A few days ago I wrote an article about how a telco can support their customers who use on-premise PBXs as their employees shift en-masse to remote working.
Today, we’re going to think about how remote working impacts those businesses who have a hosted PBX platform.
Isn’t mobility the whole point of hosted PBX?
Anyone who sells hosted PBX for a living will tell you that one of the key features is mobility – the fact that you can have a distributed team and that employees can still use their business phone line even as they travel (or in our case, work from home).
So why do I even need to write this article?
Well, as with many things in life, reality is a little more complex than the sales pitch. Why?
- Not all employees will be configured for mobility
- Home networks are not the same as office networks
- The 911 database includes location information
- It’s harder when you can’t see your colleagues
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
What phone features are needed to work remotely?
Typically, a mobile worker will have some of the following features enabled to support their mobility.
- A soft-client app on their cell phone that can be used to make/receive calls on their business phone number.
- Sim Ring / Find-Me-Follow-Me configured on their business line so that their cell phone / home landline rings alongside their office phone.
- Perhaps some kind of instant messaging / team collaboration app to make it easy to communicate with other employees.
- Voicemail to email, or some other mechanism to notify the employee that they have voicemail on their office line even if they can’t see the message waiting indicator.
If your hosted PBX customers have suddenly moved their entire workforce to work from home then you can likely support that with your existing hosted PBX platform, but you may need to reconfigure a bunch of lines to support these new features.
This could be a revenue opportunity for you, or perhaps it could be an opportunity for you to garner a whole host of goodwill from your customers by providing these new features for free for a few months (or the duration of the pandemic).
Why can’t I just take my SIP phone and plug it in at home?
Well, maybe you can. One of the key benefits of SIP is mobility – so in a general sense it is absolutely possible to take your SIP phone and plug it in at home.
However, in practice employees might run into some issues.
- Many home networks are purely wireless, whereas most SIP phones take a wired ethernet connection. Obviously this can be solved – by plugging directly into the wirless router, or by using some kind of wireless bridge to extend the network – but it may not be easy depending on the user’s technical expertise.
- Many SIP phones use power-over-ethernet (PoE), which is not usually in place in residential networks – so people may need to find power supplies for their SIP phones to use them at home.
- Depending on the LAN configuration at the business location, the phones could be configured for VLAN tagging or with static IPs which could cause connection issues on the home network.
- The network quality in the home office is entirely unknown – there’s likely no prioritization of the VoIP traffic, and with all the kids stuck home from school there could be a couple of HD Netflix shows being streamed at the same time as a phone call – which isn’t going to help call quality.
So while taking the office phone and plugging it in at home sounds like a good idea – and can work for a IT-savvy employee – it’s probably not the best plan for most people. Better to use some of those mobility features I mentioned above.
What about the 911 location database?
Even if all the above issues with relocating a SIP phone are resolved, it’s important that you and your business subscribers understand that their are some regulatory issues surrounding 911.
Basically, there’s a database used by the 911 centers which matches all phone numbers with a physical address, so that if a call gets disconnected or the caller is unable to communicate, first-responders know where to go.
If your customer moves their phone line, then they need to be sure to tell you about it, and in turn your provisioning folks will need to update the 911 database so it accurately reflects the location (and remember to undo that change later).
Communication is harder when you can’t see your colleagues
One area where a business may need particular help is with the front-desk / receptionist set up.
When everyone’s physically in the same office and using business SIP phones, there are a variety of tools that the receptionist can use to handle incoming calls. For example:
- Put a call on hold and holler at Bob to pick up line 2.
- Use line state monitoring to see who’s currently busy and transfer a call to an available employee.
- Politely interrupt a meeting/phone call with an urgent message.
When everyone’s working remotely some of these things become impossible, and others need a new approach.
A team collaboration / chat app becomes really important to ask someone if they’re free or to pass on a message – and businesses may decide to make greater use of an auto-attendant / IVR to communicate with callers and to direct calls to the right person.
Don’t forget video conferencing?!
Guess who’s stock price is up 30% in the last month? That’s right Zoom Video Communications (ticker: ZM).
(Also, guess who’s stock is up 1000% in the last month? No guesses? It’s a tiny Beijing based company with 10 employees that has “no significant operations” but is called Zoom Technologies and has the stock ticker ZOOM. But I digress.)
Anyway, all that to say, if you are reselling a video conferencing platform (e.g. Accession Meeting from Metaswitch), then now would be a good time to call all your business customers and ask if they want to buy it. If you don’t have anything to sell, then simply direct them to Zoom.
My main point in all of this, is to say that even businesses who already had a hosted PBX platform are going to need some practical help and possibly some new services in order to transition to working from home successfully – particularly as this situation may continue for many months.
I know manpower is stretched thin right now – as remote working and potential illness also affects you as a service provider – but if you have the resources, I’d encourage you to reach out to your business customers and ask how you can help. They probably need all the help they can get.