Working From Home and VoIP

VoIP phone service has been an unsung hero during the 2020 pandemic caused by COVID-19, also referred to as the Corona Virus. With over 200 countries affected, many people have had to Work From Home (WFH or #WFH in the social media world) on a global scale.

Working From Home

Working from home, sometimes referred to as telecommuting before COVID-19 took hold, is not necessarily that new and is something that has been able to grow over the last 5 to 10 years in particular. A big factor contributing to that growth has been the advances and improvements in high speed Internet services, including availability, reliability and bandwidth. This, as well as VoIP technology adoption, has led to huge improvements in VoIP services available today.

In The USA the percentage of workers from home is still low, with numbers between 4 and 7 percent for people that work more than half their time at home. During the COVID-19 pandemic though, the early indications are that this number increased into the mid to high 20's percent from initial surveys. However, we suspect this number will have been higher as stay at home orders continued in many States from March through June.

How Does VoIP Help Working From Home

Many workers still utilize desk phones for their work, such as law offices, insurance agencies, project planning services, as well as many others, and ranges from small businesses to enterprises. As the USA went into lockdown one state at a time with stay at home orders being put in place it meant that most non-essential workers were unable to make it into their normal workspace or office on a daily basis, where their desk phones reside. We were suddenly forced into a global #WorkFromHome movement!

So, why has VoIP been so important for many businesses? Well it brings many advantages to the table, but a couple to highlight in this article are it's portability and it's many productivity features.

Portability

With VoIP you can take your IP desk phone and plug it into any high speed Internet connection for it to work. The combination of your hosted PBX phone service and your phone have the information on what extension it is and all the call routing setups. So as long as the phone can connect to the Internet it can connect and communicate with your hosted VoIP phone service provider. Whereas analog phone systems are set up in your work place and those phones cannot be moved to any outside network.

This allows workers to take their desk phones home and use their desk phone just like they were at work sitting at their desk. All they need is a high speed Internet service like DSL, Cable, or Fiber at their home.

Features

One of the great advantages of VoIP is that it is a digital technology and therefore opens up a lot of opportunities for features such as simpler ones like call forwarding and more complex App integrations. In many cases you can control feature setup through an online secure portal you can access from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Accessing features remotely means that if you decided you cannot get into the office to pick up your phone you can remotely set up call forwarding of your desk phone to your cell phone or home phone. Many providers offer a Softphone App option (for example the Bria Softphone App) which provides an extension to your business phone system on your smartphone. The advantage of using a Softphone calling App is that outbound calls will show your business caller ID information rather than your personal cell number details.

Unified Communication providers, sometimes referred to as UCaaS, often bundle multiple services into one platform. This includes voice services, presence and messaging capabilities, and video conferencing with desktop sharing. All these features are often available from within their desktop App solution. So, with your home computer or laptop, along with your deskphone or Softphone, VoIP provides all your work communication needs from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

VoIP Technical Aspects Associated with Working From Home

Even though we talk about portability and taking your phone anywhere to use there are a few technical aspects to consider when using VoIP from home.

Internet Service VoIP Capability

As we have mentioned, VoIP requires a high speed Internet connection like DSL, Cable or Fiber. However, not all Internet services are created equal and there are various packages you can choose from. We recommend using our VoIP Test tool to measure your Internet service latency, jitter, and uplink and downlink speeds (bandwidth). This will provide a good indication of your Internet services capability of supporting VoIP calls.

E911 Services

E911 is a location based service and has some important differences to traditional 911 services. When your service provider sets up your hosted phone service they will also set up E911 location information. This will of course be your office address. So if for some reason 911 is dialed from your work desk phone while it is at your home location the address information provided will be your office location.

If you have a direct line then you can contact your service provider to update your location information. However, if you have one business number for everyone then this becomes a problem as you cannot distinguish down to an extension number, only to a phone number. The best thing to consider is not to use your work phone as a means for calling 911 if at all possible.

SIP ALG

VoIP utilizes a protocol called SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), which is a signalling mechanism between end devices such as IP desk phones and your hosted PBX. SIP ALG (Application Layer Gateway) is a piece of software inside most commercial routers, and is commonly enabled by default. It monitors SIP traffic and modifies it as it deems fit to try and help the SIP traffic traverse the firewall and NAT (Network Address Translation) functions of the router.

However, in many cases it causes more issues than it solves so over the years it has become commonly accepted to disable SIP ALG when using VoIP phone services.

If you have a combo modem/router unit from some of the larger cable companies (for example Comcast) you may not be able to access SIP ALG to disable it. If this is the case for you then check with your service provider as they may have different configurations that can help with ALG issues.

With SIP ALG enabled you may experience intermittant or consistent one way audio issues (i.e. you can hear the person on the other end of a call but they cannot hear you or vice versa), intermittant no service issues on your desk phone, or not being able to make outgoing calls or receive incoming calls.

Security

Some industries may require higher levels of security for their communications. VoIP can be very secure if using encryption with TLS (Transport Layer Security) for its signalling and also SRTP (Secure Real-time Transport Protocol) to secure the voice traffic. You can always ask your service provider to see if they support some of these options.

Your business may require the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) so that can be another way to add security when using UCaaS platforms on your at home smart devices (PCs, laptops etc.).

Things You Can Do To Make The Transition Easier

Our main advice here is to make sure you understand the technical aspects noted above if you are going to take your desk phone home and try to address them as follows:

  • Run our VoIP Test to check your home Internet service capability to support VoIP calls.
  • Make sure you let everyone in the home know not to use your desk phone for 911 dialing if at all possible. Explain why.
  • Let your service provider know your company plans for using desk phones at home.
  • Ask your service provider about Softphone options for your smartphone or home computer/laptop.
  • Disable SIP ALG on your home router if possible. If it's not available then contact your service provider for help.
  • Check security requirements for your work.

Here are a few tips to consider to help you transition to working from home:

  • Hard wire Ethernet connections are better than using WiFi connections.
  • Try to find a quiet place where you can shut the door to show you are busy.
  • Set schedules for yourself during the day. Keep home chores outside of this schedule.
  • Remember to take short breaks to walk around and stretch.
  • Give your eyes short breaks by looking away from your device screen.

Has The COVID-19 Pandemic Shifted Working From Home Views?

This remains to be seen long term but this experience has most likley caused many businesses to consider ways it can improve and streamline under these types of circumstances.

For example, it may very well have prompted businesses that are still using analog phone services to seriously consider switching to VoIP for the flexibility and ability to allow their work force to stay connected during these types of situations. As numbers of infection cases start to increase again some states are pulling back on opening businesses and there is also talk of a second wave.

We of course are proponents of VoIP and it is something we have been passionate about for 15+ years. For us we see this as a great time to be considering your options in preparation for your companies future success.

What Can Businesses Do To Prepare For The Future?

There are many sayings that relate to using the lessons of the past to influence your future. We believe this is one of those times you can use this COVID-19 pandemic experience to improve your "Work From Home" capabilities and policies. Now is the time to prepare and make sure your business is ready to continue to be able to communicate regardless of where your employees are.

A Work From Home Policy can help prepare workers/employees for a smooth transition in the future and gives you some peace of mind knowing you can continue with less interruptions to your business activities.

Working from home can also be a nice incentive for some employees, helping employee retention. It can also reduce your space needs and potentially reduce bills, helping to optimize your financial stability.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes, tough times or facing diversity can be a catalyst for us to learn, grow and make changes in our lives. This year to date has been a tough year for many businesses from small to large. Out of these experiences we can learn lessons and make improvements to help our future selves. If your business is still relying on analog phones for your communications then this might be the time to seriously consider making the switch to a VoIP service. With modern technology at your finger tips it can make your business much more flexible and able to deal with whatever comes next.

If you have any questions or comments please use the form below.

Published by WhichVoIP


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