Issue 7 | Working from home

Working from home, if done correctly can be a fulfilling experience for both the staff member and their employer. Todays technology helps to eliminate previous concerns regarding accountability and in fact, makes a worker at home an integral part of the team separated only by mileage and rolls of copper or fibre. I know this because for two days a week I work from an office at my house.

10 things that PSU and I couldn't manage without

Article by David Miller, Marketing Manager, PSU Technology Group

"Let me start by explaining how our company appears to be one team of people in an office in Cheltenham when in fact more than half of us are distributed across the UK in order to service our customer base. Our head office is based in Cheltenham but we also have an engineering and sales team based at offices in Surrey, a credit control department in Sunderland, field based engineers across the country and likewise a team of regional business managers spread equally far and wide from our Gloucestershire base. None of this presents a problem with todays technology, and as we use an Inter-Tel phone system in house and practise what we preach, everything hopefully appears transparent to the outside world. Of course it helps that we have a top notch IT engineering team who have been supplying, supporting and setting up networks for the past 20 years and of course an equally top notch telecoms team, many of which came to us directly from the manufacturer themselves, so we must be doing something right."

Enough of the thinly veiled marketing plugs for our organisation.
Let's get on with my top 10.


1 - BT Telephone Line


Benefits for me: This may seem a bit obvious but it provides my voice and data connection to the world. This is a dedicated line and separate from my home number and therefore paid directly by my company. (Note: This negates any P11D 'benefit in kind' implications of staff claiming line rental and call costs back from the company; trust me, we've investigated this.) We now have a 'Wholesale Line Rental' account with BT so not only do we pay less a quarter for the line, but all calls go via our network and are hence charged a much lower pence per minute charge. If I ever have a problem, I just call Andrew at our Camberley office and he sorts it out directly with BT.

Benefits for my employer: A single bill for all users plus online analysis of costs and activity for each user. There's no quibbles on expenses as all calls on this line are business and no taxation queries for HR (or more importantly, me) to address.


2 - ADSL


Benefits for me: In today's high speed broadband world a regular domestic ADSL connection is more than ample for most individual users. Ignore the ego feeding download speeds and concentrate more on the upload speed. You don't need much for normal data and voice usage but 512KB or higher up is better than 256KB. You're only as fast as your narrowest pipe. (Think drain pipes and hose pipes, in other words, don't use a straw!). Do however ensure that you order a circuit with a 'fixed IP Address'.

Benefits for my employer: Nominal monthly cost, single account for all connections, far cheaper than dedicated network links, direct remote access to my switch and firewall, one number to call if anything goes wrong.


3 - Router


Benefits for me: A good quality router is paramount as they will provide voice priority and deliver QOS (Quality of Service) for voice calls. We've been using Draytek and Cisco switches and routers for a while now. It also means that our IT guys can set up a Secure VPN (Secure Virtual Private Network) to ensure network security. This was sent to me fully programmed so I could just plug it into my micro-filter and it worked. I don't have to remember any logins as our IT team administer it remotely.

Benefits for my employer: We use a single brand so our engineers know their way around them backwards. In addition we use a brand that rarely fails out in the field.


4 - Computer


Benefits for me: Seems a bit obvious in todays world. I use a Dell laptop since my IBM died recently but I could equally use any business quality desktop machine or thin client machine as many of our applications are delivered to my desktop via Citrix. The reason I do use a laptop is predominately to cut costs as I tend to work from three regular locations a week. I plug my laptop directly into the router but I could equally plug it into the IP phone below.

Benefits for my employer: Easy to deploy and maintain.


5 - Inter-Tel S8622 Standard IP Phone


Benefits for me: Nothing makes you feel more attached to the office than a proper telephone on your desk. By this, I mean not a cheap phone that you buy at Argos. This phone is just the same as the ones in the office, has all the same features and functionalities and even receives announcements over the loudspeaker to let me know that the sandwich van has just pulled up outside the Cheltenham Head Office. The latter benefit may seem laughable but will make sense to anyone who has spent time working from home and wants to feel that attachment to the office that e mail fails to satisfy. It also means that I'm extension 138 off the main system and can easily transfer calls and receive calls as if I was in the main office. I can even be logged into call groups if someone is away and provide additional answering resource if required. In addition to this, even though I'm in Weybridge, I have a Cheltenham direct dial number so it's transparent to my contacts.

Benefits for the company: Apart from free calls to and from the office the voice quality is superb, all my calls are logged and go out through the main system, I appear on the Callview reports and the phones are incredibly reliable.


6 - Xarios Phone Manager


Benefits for me: Regular readers of these articles will know that I have a personal love affair with this product. (View 8 minute video review). It's a great tool when you're in the office but comes into it's own for home workers. Not only does my Phone Manager Pro allow me to login as my agent extension wherever I am meaning that people can reach me on extension 138 or 01242 265838 wherever I am in the world, but I can also see whether other staff members are on a phone, and if you have the Team Leader version see who they are on the phone to. You can just as easily click their icon to contact them or transfer a call to them.

Benefits for the company: Efficient and professional handling of calls, less wasted time playing voicemail tag, visibility of activity across all locations.


7 - Citrix


Benefits for me: Citrix is the leading flavour of what is commonly understood as 'thin client'. It means that all my main applications are delivered as icons to my desktop, but the actual applications run on a remote server. I am effectively using a remote application with keystrokes and screen changes being transmitted back and forth. The real benefit to me is that any issues can be resolved quickly from a central location and additional applications can be rolled out quickly. This is enhanced by the fact that my documents are not at risk of disappearing in the event that my hard drive fails and in fact, I can log onto any machine and carry on working as if it was mine.

Benefits for the company: Reduces downtime for users, reduces IT support burden, easy update and rollout of software, no need to load multiple copies on multiple machines.


8 - CRM Software (Customer Relationship Management)


Benefits for me: Because this application is delivered via Citrix I can interact in an efficient and informed manner with customers. Our software actually goes beyond just CRM and encompasses every area of the business.

Benefits for the company: See above, but in effect it delivers efficiency and knowledge; and we all know that 'knowledge is power'. Our system even provides reports on when users login either from home or from the office and monitors their activity levels.


9 - Callview Call Reporting


Benefits for me: Actually very few for me directly although it provides useful monthly KPI and ROI statistics on our teams. More beneficial for the company.

Benefits for the company: Accurate activity reporting, early warning system to identify issues, easy ROI calculations against overhead (ie telesales, inbound agent levels, etc).


10 - Streaming Audio


Benefits for me: I can sit here working with music playing in the background. I was really into www.pandora.com but they now only accept connections from the US so I've fallen back on my old trusty www.di.fm . I'm currently listening to their Funky House Channel.

Benefits for the company: None.

Benefits - Home Worker

According to a survey undertaken by Ceridian in 2007, the top 10 benefits are:


  • Higher productivity, ability to work uninterrupted, especially on "project work"
  • Skill retention, greater commitment from staff, greater loyalty
  • Happier staff, higher morale, more motivation, good staff relations
  • Better work/life balance, "family friendly", fit with domestic arrangements = people able to work for us
  • Contributes to ability to offer flexible working conditions, hours
  • Office space and other facilities go further
  • Continuity for our clients, better customer service
  • Reduced overheads
  • Creates a positive image for the company, dynamic, flexible
  • Lower stress for staff, greater well-being

Fact

If you or your staff are claiming expenses for their home ADSL circuit it could be construed as a benefit in kind and lead to P11D issues. A better solution is for the company to order the line and pay the bills. This line can be used for both data and IP voice, therefore as you have to put in a line anyway, you might as well put an IP extension and get your voice communications for free!

But what about when Im not at home?

Of course there are times when I'm out and about or on my way from one office to the other. On those occasions I find these products and system features invaluable:


  • 3G Data Card or USB Module
  • Blackberry for E Mail and Apps on the go
  • E Mail notification of telephone system voicemail appearing in my system tray
  • E Mail containing attached WAV file of telephone system voicemail message.

    This is especially good as I can then replay the message on my Blackberry
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About the Author




Article written by David Miller
Marketing Manager
PSU Technology Group

 

Links you may find of interest: Mitel Phone Manual | Mitel phone System