — offer some standard features:
- Auto attendant. This is the voice that answers company calls and automatically routes them based on caller input.
- Call rules. This allows, for example, “Press 1 for Sales; Press 2 for Marketing.”
- Follow me services. This feature gives you the ability to have your calls forward to the phone number where you’re available.
- Custom greetings. This is the ability to record your own greetings for each person or department.
- Web-based system management. Being able to manage your phone system online means you can handle issues and changes from any Internet-connected computer.
- Virtual fax. This feature is nice for us because we are currently using a virtual fax system, so this can save some monthly fees.
- Dial by name directories. This allows callers to enter the first three letters of a team member’s name to find them easily.
Some virtual PBX systems offer the following options with or without additional costs:
- Integrated conferencing
- Vanity, virtual or toll-free numbers
The big difference between Virtual PBX or Ring Central and some other systems is that these two allow you to transfer calls to internal lines. Both also allow you to purchase a phone from them or use your own phone. Some systems even have a robust set of features to handle call centers but we weren’t looking for that kind of functionality.
Both Ring Central and Virtual PBX were easy to set up. For Ring Central, all we had to do was plug in the pre-programmed Linksys IP phone they sent to us to test. We’d have to buy the phone if we decided to use it along with their service. The phone looks like a regular office phone and includes a power cord and Ethernet cable.
For Virtual PBX, we chose to use our own phone so the set up was slightly more complicated but with this option, we would not have to buy a phone. We inputted our individual local phone numbers into our account on the Virtual PBX’s web site and took a two-minute tutorial on how to use the system.
Monique identified a challenge we are struggling with while exploring virtual PBX systems is that we have a UK presence and don’t want it to appear separate from our U.S.-based team. Every service we spoke with charges by the minute for calls to the UK. “For a small company likes ours, that could double our phone expenses,” Monique explained.
We also want a “local” virtual number to be used in the UK although this is less of a priority. We have considered giving our UK guy a US softphone but that means that when calls come from the UK, they are first sent to the PBX and then directed back to the UK so that would most likely degrade the quality of the call. So haven’t forked over any cash to a virtual PBX service just yet. Until we can figure out whether a virtual PBX can solve this international issue, we’re still using a Skype number.
What virtual PBX system do you use — if you use one — and what do you like about it?
Image credit: RingCentral.com
With all of the fancy technologies we use today, it’s easy for web workers to overlook the importance of the telephone. I communicate with my two colleagues at our home offices by email and IM, and through our project management system, but we still spend a lot of time on the phone. And, of course, current and prospective customers need to call us, to discuss projects and get support.
Many web workers are looking at services like Google Voice (s goog) and 3jam, which allow you to have one business phone number that can be configured to forward to cell phones, to voice mail, or to colleagues if you’re out of the office. Google Voice, however, isn’t really designed for business use, and 3jam has only limited business-oriented features.
If you need more robust features, there are many business-oriented “virtual phone systems.” I’ve recently taken one such product, Grasshopper (formerly GotVMail), for a spin, and was impressed by it. But its cost is higher than Google Voice and 3jam, so you’ll need to see if the feature set is worth it for you. Read More about Grasshopper: A Business-oriented Virtual Phone System
It may not have the charitable underpinnings of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, but Ivan Kristic couldn’t have asked for a better follow-up job than at Apple (s aapl). Cupertino just snatched up Kristic following his time at OLPC, where he was the architect behind the Bitfrost security specification. He wrote about his new job in a post on his personal blog Monday, and began work at Apple on the same day.
Bitfrost was responsible for password protection, prevention of data loss, hard drive encryption and security updates for the OLPC, which, while not a specific target for hackers, did take an innovative approach to security that Apple could be very interested in learning more about. Somewhat like Google’s (s goog) Chrome browser, Bitfrost runs every active program on a computer in its own virtual OS instance. As a result, a virus or malware in one program can’t hop to another, or infect the computer’s core files and spy on sensitive data. Read More about Former OLPC Security Guru Headed to Apple
It’s the holidays — a time to give, right? Right. Which is why I’m making a list of what I’d like someone to give me this year. This isn’t a gift guide (I’ve already written one of those), but more of a fantasy. I’m making a list of all the features I’d like to see in the perfect set-top box.
What does the perfect set-top box do, you ask? A little bit of everything: It’s a DVR that records my favorite shows. It’s a media extender that lets me watch the video content I have stored on my PC. In a true fantasy world, it also replaces my cable box (but still lets me access my cable provider’s On Demand library) and plays back Blu-ray Discs.
Remember, this is a fantasy. I know that it’s not possible to get everything I want; some of the technology is simply not ready. But some of these features should already be options, such as the first item on my list:
EASY SET-UP/NETWORK CONNECTIONS: It shouldn’t take four days, a box of power tools, and repeated calls to tech support to install anything — never mind a gadget that I’m going to use to watch TV.
Read More about How to Build the Perfect Set-Top Box
Jajah, in its effort to become a backend platform for VoIP services, has started offering call termination, billing and other such services to one and all comers. They got a big boost when they signed up Yahoo! Now, the Sequoia Capital-backed company has signed up SIPphone, the company behind Gizmo and will handle their call termination. Does this mean Gizmo’s call quality will increase? I certainly hope so – I have stopped using the service because of poor quality of voice.
Instead, I have opted for RingCentral, which recently introduced a Mac OS X soft client (in addition to a PC version) and it is doing a might fine job for me. I was highly skeptical of RingCentral in the past but they have won me over with their high quality service. (Full review, pending!)
Soft phones – whether they are from RingCentral, Vonage, Gizmo or Skype extremely useful. I almost never am close to a landline, but an internet connection is always handy. Using soft phone, I can make quick calls without really breaking away from the computer screen. I am not alone in professing a liking for Softphones. A Frost & Sullivan report says that as a percentage of total IP-telephone market soft phones share will increase from 5 percent to 20 percent by 2014. Softphone sales rose to 416,000 units, worth $18.9 million in 2007, up 30% over 2006.