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Why flexible telephony systems are key to a hybrid work model

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / ARIMAG)

It feels like there is finally some semblance of normality in the UK thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout, but the pre-pandemic life we knew is perhaps over forever. Everything from the way we travel and shop, to our hygiene habits (mainly our proclivity for wearing masks) and how we receive healthcare is different now. But perhaps the biggest change we’ve seen is how people — chiefly office workers — work, having been forced to do so from home for much of the coronavirus crisis. 

However, many businesses and employees have grown sick of Zoom calls while stuck in the house all day, which is why plenty have returned to the office now restrictions have ended. That said, they aren’t all going back to their pre-pandemic work routines. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have gone as far as letting staff work from home forever. While, according to a survey by Andreessen Horowitz, two-thirds of startups are instead implementing a hybrid approach, in which employees get the choice to work either remotely or at the office. Theoretically, this gives them the best of both worlds. 

In order to implement a hybrid working model, businesses need to make significant changes to how they operate, whether that’s ensuring employees have the necessary equipment, or adapting how managers supervise staff and assign them work. Arguably the most essential overhauls will involve the communications systems they have in place. Optimizing them enables staff to interact with colleagues and clients effectively and carry out work seamlessly, no matter where they are, whether that’s in the office or working remotely. 

Below is a look at why having a flexible telephony system specifically is so important to achieving this, with this referring to a telephonic setup that’s integrated with other communications methods, such as video calls and emails. This piece will then outline why a Direct Routing solution is the best way of implementing a flexible telephony system. But first, let’s look in more detail at exactly what the business advantages of a hybrid working model are.

The business benefits of a hybrid work model 

Improved productivity 

Businesses were often reluctant to introduce remote working policies in the past due to fears over employee productivity. The assumption was that staff wouldn’t put as much effort in if they weren’t under the watchful eyes of their employers. However, the pandemic has proven that not only was this belief misguided, but studies have shown that flexible working actually increases productivity for the majority of people. This comes down to factors such as a better work-life balance and greater mental wellbeing due to the freedom enjoyed. 

Increased staff happiness and retention 

With 83 percent of workers preferring a hybrid work model, implementing one can help businesses keep staff happy and retain them. In fact, almost a third would even take a salary cut to have more flexible working arrangements. Being able to retain more staff can have huge benefits for a company’s bottom line too considering it costs around £3,000 to hire someone new on average. It can also help them attract better talent in the first place, particularly as it doesn’t have to limit its candidate pool to a certain location. 

Lower costs and reduced carbon footprint 

Retaining staff isn’t the only way a hybrid work model can help an organization cut costs. With fewer employees in the office, it can afford to hire a smaller workspace, resulting in lower rent costs and fewer overheads. Indeed, a study by Hitachi found that remote working helped SMEs save £840 a month during the first 2020 lockdown, which works out as more than £10,000 a year. Even a fraction of these savings can make a huge difference. What’s more, this setup also reduces a company’s environmental impact considering it’ll use less energy and staff won’t need to commute as often.

Why flexible telephony systems are vital for a hybrid work model 

As touched upon earlier, good communication is vital to the efficiency of a hybrid working system. Only when employees, managers and clients can effectively do so across multiple devices, locations, and hardware can this way of working succeed. So what’s the key to this? Quite simply, a seamless and flexible telephony system considering phones are the number one tool used by businesses to communicate with staff and customers. 

As part of this, it’s essential that this system integrates and interacts with cloud-based communication tools. Many businesses still use PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) telephones — those connected to the traditional phone network — separately to different online video and instant messaging communication platforms like Zoom and Slack. However, this can lead to a number of issues, from reduced productivity and onerous IT management, to higher costs and poorer customer service. 

By integrating these different tools together, companies can achieve unified communications, which is where every communications channel (including, phone calls, video conferencing, instant messaging, file sharing, email and more) is integrated within a single platform. This provides numerous benefits, including: 

Boosted productivity 

Significantly for a hybrid work model, a flexible telephony system enables staff to communicate wherever they are, regardless of the device they’re using. Unlike before, there’s no risk that they don’t have the same app needed to chat with a colleague or client considering all the communication tools they require are in one place. Bringing things like email, instant messaging and voicemail onto a single platform also lets individuals collaborate more easily and quickly. 

Reduced IT threats 

People are more likely to use their personal devices within a hybrid work model, which can make it harder to implement robust cybersecurity measures, rendering a company more vulnerable to malware threats and data loss. However, this threat is diminished when a unified communications system is in place, as users won’t be using communication tools outside of the control of the IT department. In addition, having fewer platforms also reduces the potential attack surface (the total number of vulnerabilities that can be targeted during a cybersecurity attack) for cybercriminals. 

Cost savings 

Although a hybrid work model can certainly help businesses cut costs, this benefit will quickly be undone if they then splash out on various, disparate communications solutions. However, by consolidating their communications into one platform, companies can cut down on subscription fees and make significant cost savings.

How to implement a flexible telephony system  

Decide on a communications tool 

The first step to implementing a flexible telephony system is to choose a communications platform that can actually integrate everything a company needs within it. Microsoft Teams is the best choice for this, as in addition to this capability, it also offers features including seamless integration with Office 365, file and screen sharing, and end-to-end security with multi-factor authentication. The tool is rivaled by few others, as proven by the fact it has 250 million monthly active users worldwide. Callroute research into the top collaboration tool used by businesses showed Teams come out top with over 60 percent of businesses using it as their primary platform. 

Integrate it with the telephony system 

Next is the most important step: actually integrating a company’s communications tool with its existing telephony system. There are a couple of ways to do this with Teams. 

1. Microsoft Phone System 

The first is through its Microsoft Phone System offering, an add-on license priced according to a business’s Microsoft plan. This gives them call control and PBX capabilities in the cloud with Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business Online. Through this companies can buy Microsoft Calling Plans, which lets them make external calls over the PSTN using Teams. However, this solution has several notable shortcomings. Not only are you limited to a small number of compatible devices, but there are no call recording, reporting or high-volume call queue capabilities either. 

2. Direct Routing 

The best solution is arguably Direct Routing, which enables companies to enjoy full PBX (Private Branch Exchange) integration with Teams within minutes and properly unify their communication system. A PBX simply refers to a company’s corporate telephone system. Direct Routing improves on the functionality of Microsoft Phone System, offering features such as call reporting, recording, high-volume call queues, total end-point and handset flexibility. 

These aspects can be extremely beneficial for a business. Call recording helps businesses keep valuable records, overcome client disputes with evidence and improve call quality. While call reporting lets you set individual cost controls and better manage calls overall, having high-volume call queries and end-point and handset flexibility hugely bolsters the flexibility of a company’s PBX generally. In addition, Direct Routing is much more competitively priced than Microsoft Calling Plans, and with the right provider is billed per channel rather than per user, further reducing costs. Some Direct Routing providers also enable businesses to stay with their existing telephony company if they’re locked into a contract with them, and can manage the porting of significant existing numbers on their behalf so that there are no barriers to modernizing their telephony system whatsoever. 

All in all, hybrid work models appear to be the future after the pandemic. With a properly unified communication system, companies can make the most of this new world and continue to thrive, perhaps even more so than before. After all, communication is the bedrock of a successful business, and companies should do everything possible to make theirs as effective as possible.

Toby Gold, CEO, Callroute

Toby Gold, CEO of Callroute.