The Guide to VoIP and Employee Mobility
The telephone is an essential tool for the vast majority of businesses. Without it, communication breaks down and businesses can fail. This necessity, for the latter half of the twentieth century and for some of the twenty-first, has kept employees chained to their desks. But no more! VoIP technology introduces innovation and flexibility to your network that enables and simplifies employee mobility, allowing personnel the freedom of working from anywhere.
In this article we’ll examine what kind of mobility VoIP introduces for employees, what tools and services exist for you to implement them, and the various options available to suit your needs.
Tradition and Drivers of Change
The traditional “brick-and-mortar” philosophy of business enterprises has steadily eroded over the last decade or so. The notion of physically gathering company employees in a particular office or building for them to perform their tasks is no longer a universal norm. More and more, working remotely has become an option, sometimes a necessity, and in some cases, even a non-negotiable requirement. Recent events, such as the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020, have expedited this movement and fueled a great push toward enabling employee mobility.
One of the greatest obstacles to this enablement has been the telephone. Enterprises have their own internal telephone networks and require that all work-related telephone communication take place via the company’s telephone service. This means that the physical presence of the employee at the business’ offices, where their physical phone is located, is required. A mobile phone can enable mobility, but only for a handful of employees due to the comparatively high cost of mobile telephony services and their inability to be integrated into the corporate telephony network and dial plan.
VoIP and the flexibility it provides helps to enable employee mobility, allowing workers to work from wherever they may be.
Remote VoIP connectivity scenarios
VoIP mobility involves various mobility scenarios, depending on the requirements of the employees in each case:
Off-site small office or home office – This scenario involves having an employee at a physical location other than the main company building or campus. This would often be in the employee’s home. Employees in such a situation would have a desk phone with an internal corporate extension number. Using three- or four-digit dialing, they are able call or be called by other internal devices at no charge. There is no limitation as to where this office is, as it can be just down the street from headquarters, in a different city, or even in a different country! Because VoIP uses IP networks, you can achieve such a scenario anywhere where you have access to the Internet.
Fully mobile employees – Such employees are those that don’t have one physical office location from which they work, but are constantly on the go. Salespeople, technicians, engineers, and others like them, are almost always out of the office. In this situation, such employees have what is known as a softphone installed on either their smartphone, tablet, or laptop. A softphone is an app or a piece of software that transforms the device on which it is installed, a VoIP endpoint, or in more traditional language, a telephone. This software will connect to the enterprise’s VoIP service over the Internet and obtain an internal corporate number, permitting the employee to carry that number no matter where they are in the world.
Hybrid employees – These are employees that spend about half their time in a specific physical office and the other half on the go. Typically managers, executives, and employees that travel often fall into this category. For such personnel, it’s important to be reachable wherever they are, at the same phone number. With VoIP technology, it’s easy to configure such a user’s physical office phone with a softphone installed on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, using the same internal telephone number. So no matter if the user is in the office or on a business trip half way around the world, that person can be reached by dialing the same number.
Remote VoIP connectivity Advantages
All of the above-mentioned scenarios involve providing an internal three or four digit corporate number to a device which is not physically found within the network infrastructure of the business or enterprise. This is VoIP’s superpower, as far as mobility goes. The extent of the advantages to such a deployment may not be immediately perceivable, but they are not trivial, to say the least. Advantages include:
Cost savings – There is no cost to calling mobile employees. This is the case even for those calls terminating on a smartphone, because the call is not being made via the cellular telephony network to the cell phone number, but to the internal corporate number that terminates on the softphone. As shown in the diagram below, such calls go through the cellular data* or Wi-Fi connection of the phone and are thus free. Even when such users are travelling throughout the world, such calls are still free.
*VoIP conversations take up a very small amount of data, on the order of several tens of Kbps, which is very small compared to what most cellular providers offer in their data plans, so no additional charges are incurred.
Consolidation of costs and call tracking – All calls made by mobile employees to destinations outside of the corporate network are billed to the main enterprise telephone service and not to individual mobile phones. These calls are routed to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) via the local PSTN connection at the business premises, regardless of where the remote users are physically located, as shown below.
Single number reach – Another very important advantage is the fact that an employee can be reached at any one of their remote or local physical devices using the same single corporate number. So the physical IP phone, the softphone app in the smartphone, and the softphone on the laptop can all share the same corporate extension number and depending on which device is being used, that device rings for incoming calls. There is no more need for multiple telephone numbers to reach a single person!
Taking mobility one step further
The scenarios described so far involve a corporate telephone network where the IP PBX, or VoIP server is on the premises of the business itself. Thus, remote VoIP endpoints would have to connect to this VoIP server in order to obtain all of the necessary telephony services, and operate correctly. This is shown in the following diagram, where each of the endpoints registers to the IP PBX at HQ:
Such a scenario requires additional network know-how and skills in order to ensure connectivity as well as a level of security for such connections. This in turn incurs additional costs in skilled personnel and implementation. But what if you were to take this VoIP server and place it in the cloud? This would then make IP phones even at HQ function as additional remote endpoints, much like mobile users, as shown below.
Providers such as RingCentral or GoToConnect deliver these kinds of cloud-based VoIP services, which are turnkey solutions ensuring both connectivity and security, also greatly simplifying the implementation of user mobility. They are subscription based, don’t require any physical infrastructure on site, and are costed at a per-endpoint-device basis. This means that they are highly scalable and you only pay for the capacity you actually use. In such a case, even IP telephony endpoints at headquarters are considered remote endpoints and are treated in exactly the same way as mobile endpoints. No specialized (and costly) provisioning for mobile users is necessary.
Mobile workforce scenarios
VoIP technology allows you to have your workforce physically wherever you need them to be without compromising communication and reachability, while still maintaining low telecom costs, and an unchanging internal dial plan. Many studies have shown that employees are happier and more productive when they have multiple options available to them. They can choose to work from home one day and at the office the other. This reduces or eliminates stress, traffic, commute times, and unavoidably increases employee happiness and contentment.
In addition, the employment of remote or mobile employees reduces a business’ costs as far as office infrastructure goes. With fewer desks and workstations to maintain, costs will inevitably be decreased.
Believe it or not, according to services such as Vonage, a remote employee will also improve communication. Communication over the phone, or over videoconference can often be more efficient than in person, because it removes the nuances of in-person interaction, enabling mobile employees to “get right down to business” leading to less time wasted, and more time on “to the point” conversations.
As with most things in life, there is no perfect solution. Enabling employee mobility of your workforce will not solve all your problems. But having the option of aiding mobility for specific employees can go a long way in improving your business’ productivity and effectiveness in your sector. And VoIP technology is here to help you do all that.