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Swytch

You no longer need to buy a dual SIM phone & here’s why

When first invented, dual SIM smartphones were a lifeline for anyone needing to manage multiple phone accounts. Now new VOIP-based technology from Swytch gives users all the advantages of a dual SIM solution, without the hassle of extra handsets and contracts.

Dual SIM smartphones first hit the market some years ago, and they came as a huge relief to users who had been struggling to cope with the logistics of having more than one mobile phone account.

In parts of the globe where network coverage is patchy at best, having two or more subscriptions with different networks is a way of ensuring that some form of mobile telecommunication is available at a given time. But this required users to buy separate handsets for each account (expensive), or use a single phone, and keep swapping out the Subscriber Identity Module or SIM cards (very inconvenient).

And for consumers simply wishing to enjoy the benefits of a free choice of networks, dual SIM phones were a cost-effective and logical solution.

But time and technology keep marching on – and the rise of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as a vehicle for telecoms delivery has brought a wealth of innovations in its wake.

Among these developments is virtualisation, or the creation and hosting of telecoms user profiles via software and cloud-based computing resources. And it’s one of the reasons why you no longer need to buy a dual SIM phone to expand your presence into different networks – and even into different geographical regions.

The Burner Option

Intelligence agents in popular TV shows and films are often seen buying (and soon afterwards, trashing) disposable cell phones so their calls and locations can’t be traced by whoever’s chasing them. These so-called “burner” phones have become a staple of this kind of fiction, and naturally they’re available on the street in real life, as well.

But burners also exist virtually.

Web applications like Jangl and Jaxtr appeared in 2005, allowing subscribers to exchange phone calls and text messages without having to divulge their personal or business phone numbers. Grand Central (which was acquired by Google and eventually became Google Voice) allowed users to create a single number that could route calls to multiple phones.

And in 2012, entrepreneurs Greg Cohn and Will Carter laid the foundations for what would eventually become Burner, an app which allows users to create temporary phone numbers that they can post on social media as their contact information, and use to receive and make text messages and calls.

A natural progression of this technology has led to the development of virtual phone number providers who spotted the opportunity to provide an invaluable service to legitimate businesses in the UK and beyond.

These services are able to allocate business phone numbers registered in the UK to mobile subscribers across the globe, creating an international presence.

The Dual SIM Dilemma

Advocates of dual SIM phones will give any number of reasons why they’re the best thing since sliced bread, including:

  • You can have two phone numbers on one device
  • You can get the best of both worlds, by using one network with competitive voice rates, and another with a great data plan
  • You’re more likely to always have a network signal of some kind
  • You can use one number for work, and the other for your personal life
  • You can insert a travel SIM (for a network that’s local) to make cheaper calls and avoid data roaming charges abroad

BUT…

  • You’re still limited to the capabilities of the hardware (phone and SIM cards)
  • All of these features (and more) are available from a virtual phone system
  • And there’s the “dual SIM” condition, which limits you to two networks

The Virtual SIM Alternative

A few years ago, a London-based company named Movirtu developed a system for generating virtual SIM cards, which may be used on shared or borrowed phones. Dialling a short USSD code is all it takes to contact a mobile network’s visitor location register (its subscriber database), informing the mobile network that a new number is now being used on the phone. Internet access isn’t required – just a connection to the mobile network carrier.

A couple of years ago, Movirtu was acquired by BlackBerry, which has packaged the technology into a solution that allows nine distinct phone numbers to be assigned to a single SIM card. The interface for this service is available as mobile apps for BlackBerry, Android and iOS, and is targeted at enterprise users looking to better manage their Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or Corporate-Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE) working practices.

The technology in principle has also been adopted by several virtual SIM providers, who use GSM connectivity and dedicated mobile apps to essentially “trick” a mobile phone into thinking there are one or more SIM cards installed – even if there’s no actual physical card in the device. These may then be provisioned virtually with numbers and services associated with any of the provider’s participating mobile carriers.

Multiple Advantages Over Dual SIM

Besides the obvious improvement on two whole phone numbers and (in some virtual SIM deployments) eliminating the need to even have a physical card installed, virtual SIM and virtual phone solutions have several advantages over the dual SIM alternative. These include:

  • The option to have different numbers for business, personal, voice calls, data services, and even roaming – all on the same phone
  • The ability to have different numbers to establish a local, regional, toll-free, or international presence. An example of this would be a service like Swytch, which gives subscribers a presence in the UK business arena through the provision of virtual UK business telephone numbers
  • The advanced feature sets, data handling, and Unified Communications capabilities of VoIP-backed virtual phone systems
  • Dedicated inboxes and call-handling options, making it easy to differentiate between phone numbers
  • The ability to create a clear separation between work and personal communications
  • The ability for enterprises to better manage their costs and billing, together with the allocation and management of virtual connections

Though the current state of technology hasn’t yet come up with a way of dispensing with single or dual SIM card slots entirely, there’s much to indicate that the future of telecommunications, like so many other aspects of modern life, is destined to be virtual.

If you’d like to stay ahead of the curve, and leave your dual SIM phone behind, get in touch with the telecoms experts at Swytch who will be happy to answer any questions and get you and your team set up with your new virtual numbers.

How flexible working can increase staff morale

Flexible working practices have become a key element in attracting and retaining talent. In a globalised economy, geographical boundaries are no longer an obstacle to bringing together professionals of all disciplines to form competitive and world-beating teams. In practical terms alone, giving workers greater freedom to manage their own timetables overcomes the hurdles formerly imposed on hiring remote staff by international time differences and datelines.

But beyond this, a degree of flexibility in the working environment has physical, operational, and emotional benefits which can go a long way in promoting loyalty to the organisation and increasing staff morale. We’ll look at some of those benefits, now.

Optimising Time Spent in Various Locations

Empowering your staff to perform to their strengths involves enabling them to nurture and inhabit an environment that’s most conducive to producing their best work.

For some, this might mean sitting in an office cubicle. But for others, peak performance and focus on the task at hand might be achieved in any number of alternate settings: on a train, at home, or seated on a bench in a public park.

Knowing that management is willing to allow flexible working and provide freedom from traditional office or workshop confines gives employees the confidence to structure their time in an optimal environment of their choice – and they’ll be much more likely to enjoy their work, and produce better output as a result.

Having access to corporate resources from any location is a must, for working arrangements like this. Mobile apps, virtual phone systems and access to a network like Swytch (which allows clients to assign UK-registered business numbers to personal phones and mobile devices) are the kinds of options that can make this possible.

Giving Autonomy to the Flexible

Just as different workers have unique preferences as to the kind of environment they feel most comfortable and productive in, so too do different personality types cope with a structured timetable and job roster in different ways.

An assessment and knowledge of the skills and personality traits of your employees will assist you in identifying which of your staff are best able to cope with a greater or lesser degree of autonomy, and which ones benefit from a more directed, “hands-on management” approach.

Wherever possible, it’s a good idea to give all of your workers some degree of freedom in determining how they structure their time and how they approach the jobs they’re assigned. A feeling of autonomy lends workers a sense of empowerment – secure in the knowledge that they’re trusted with some responsibility for their own career path, and able to take ownership of their work, rather than having the job ruling them.

Teams & Substitute Players

Flexible working need not be an individual affair. In fact, many businesses gain by introducing a group dynamic into their flexible working practices.

For example, in a development project that’s being conducted by a team, it makes sense to rotate duties and responsibilities among the team members, so that work on the project may continue if someone requires a break, has a commitment to honour, or simply has skills that can be duplicated or added to by someone else in the group.

And with the dominance of international business and the 24/7 consumer culture, allowing workers living in different time zones to take over job responsibilities at certain hours of the day is a great way of simultaneously ensuring business availability, and relieving the psychological and physical burden on staff members who would otherwise be required to put in extra hours.

Mentors & Protégés

Setting up two-person teams consisting of a senior or more experienced staff member and someone newer to the organisation can reap benefits both for the enterprise and the individuals concerned.

The younger staff member gains the mentorship and guidance of someone further along the career path – in addition to a sense of empowerment and responsibility, on those occasions when they’re called upon to stand in for the senior staff member.

Employees in the mentor’s role are able to create more time for themselves by delegating tasks and responsibilities to their junior. They’ll also be playing a part in the nurturing of new talent for the enterprise.

Technology as an Additional Resource

The management of human resources is just one part of a flexible working environment. Resources, infrastructure, and technology available to the enterprise may also be called upon to free up time for your workers, and to enable them to do their jobs more effectively. In workplaces where numerous repetitive tasks are the norm, using machinery and software for automation is one way of achieving this.

Information Technology and telecommunications resources are another. Tools for video conferencing, instant messaging, document sharing and collaboration – especially those with mobile app versions – can keep remote and home-based workers in touch with each other, and able to trade ideas, tasks and (if necessary) working hours.

Platforms like the Swytch network can give businesses and their workers a continuous presence in regional and international markets – while simultaneously empowering workers to devote more time to their lives away from the office.

Making Sound Economic Sense

Finally, there’s a solid economic foundation for the adoption of more flexible working practices. Reasons underlying this include:

  • By having fewer workers based on your business premises, you’ll reduce the need for expensive office space and equipment
  • With a staff including workers in various localities and time zones, you’ll actually increase the number of hours that you’re available each day – without having to impose long hours on your employees
  • Reduced working hours have been proven to have a beneficial effect on physical and emotional health – which reflects in a happier, more productive and loyal workforce
  • Being known as an organisation with flexibility written into its DNA makes your business an attractor for high-quality talent from across the globe

That’s why flexi-time, job sharing, condensed weeks and other flexible working practices are reaping dividends for enterprises which engage in them – both in monetary terms, and in their capacity to promote job satisfaction and increase staff morale.

To prepare your staff for flexible working, give them greater control and the ability to stay connected with a Swytch business account. Get in touch with Swytch today to find out more.

How the financial services industry can save on roaming costs

Users of personal mobile phones are no doubt familiar with the notoriously high roaming costs associated with accessing the internet outside their home countries. These charges can be just as much of a burden to corporate users travelling or working abroad.

With the atmosphere of the global economy as turbulent as ever – and the recent spate of mergers and acquisitions, lending uncertainty to an already unpredictable market – institutions in the financial services industry have been tightening their belts and looking for ways of streamlining their operations to weather the storm.

Evolutions in service delivery and changing customer expectations require organisations to have a more global presence. On one level, this can mean having branch offices in far flung locations, while on another, breaking into new markets or establishing an international branding identity may necessitate in-person travel to spread the word about the products and services an institution has to offer.

Telecommunication has a role to play in this, with banks and finance houses facing the challenge of providing for and managing remote and mobile workforces, while simultaneously keeping costs down. Roaming costs can be a major contributor to this financial burden, so in this article we’ll be considering what measures organisations in the financial services industry can implement to alleviate this problem.

Different Charges, Wherever You Roam

Though member states of the European Union have imposed a capped and sliding scale of charges for mobile roaming within the region – with a pledge to abolish roaming costs entirely, within the current calendar year – transitional charges still apply.

Outside the EU, charges may be imposed on an ad hoc, local, or regional basis – and data roaming costs in many parts of the world can be notoriously high, or unpredictable.

Finance institutions operating in high-cost areas need to be especially vigilant as to how their expatriate users access the internet and web-based services.

Roaming Costs, Hidden in the Background

Mobile applications that update themselves automatically or call upon location or other cloud services in the background can be an unbudgeted drain on mobile accounts, as users may not even be aware that these apps are using data access.

Mobile Device Management (MDM) policies need to take these factors into account, and administrators should draw up lists of those apps known to require background data access – and put in place procedures for disabling these apps for international users who might otherwise incur huge roaming costs.

No Free Lunch, with Wi-Fi

Free public Wi-Fi is a viable option for private phone users looking to cut costs by avoiding international roaming charges. But conventional security wisdom advises against using hotspots for any online activity involving user logins or sensitive transactions.

So for workers in the financial services industry who have to deal on a daily basis with corporate and customer data and credentials, free Wi-Fi services should be considered off-limits for business purposes.

Data Bundles, Or Add-Ons

“Add-ons” or data bundles wrap a limited data allowance in a fixed-price package – typically with provisions for international roaming. Deals for enterprise users can be very economical, so organisations in the financial services industry should consider bundles as a serious option for reducing their roaming costs.

Decommissioning Voicemail

Accessing voicemail services while roaming is one of the major factors driving up costs, as premium rates typically apply. Consultations should be made with mobile network providers and IT administrators to give users the information they need to disable voicemail while roaming.

Apps with Offline Capabilities

Having users download apps with offline capabilities before they travel is another way of limiting their reliance on potentially budget-draining international data services. Mapping, navigation, and even currency conversion apps are available with offline functionality, and lists of approved software may be drawn up and made available to workers within the organisation.

Region-Specific Phone Numbers

Having a phone number that’s local to the region of your operations avoids international roaming costs by attracting local network rates.

Purchasing local SIM cards is one option. Using a virtual SIM or virtual phone service provider is another. For example, Swytch provides its subscribers with UK-registered business mobile phone numbers, which may be assigned to personal smartphones and individual or corporate accounts.

Outsourcing Region-Specific Personnel

An alternative to hiring expatriate staff in offshore locations is the recruitment of locally based talent within specific regions. As well as their knowledge of cultural and procedural norms for the area, such workers will also have local phone numbers and accounts, eliminating the need for international roaming costs to be incurred.

Steering Customers to Centralised or Lower Cost Channels

While there may be circumstances where it’s necessary to have a temporary or longer-term physical presence in an offshore location, the predominance of online commerce makes it possible to reduce actual physical interactions between customers and financial services outlets by centralising resources and diverting consumers to lower-cost channels such as eCommerce portals, and online banking services.

Moves to these channels reflect a larger trend in cost-cutting within the financial services industry that has also seen the closure and consolidation of physical branch offices.

Cloud-Based Alternatives to Travel

Online resources can also eliminate the physical need for travelling. Virtual phone service providers like Swytch are powered by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telecommunications networks, which augment telephony with collaboration services, data and document handling via web-based applications and portals, and offer audio and video conferencing and web meeting facilities as an alternative to in-person gatherings.

With mobile workers (including the staff of financial services institutions) now constituting almost 40% of the global working population, and with cost-cutting at the forefront of so much of enterprise planning and priorities, savings on international data roaming costs are an element of the balance sheet equation that shouldn’t be ignored, or treated lightly.

If you’d like to learn more about how a virtual phone service provider can help your financial services company save on roaming costs, get in touch with the telecoms experts at Swytch today.

 

How decluttering your desk can increase work productivity

There have been many articles written about how technology and automation can help individuals or organisations to increase work productivity. But one of the most effective methods of doing so actually involves no machinery, at all. And it’s one of the easiest things that you can do: decluttering your desk, and rationalising your work space.

Here are some ideas and recommendations on doing just that.

Different Strokes For Different Folks

Of course, clutter and organisation mean different things to different people – and in terms of increasing productivity and focus at work, different personality types may thrive in different environments.

People in the so-called “creative” professions – artists, photographers, designers, architects, writers – may appreciate a certain amount of disorganisation in their work spaces. The objects we acquire and retain have associations for us – memories and emotional responses that may be triggered by the sight or absence of them.

For creatives, these kinds of stimuli can spark new ideas. So it’s often helpful to be surrounded by objects, images, and sounds that may contribute positively to the task at hand.

But for those in the more “rational-thinking” professions, a chaotic and over-populated workspace may have the opposite effect, and detract from rather than increase work productivity.

And even for those who benefit from a degree of messiness in their working environment, there’s a fine line to maintain between inspiring disorganisation and chaos.

How Others See It

As a professional, the condition of your working environment doesn’t only influence your productivity at work and increase job satisfaction – it creates an impression on the people you have to deal with on a day to day basis.

From fellow workers to visiting clients, the message you convey by having a cluttered and disorganised desk or office has an impact on how easy it is that they find you to work with – and how competent and professional they perceive you to be.

Time For A Clean Up?

As a simple test, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I find it easy to meet essential deadlines for my work?
  • Do I find it easy to complete my projects – or do I always seem to be juggling several tasks, without resolution on any of them?
  • Do distractions and mess in my working environment keep pulling my attention away from the task at hand?

If you’ve answered “Yes” to one or more of the above, it could be time to rationalise your working environment, and increase work productivity, as a result.

Keeping What Works

Knowing what’s essential to increase your work productivity and peace of mind is the first step.

Think about your successful endeavours of the past, and identify the objects and elements of your desk and office environment that helped you to achieve these successes. A certain set of pens, office supplies, documents, or software: these would be the ingredients contributing to your ideal working state – and the items you’ll need to keep, when re-organising your work space.

Slinging Out What Doesn’t

Anything that doesn’t contribute to your ideal mind-set and productive work, can go.

Removal of these items can be a gradual and reversible process. You might begin by moving non-essential or distracting items out of sight to your desk drawers, or consigning them to storage bins, remote shelves, or closets. Work without them for a while, and gauge your level of success. Anything crucial that you may have inadvertently shelved can always be rotated back into service.

Dealing With Technology

If you’re working in a traditional networked corporate environment, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the habitual nightmare array of cables connecting desktop systems, servers, UPS units, routers, printers, and other hardware. These may contribute as much as your personal mess, to the cluttering up of work space.

Even if you’re operating from a personal set-up with a laptop or tablet, you may still have the occasional need to use a printer, scanner, or other peripheral hardware – with the associated desk and office space requirements for cabling and the devices themselves. To eliminate clutter, you should do as their name suggests, and keep these peripheral devices on the periphery using shelves, side tables, and the like.

Corporate environments will benefit from structured cabling systems, which organise logical routes and centralised connectors for office hardware. For home or personal office systems, simple measures like clustering related sets of cables into cut-off sections of plastic piping or stapling them to a peg board can make a huge difference.

Telecommunications equipment like desktop phones and fax machines (who uses those, anyway?) can be rationalised too, in this age of the mobile. A virtual phone system such as that offered by the Swytch network can assign registered business telephone numbers to your personal mobile phone, eliminating the need to buy office telephony hardware. And the cell phone you can just stick in your pocket, out of sight.

Beyond The Physical Desk

The digital realm also enables us to extend our working environment beyond the physical office or desk, in the form of online file storage, email and communications accounts, or entire virtual desktops for software and data handling. It’s a good idea to declutter these virtual spaces, too.

The mobile apps associated with a virtual phone system like Swytch can help you automatically create a logical distinction between personal and business accounts and related files, including Inboxes and voicemail.

Do regular clean-ups of the files and folders on your personal hardware and in your various accounts (email, cloud storage, etc.). Create logical categories to organise your data for easy retrieval and use. And cut out the non-essential software – including all those nifty mobile apps you downloaded, but never use.

Optimising Your Time

Once you’ve got into the habit of organising your work spaces, decluttering your physical and virtual desks can be reduced to a matter of minutes per day. This will create valuable time, which may be spent on more important issues. And the resulting clarity and neatness of your work environment will promote peace of mind, and greatly increase work productivity.

8 top tips for improving work-life balance

Does the term “work-life balance” even exist in your vocabulary? When was the last time you had an actual holiday? Not the calendar-defined ones like Christmas, but an honest-to-idleness break where you deliberately chose to abstain or absent yourself from work for a few days – or even, hours?

If you genuinely can’t recall, then you’ll probably benefit (a lot) from these tips on how to improve the balance between your working and personal lives.

1. Ignore Those Alerts

Technology blogs spend a lot of time raving about how lucky we are to live in an age of “always on, always connected” hardware and services. But in terms of quality of life, this perpetual connectivity can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing.

Case in point: all those customisable email alerts, SMS and social media notifications that seem to pipe up every few seconds of every working day – and night – on your tablet or mobile phone. Convenient, but distracting. Very. Especially if you’re trying to concentrate on something else.

Seriously, having to continuously divert your attention to a sporadic and external stream of information which may or may not be relevant to anything in particular is a great way to prevent yourself from completing the vital work you have at hand – even if that work is just taking a few hours off, from your busy timetable.

“Do Not Disturb” functions and power off buttons were created for a reason. Use them.

2. Learn To Say “No”

A great way to tip your work-life balance heavily (and stress-inducingly) in favour of “work” is to create a reputation for yourself as the “11th Hour” or “Go To” person in your organisation – the one prepared to take on rush jobs or emergency deadlines at the drop of a hat.

It may be very good for your standing and your company’s bottom line in the short term, but over time, subjecting yourself to so much pressure can have devastating consequences on your physical and mental health.

And, let’s face it: the fact that there are so many rush jobs and last-minute requests being made speaks less to your willingness to take them on and more to a lack of co-ordination in the running of your business.

So do yourself and your health a favour and graciously decline these opportunities to over-work yourself, from time to time. Not only will it give you more time to concentrate on things that are important to you, knowing that you’re not always available will give your colleagues and supervisors something to think about, in respect to why they keep having to ask you to step in so often, in the first place.

3. Prioritise Your Activities

Creating more time for your personal life can be a natural consequence of creating more time for everything you do, in general. And having a prioritised “To Do” list for each day is one way to achieve this.

To help in achieving a better work-life balance, try to create a mix of “work” and “life” related activities for each day. Then work diligently through your list until each task (including Item 7: Lunch at Spago’s) is done.

4. Include Physical Exercise in Your Mix

Health and fitness experts have been going on about the virtues of daily exercise for decades, now – and they’re not wrong. Maintaining a healthy body is an integral part of maintaining a healthy mind. And a healthy mind and body are essential to being able to perform effectively at work.

So be sure to include some kind of physical activity in your prioritised list of daily tasks – even if it’s something as mundane as “Walk/Jog through park on way to collect samples from Warehouse.”

5. Establish Work Times & Work Spaces

To create a distinction between “work time” and “personal/life time”, go ahead and actually do it. Set a formal timetable for work and work-related activities during the day – and stick to it (allowing a little leeway for the inevitable hiccups and crises).

And to push that distinction further, designate certain spaces as work spaces. If you work in an office or other facility, you’ll already have those laid out. But if you work from home, this may mean setting up a separate room or den as your studio/work space. As with your work schedule, any time you spend outside this space should be considered as personal.

This attitude should extend to your phone. The cloud-hosted Swytch network allows your company to assign UK business numbers to workers’ personal phones so they can receive vital communications at all times. And crucially for your work-life balance, Swytch enables you to maintain a clear demarcation between personal and business contacts and data.

6. “Good Enough” May Be Good Enough

We all want to be acknowledged for doing our jobs well, and striving for excellence in all things is no bad thing. But, we’re only human – and perfection is something that isn’t built into our DNA.

So spending hours and hours on each task, striving to get it just right isn’t a winning plan. It’s an inefficient use of your time and resources – not to mention a great way to induce high blood pressure.

Admitting – and accepting – that sometimes “good enough” is an acceptable standard will enable you to get more individual jobs done – especially if your work requires you to move quickly from one assignment or project to another.

7. Cultivate Outside Interests

Having laser-like focus on only one aspect of your existence (like your work) limits free thinking, induces stress, and ultimately reduces your capacity to work effectively, rather than increasing it.

Taking some time to foster outside interests (sports, social activities, community service, hobbies, etc.) expands your range of experience, refreshes your body and mind, and opens up a wider world of new ideas and influences that may be of value to you in all sorts of ways.

8. Nurture Your Family & Support Networks

They’ll be there for you, through thick and thin (whether you like it, or not…), so devoting the time and effort to nurture your relationships with family and friends is another part of the work-life balancing process.

The time you spend with them may be invaluable in maintaining your physical and emotional health – not to mention the pool of ideas and experiences that you’ll share.

Keep these recommendations in mind, and you’ll be well on the way to improving your work-life balance.

The benefits of moving your business telephony to the cloud

The on-site PBX (public branch exchange) type of phone system was fine in the age of the “nine to five” work day – when staff relied on business telephony largely consisting of desktop computers and telephones (and good old-fashioned pen and paper) to keep their communications and office tasks integrated and co-ordinated.

But we now live in a digital age, where business telephony in particular and communications in general demand instant access and real-time connectivity – in a working environment that’s expanded beyond the office or warehouse to include home-based, mobile, and remote staff using laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

On-premise phone systems may be stretched to cope with all that’s required of today’s expansive and fluid working environments. So, for this and other reasons, it’s beneficial to move your business telephony into the cloud.

An Advanced Office Phone System For All

Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP is a technology which converts voice signals into digital data that can be transmitted just like any other information over the internet. It’s also the medium which makes it possible for telecommunications infrastructure and its associated software to be located on remote and virtual servers in the cloud, rather than confined to the hardware and cabling of an on-premises PBX.

This means that the features of a hosted VoIP or virtual PBX system can be made available as data and applications from the cloud – so a complete business telephony system becomes accessible not only to users of office phones and desktop computers, but to anyone in an organisation with a device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) that’s capable of connecting to the internet.

So, branch offices, franchises, remote, home-based, and mobile workers can all benefit from the same advanced features. These typically include call routing and forwarding, voicemail to email transcription, fax, auto-attendants (virtual receptionists), call monitoring, video conferencing, and instant messaging.

The Ability to Expand & Connect

A cloud-based business telephony system provides a centralised platform for the management of enterprise communications, with a common administrative console available as client software on users’ devices. So, businesses with a widely dispersed or global presence can easily link all of their centres of operations with a central hub.

This makes oversight much easier, and allows for centralised and automated billing. Lines and extensions may be added or removed via the administrative portal, in response to an organisation’s changing circumstances, or changes in market conditions.

Integrated Mobile & Applications

Cloud telephony deployments typically include dedicated mobile apps through which subscribers may gain full access to the system. Number portability is a common feature of these apps, enabling workers to associate their business telephone numbers with their mobile phones so that calls and text messages made from a device are perceived by customers and contacts as originating from an office – irrespective of the time of day, or where a worker happens to be.

Business telephony applications may also include visibility features like presence panels, which allow workers to keep track of the phone status of their colleagues and contacts (Unavailable, On a Call, etc.), and convenience functions like “click to dial” phone book entries.

The fact that voice and other types of data co-exist on the internet cloud platform also allows integration with office productivity applications and resources like document-sharing platforms and collaboration software.

Ease of Installation & Management

With a hosted VoIP solution, there’s no need for a big capital investment in exchange hardware or wiring. VoIP-compatible phones may already exist on your premises. If not, you may require a moderate spend on headsets and software for desktop or laptop “softphones” (which may be included in your subscription package), VoIP adapters for legacy equipment, or dedicated VoIP telephones.

In any event, installation should be a simple matter of setting up the software and plugging things into their correct sockets. A good service provider will be on hand with assistance – and the cloud service will also take responsibility for maintaining and managing your business telephony infrastructure. This responsibility should extend to updating any software or provided hardware when new versions become available.

A service like Swytch also empowers businesses to operate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. The Swytch cloud-hosted platform assigns UK-registered business numbers to your workers’ mobile phones – and provides dedicated mobile apps and a user-friendly online dashboard for managing features, accounts, provisioning, visibility, and cost control.

Lower Costs & Time Savings

Routing voice data across the internet produces a significant savings in call charges for users of cloud-based telephony systems. Monthly subscription charges for hosted VoIP are extremely competitive, and enterprise savings of 50% or more annually are now standard, due to the low tariffs for long distance and international calls, and the free or very low rates for calls within the same network.

Simple set-up procedures, ease of management, and the streamlining of business operations through integrated functions also generate significant savings in time – which can be spent concentrating on issues related to improving your business.

Better Customer Service

Integration of business telephony with on-premises or cloud-based functions like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) empowers organisations to better co-ordinate their business processes, lines of supply, and points of contact with the consumer – thereby delivering a more satisfying experience to the customer.

Reassurance in A Crisis

There will of course be times when things go wrong, and incidents occur to disrupt or disable communications in your usual place of work.

But with your business phone system operating in the cloud, you can be assured that your service provider has put Disaster Recovery (DR) measures in place to redirect calls to a number that you designate (e.g. mobile or residential phone).

If you haven’t considered doing so yet, the benefits outlined above should give you reason enough to contemplate moving your business telephony to the cloud.

How to avoid data roaming charges with your business mobile

These days, a business mobile phone is likely to be your constant companion. As a business owner looking to expand your market base and make contacts in the globalised environment of today, you may be required to make trips outside your home country or even continent. Then there are those pesky holidays we must all take from time to time, to avoid keeling over from stress and over-work.

In all cases, you’ll likely be tempted to bring your mobile phone(s) with you – along with your associated business lines – just in case of that vital call, or that crucial email or text message.

The problem is, using your phone to access the internet via mobile data networks other than your own attracts “roaming” charges in overseas territories – and these can soon add up to a staggering sum, if you’re not careful.

Know the Potential Costs

Before you travel, take some time to gather due diligence from the internet and other sources on the current levels of roaming charges that apply in the areas you intend to visit.

Within the European Union (EU), data roaming charges are scheduled to be scrapped in June of this year – but in the meantime, an amended scale of charges still applies. And in the years leading up to 2022, a sliding scale of data caps will be in effect in all EU member states.

Of course, with Britain on the road to leaving the EU, entitlements to roaming charge reductions may be in a fluid state throughout the “Brexit” process – so if you’re a UK business traveller, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the political and economic ramifications during this period.

Territories outside of Europe will have their own rates and regulations to consider and fit into your travel plans.

Get Clarification from Your Provider

Empirical figures aside, there may be specific conditions applying to your business mobile account and network carrier. So, before you leave, make sure to contact them and get a detailed run-down of your phone provider’s stance on data roaming.

There may (for example) be special packages or surcharges you can pay for, to assure certain charge levels or data allowances in a given period. Your provider may also have special arrangements with partner and affiliate networks operating in the areas you intend to visit.

Queries and technical support may also be an issue while travelling, so be sure to ask about terms and conditions for these.

Choose Your Service Wisely

If you’re unhappy with your current levels of service and existing conditions for business mobile data roaming – or if your research turns up some better alternatives – you might consider opening an account with a different business mobile provider.

It’s a competitive market, and there are a lot of networks and options to choose from. Some careful shopping may reveal a package that’s more in line with your expectations.

Buy A Data Bundle

Having clarified the pricing issues and settled on a network carrier that you like, you now have the option of buying a data bundle. This may typically provide a fixed charge rate for mobile data use, or a capped data allowance. Again, some diligent shopping and consideration of the terms (what happens if you exceed the allowances, etc.) should reveal which package best suits the requirements of your journey.

Download Maps & Travel Data Early – Or Offline

Don’t wait till you get to your destination to stock up on guidebooks and travel maps. Do this before you leave (with the option to download relevant maps, documents and applications using your home network) – and take advantage of the various options for gaining access to the data you need offline.

For example, Google Maps now lets you save maps to your device for offline reference, and there are third-party travel apps with a range of options for offline use.

Check Your Default Data Settings

With your infrastructure and services settled on, your next job is to configure the hardware so that your business mobile consumes less data and doesn’t do anything sneaky behind your back. Here’s a check-list:

  • Make sure that automatic data roaming is switched off: Apple’s iOS and many newer model Android smartphones will do this by default, but it’s worth verifying for yourself from the Settings menus.
  • Deny apps the use of background data: This will ensure that the only applications capable of accessing the internet are the ones you’re currently using.
  • Disable automatic updates using mobile data: You may have to spend some time on this, as third-party applications may currently be configured to update themselves automatically, in addition to the native apps that make up your mobile operating system.
  • Set all automatic updates to Wi-Fi: If a nominal charge is made for Wi-Fi network use overseas, this will be considerably less than the cost of the mobile data stream.

Monitor Your Data Usage

You should have the means to record how much data you’re using on your business mobile on a real-time basis, to help manage costs and stay within any pre-set limits. This may take the form of a dedicated phone number on your network, or a data monitoring app – of which there are several available in the app stores, for no charge.

Use Wi-Fi If Possible

Typically, business mobile users aren’t charged anything for downloads or internet browsing done on Wi-Fi connections while roaming – though some hotspots may impose a nominal charge for connecting to their network.

Visit Mobile-Optimised Websites

Many (though arguably not enough) websites are optimised for mobile access, with pages and graphics scaled for rapid loading and reduced data use on smaller screens.

The mobile versions of popular sites may have a special prefix (e.g., mobile.PopularWebsite.com) or suffix (e.g., www.PopularWebsite.mobi), and you can specify these as you type the URL into a search box.

Disable Voicemail

Outside the EU (with its rate-capping policy), charge rates for checking voicemail while roaming are notoriously high – so you might want to consider disabling this function on your travels. Your service provider and the specific features of your device should give you the guidance you need on how to do this.

Get A MiFi

What’s a MiFi? Well, it’s a wireless modem which you can buy to set up a personal/ local hotspot for up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices. Using one can give substantial savings over local network data rates abroad.

Use A Local Network

Speaking of local (in the sense of “in country”) mobile networks, buying and installing a SIM card from a network carrier operating in your location can deal with mobile data use issues at a single stroke. Cards are typically sold on a time plan (e.g. 30 days) or “pay as you go” basis.

You will however need to “unlock” your phone from its home network, to do this. Contact your service provider to discover whether this is an option on your account, and the procedure to follow, if it is.

Use Virtual Phone System Features

If your business mobile line uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, or is provided by a cloud-hosted service, you may be able to take advantage of the features of a virtual phone system. For example, Swytch lets you assign UK-registered business mobile numbers to your personal phone – with business telephony features including a voicemail inbox, associated with each.

Messages and calls to these numbers can be forwarded to voicemail, and sent as sound file attachments to email – which you can download using Wi-Fi.

Use A Data Compression App

A dedicated class of mobile apps has grown up, addressing concerns about data usage, security, and privacy on Wi-Fi and mobile data networks. These apps may include a Virtual Private Network (VPN) option, for encrypting and securing your internet access. And for data roaming purposes, they’ll typically include a data compression function, for optimising data streams and compacting files in transit – which uses less data, and saves you money.

Switch Off Your Phone

If you’re on holiday, give some serious consideration to not using your phone unless you absolutely must — and make a conscious decision to narrow down the list of situations where you “need” your business mobile.

If you’re on a commercial trip, putting your phone into Airplane Mode (with access to Wi-Fi, but no cellular or data) is another option that will allow you to receive voicemail communications over Wi-Fi, and to toggle your data roaming access as you need it.

If your business mobile service employs a virtual phone system or virtual business numbering like Swytch, this option can free you from the anxiety of having to tot up excessive charges for data roaming.

Virtual phone numbers: the must-have tech for modern businesses

For start-up companies and SMBs, cost and resource management are paramount, with great importance attached to every labour hour or sum of cash spent. Business communications can be a cost-intensive part of the enterprise – and finding alternatives to the hardware spend, management and maintenance associated with a traditional PBX (private branch exchange) telephone system is a smart move.

Virtual phone numbers are a powerful option for modern businesses – and a must-have technology for many start-ups and SMBs.

What Are Virtual Phone Numbers?

A virtual phone system is one in which infrastructure and services are supplied via the internet, by one or more providers. These are hosted services, typically charged on a “pay as you go” or monthly subscription basis, using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, and delivered to clients via software and web-based consoles.

Virtual phone numbers are hosted in the cloud, rather than being tied to a specific smartphone, desktop handset, or computer system. For businesses, one or more numbers may be connected via hosted services to produce a complete virtual telecommunications system.

Providers will typically give subscribers the option of choosing virtual phone numbers from a range of different types – and it’s these options that help modern businesses to expand their reach and enhance their image in various ways.

Projecting A High-Profile Image

It’s not uncommon for single proprietor and start-up businesses to rely on the use of personal phones for running their office affairs. Virtual phone numbers allow the owners of smaller companies to assign registered business lines to their personal devices.

Calls made or received by customers and contacts appear to originate or terminate at work numbers, rather than personal or domestic lines – which maintains a more formal and professional presence for business communications.

Virtual numbers may also be obtained as a set of extensions to a central “corporate headquarters” business number – allowing even the most modest-sized enterprise to give callers the impression of having numerous lines, departments, or branch offices.

Collaboration & Unified Communications

The use of VoIP technology for the provision of hosted services and telecommunications presents virtual phone system subscribers with the opportunity to gain access to fully featured business telecoms suites including call routing, auto-attendants (virtual receptionists), music on hold, video conferencing, voicemail to email transcription, and other enterprise-grade telephony functions.

Use of the internet as the medium for service delivery also enables integration with multimedia and multi-format data sources, collaboration platforms, and office productivity applications.

Separating Personal & Business

A virtual phone number system allows users to create a clear distinction between their personal and professional identities, with a separation of individual and business accounts and data. This not only helps to preserve business confidentiality and personal privacy – it also empowers business users to achieve a healthier balance between their working and personal lives.

Anywhere, Any Time Access

Having a virtual business phone number attached to a personal mobile or residential line means that team members can receive calls, handle transactions, and make vital contacts regardless of where they are, or the time of day. This is an immense benefit for business travellers, sales personnel, remote workers, or those based from home. And as far as their callers are concerned, communications are being made directly with a representative of the company.

The cloud-based VoIP infrastructure backing up a virtual phone system ensures that the full functionality of an office telecommunications suite remains available to virtual number users wherever there’s a stable internet connection.

Location and time independence extends to the virtual telephone numbers, themselves. For example, a service such as Swytch makes registered UK business numbers available to its subscribers – so companies doing a lot of transactions in the UK and Europe can maintain a regional presence there. And with an internet-backed phone system offering low call rates, there are no exorbitant data roaming charges to worry about.

In places like the US, where regional economics and customer convenience are paramount, virtual phone numbers can give companies a competitive edge by allowing them to establish a presence in local markets and directories with specific area codes, or to offer customers low-rate or toll-free access to their services.

Easy Management

Using a hosted service for telecommunications provision and the allocation of virtual phone numbers puts the overhead and responsibility for infrastructure, management, maintenance, and technical support on the service provider. This allows subscribers to devote more of their time and energy to the growth and prosperity of their businesses.

On the client side, service management is readily achieved via dedicated mobile apps which give access to a web-based control panel, from which easy adjustments may be made to order new lines, configure telephony features, and allocate resources.

Cost-Effectiveness

And then there’s the money. By enabling subscribers to use their own devices for both business and personal applications, the need to spend on acquiring new hardware or infrastructure is eliminated.

In a thriving market, subscription rates for virtual telephone systems are very competitive. And the use of VoIP technology to route data across the internet contributes to a reduction in voice and data charges that typically sees enterprise savings of at least 50% over traditional telecoms set-ups.

With their cost-effectiveness, ease of management, and ability to empower even the smallest enterprise with an international and market presence, virtual phone numbers are a must-have technology for modern businesses.

 

 

 

7 tips for managing temporary staff

Managing temporary staff alongside a conventional workforce is becoming common practice in the prevailing economy. With seasonal markets bringing a rush of customers to serve and services to render, occasional projects requiring specialist or additional hands, and skills shortages afflicting certain industries, businesses of all kinds may need to employ temporary staff, at one time or another.

The globalisation of the enterprise – including the recruitment market – means that businesses now have a wider scope than ever, when it comes to sourcing talented professionals or eager newcomers for short-term employment contracts.

But taking on temporary workers creates specific concerns for business owners, who may find themselves having to act as ad hoc managers and occasional mentors for these short-term hires.

In this article, we’ll be offering seven tips for businesses having to come to terms with managing temporary staff.

1. Have A Plan – And Communicate It

As a manager or business owner, you’re best placed to know the human resource needs and skill-set requirements of your organisation over a given period. And one of the first things that you’ll need to do before taking on additional staff is determining:

  • How many new people you need
  • What skills they should have
  • What their duties and responsibilities will be with regard to your ongoing operations or any new projects they’ll be involved with
  • What equipment or resources they’ll be given access to
  • How much they’ll be paid
  • What kind of hours they’ll be working

These all need to be established before the recruitment and hiring process – and the conditions relevant to your temporary staff’s terms of service will need to be spelled out to them, preferably in writing.

2. Make Them Welcome

Even if they’ll only be with you for a few days or weeks, take the time to make your temporary hires feel welcome. Have a formal introduction and orientation day, where they can meet the people they’ll be working with, familiarise themselves with your business environment, absorb its culture and get used to the work space and materials that they’ll be using.

3. Give Them the Tools They Need

When managing temporary staff, it’s important to provide all the materials and information that they will need to get started, straight away – and instructions or guidance on how to get more when they need it.

On the digital front, have your IT division supervise the allocation of the hardware, software and access rights they’ll need to do their jobs effectively.

For communication purposes, you need not issue temporary workers with a company-owned phone as there are other options available – such as a virtual business phone system like Swytch, which enables companies to acquire registered business telephone numbers that are allocated and provisioned from the cloud, and can be assigned to a worker’s personal device.

4. Keep Them in the Loop

As work progresses and conditions change, you’ll need to keep your temporary employees appraised of new developments as much as your long-term staff. So don’t forget to include temps in your mailing lists for time-table adjustments, changing job specifications, or whatever else might be relevant.

Your general office “grapevine” should not exclude temporary staff from vital memos and communications, either. And involving your short-term hires in the life of the enterprise should extend beyond the office or factory floor. If there are social events, training programmes, or meetings that temporary staff may attend without compromising corporate security, they should be invited to these, as well.

5. Benefit from Their Fresh Perspective

In addition to the specific skill-sets or personal qualities that induced you to hire them in the first place, temporary workers (especially those with some experience of having served in various positions and/or at various establishments) can bring a fresh set of eyes and a unique viewpoint to the perception of your enterprise.

This may include not only their perspectives on the job they have at hand, but their “outsider’s” view of your situation with regard to working practices, corporate culture and the marketplace in general. So it’s worth soliciting their opinions, and creating channels to receive their input on various issues.

6. Make Repeat Business a Possibility

Not all temporary workers will be a good “fit” for your organisation – or necessarily be ideal performers in the job that they’ve been hired for. But for those who are (and may not be prepared to take on a permanent position with you), offering the possibility of a repeat engagement somewhere down the line is a wise investment in the future.

You should also be prepared to provide testimonials or references for workers who ask for them – or to make recommendations to partners or affiliate organisations you feel would benefit from their services.

7. Make Permanence an Option

If the workers are amenable to the idea, and you’re of the view that they would make a valuable permanent addition to your enterprise, then the prospect of a full-time job with your organisation should be put on the table.

Problems of physical/geographical distance have historically been a factor in hindering permanent moves – but with the globalised workforces of today, this need no longer be an issue. With online communications and phenomena such as the allocation of business phone numbers, email and voicemail accounts from the cloud (as seen with services like virtual numbers from Swytch), the expansion of your workforce can take place both in terms of numbers and geographical spread.

With these recommendations in mind, monitoring and managing temporary staff at your organisation should prove to be a stress-free and rewarding experience for all concerned.

How to manage multiple businesses with a virtual phone

Attempting to manage multiple businesses with separate revenue streams has long been a challenge in the life of the entrepreneur. Rather than concentrating on a single sector, aspiring business professionals may turn their hand to any number of different enterprises.

Corporation and tax laws within different jurisdictions may require the registration of several business names and entities, in order to accomplish this. For the business owner, this can equate to simultaneously having several business names, business addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers – and the need to somehow administer all of them.

One way of doing this is through the use of a virtual phone system.

What is a Virtual Phone System?

A virtual phone system is one whose telecommunications infrastructure – including tools, trunking, and the allocation of telephone numbers – isn’t tied to specific hardware or cabling equipment. Provision of resources and services takes place via data transfer and in software, with the internet as the medium of transmission.

Using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, service providers are able to deliver telecommunications capabilities from the cloud to individual and corporate users. These capabilities may include fully featured business telephony suites and the provision of one or more telephone numbers, with extensions.

The Benefits to Business Management

For entrepreneurs and multi-part enterprises trying to manage multiple businesses, the advantages of a virtual phone system are many and include:

  • Cost Savings: Instead of having to shell out for separate accounts covering several different companies, your virtual phone contract covers a single subscription, which is billed (typically monthly) for all the phone lines and services that you specify. As the virtual system uses VoIP to deliver those services, call rates (especially for long-distance and international communications) are drastically reduced – so much so that businesses on average report at least a 50% saving over traditional PBX (private branch exchange) phone systems.
  • Brand Continuity: If there are elements of your business which have already established a client base using a known set of phone numbers, email addresses, and named contacts, you can take these credentials with you to a virtual phone system. “Number portability” is a standard feature of VoIP-based telecommunications.
  • Business Continuity: Multiple business telephone numbers may be routed via the internet to a single phone (one that you designate), so that vital communications may be received at any time of day, and in any location. Separate caller IDs can be set up for each number you use, along with specific instructions on how incoming calls or messages to each number should be handled.
  • Establishing a Regional Identity: Virtual phone providers typically offer a range of options for selecting business phone numbers, including local and regional area codes, toll-free and international numbers. This is especially useful if you have a number of different ventures in specific locations, and wish to establish a local presence there – perhaps to give residents a lower cost business option, or to get ranked in a particular area by search engines.

A network like Swytch offers subscribers a choice of UK-registered business phone numbers – a great way to establish a presence in UK and European markets, for example.

How It Works

Though exact configuration details will vary from service to service, the basic procedure for setting up and administering a single-owner virtual phone system that allows you to manage multiple businesses goes something like this:

  1. Make your selection of business lines: Port over as many of your existing lines as you require, then choose from the local, toll-free, regional, or international numbers on offer. Designate a main contact number for each business.
  2. Set your designated forwarding number: This is the single line (or one of several, depending on the contract) to which calls from the various businesses on your account will be forwarded.
  3. Configure routing conditions from your business numbers to your main phone: Set calls from each of your various business lines to be routed to your forwarding phone. You may be able to draw up forwarding timetables for the different lines, so that each line will route calls during business hours relevant to its specific regional number.
  4. Set conditions for “after-hours” communications: Calls received outside of “normal” business hours may be routed to a voicemail box that you designate. Each business line may be configured with a “We’re currently not available” notice or a specific message with instructions for after-hours callers.
  5. Set up caller IDs for incoming calls: This is the way you’ll distinguish between which of your businesses is receiving a given call. You can also set up queues of calls on Hold, if multiple calls come in to different businesses simultaneously.
  6. Set up separate voicemail boxes for each business: Each of your businesses can have its own voicemail inbox. Depending on the service provider, this may take the form of a single voicemail account with recipient names set for each venture, or the addition of dedicated inboxes for each business name.
  7. Add customised greetings: You can set up custom greeting messages and on Hold announcements for the auto-attendant/virtual receptionist that receives calls for each business and for each voicemail inbox. This may be in the form of audio files that you upload to the service, or messages recorded directly from your phone.
  8. Configure your virtual receptionist to handle calls for each business: Some services will give you the option of setting up unique call-handling procedures for each business. So one venture might be configured to transfer all calls to you, in real time, while another takes voice messages.

Virtual Offices & SEO

A bit of a caveat, to finish. Some enterprises rely on virtual offices and virtual phones to boost their search engine rankings in different regions or cities. Having phone numbers local to each area is a great way to achieve this in theory, but care should be taken to register a unique, dedicated physical address (rather than a P.O. Box, shared, or virtual address) in each case.

Otherwise, the algorithms and search criteria imposed by the likes of Google and Bing may combine all the businesses associated with a shared address under a single listing – which defeats the purpose of having separate business entities.

If you would more information on how best to manage multiple businesses with a virtual phone, or would like to set up a virtual number for your business, get in touch with us through our online contact form.