The pandemic has changed lots of things in the workplace, but one of the most critical has been communication. You can't holler questions across the office anymore, or pick up the office phone to answer a customer call. How can businesses solve this basic communication problem with everyone working from home?
Collaboration systems like Microsoft Teams and Slack have their place, but there's still a need for employees to just pick up the phone and talk, especially when dealing with those outside the company, like customers. Voice over IP (VoIP) has become a de facto solution for voice communications in a digital age where people are no longer in the office, or even using workplace devices to talk.
Here are some things to consider when connecting employees using modern digital phone systems:
Every employee has a different setup at home, and economic uncertainty means that employment status might fluctuate. Some companies might need to furlough employees or take on temporary workers to cope with volatile business conditions. Setting up and tearing down VoIP setups for employees must be easy and cheap. That's why shipping expensive IP desk phones to employees isn't the best option. Instead, use softphone applications that run on existing mobile or desktop systems that emulate a phone.
Setting up employees for VoIP at home still brings other challenges. Their connectivity will vary, so each link must be tested for performance. They'll all be behind network address translation (NAT) routers of different brands, and may require technical support to get up and running. Ensure that your support department is trained and ready to cope with that initial administrative overhead.
Securing those connections and the devices they're running on is also crucial. Consider using VPN software to offer an extra layer of protection for employee communications, or at least ensure that the softphone software can encrypt calls. Security-savvy admins might also use mobile device management to set up isolated work areas on employee-owned devices that can be managed and wiped when necessary.
There's an opportunity to reduce the cost of calls between employees using VoIP services based on the session initiation protocol (SIP). This routes calls entirely over internet connections between SIP-based devices, avoiding the public switched telephone system (PSTN) altogether. If all employees have SIP phones, and if they are widely distributed, this can yield fast financial rewards.
For dealing with customers or others using regular PSTN, you'll need a VoIP gateway. This translates and routes SIP or another VoIP protocol onto the PSTN network for termination on a regular phone. It can do the same for incoming PSTN calls onto your phone system.
A VoIP system's advanced routing features are especially useful when connecting with third parties. A business disrupted by COVID-19 and running on a reduced workforce can change the way that calls reach employees. Incoming calls from customers can ring multiple soft phones one after the other or all at once, so that administrators can configure teams of on-duty staff to field queries. Companies can use voicemail-to-email services to send people voicemails digitally where ever they are. And integration with customer relationship management systems can retrieve and display incoming caller information in an employee's browser. All these features can help a business keep things running smoothly even when no one is in the office.
You can install and configure a VoIP system and PSTN gateway yourself if you have the capital, time and expertise while trying to steer a business through a generational global crisis. Most businesses won't, but there's an alternative. Hosted cloud VoIP PBXes let you route and configure all of your VoIP traffic in the cloud, reducing the investment in capital and in-house expertise.
Companies spent the last six months rushing to adapt as the pandemic hit. Now, it's clear that we're in this for the long haul. If you're finding yourself struggling to manage phone calls under an existing PSTN system, VoIP should be at the top of your evaluation list.