“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.”
As more people find themselves working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic—either remote working for an employer or having lost their job and starting afresh—interest in creating an efficient and professional SoHo environment is blooming. For small-business owners, working from home can be a viable solution for employees, though ensuring continued service to customers can seem daunting. For people starting to work from home, privacy may be a concern until the appropriate services are implemented.
And with the news that people working remotely in the UK are putting in longer hours—on average an extra two hours per day—you need to be able to press the Do Not Disturb button and switch off from work life.
We’re going to be running a series of posts on The Freelancealot Herald, with information on services we use (or have used in the past) and software (apps) that will help while you’re working from home. If you see a coffee cup () by a link, it means we get a small payment were you to sign up to a service or buy a product.
Voice Communication for Remote Workers
Customer and Team Telephone Communication
Even in this digital world of ours, customers still like the assurance of hearing a human voice. Giving out your family-home landline number is not really going to convey the professionalism you want—you never know who will pick up that all-important business call—and not everyone wants to pay for calls to mobile numbers.
The answer is VoIP. VoIP telephone numbers stay with you wherever you go. You can choose a geographical UK number (eg 0121 for Birmingham, etc) matching your home location, which you use either with a hardware VoIP phone or a ‘soft phone’—a phone app you load on your computer, phone, or tablet. You can forward this number to your mobile when you’re out and about, put it on DND, record calls, put callers on hold, transfer calls to your colleagues no matter where they are, and much more. Missed calls go to voicemail and you can also receive an email notification with a recording of the message.
At Freelancealot, we’ve been using award-winning Voipfone.co.uk () since 2005 with no complaints—the call quality is excellent and support is first class. We have always invested in a good quality VoIP phone: our first, the Snom 360, was a great phone (until we broke it after seven years of good use), we currently have the Snom D715.
For small businesses with remote workers, using extension numbers with a Virtual PBX is one way to keep your switchboard running, and internal calls free when you’re scattered around the UK and even the world. Voipfone explain best themselves.
Voipfone is running a special offer which gives you a month to try all their services for free and without commitment. If you would like to give VoIP a try, register for a free account at Voipfone.co.uk () and get started today.
Voipfone is currently offering a ‘Homeworker Bundle’ consisting of a Snom D120 phone and a Snom A100M Monaural Headset for £96 (inc VAT). If you don’t need a headset, the Snom D120 (an entry-level phone) is available for £54 (inc VAT). An added bonus to buying your phone from them is that the phone arrives configured for your account—just plug into your router (and the power supply) and start calling.
We recently came across 8×8’s Business VoIP () service but we have not used them so cannot add any personal experiences or reviews.
Easy Voice Team Communication
If you work closely with a team where you all need to stay in frequent contact, using phone or text-based messaging services can be laborious. We recently came across this great piece of software (or app) called Switchboard, where voice connections run silently in the background so you can quickly place your mic on and off for instantaneous voice chat—a next generation walkie-talkie. For small businesses that use Apple devices, Switchboard will help keep your team communicating as if they were in the same room.
Currently the Switchboard app is only available for Mac OS and Apple phones.
Receiving Business Mail at Home
It’s unlikely you’ll want to advertise your home address, so what are your options? You can use a Royal Mail PO Box, but we found the PAYGO PO Box service by UKPostbox.co.uk () worked out much cheaper for us. With UK Postbox you’re notified by email when post is received. When logged into your dashboard you can select, based on a scan of the envelope, what you want to do with each piece of post. For example, you can have letters forwarded to your home address, have junk mail recycled or shredded, or have UK Postbox open and scan the contents for you. Locations for PO boxes are limited to:
UKPostbox.co.uk () also offers street addresses that you can use as your trading or registered address.
Virtual Meetings from Home
I think most of us have used or heard about Zoom during lockdown, there’s also Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and many more. But these usually come with limitations if you aren’t paying. Whilst researching virtual event solutions for a client, we came across 8×8 Meet, a secure and fully-featured video conferencing solution suitable for small businesses. 8×8 offers a free 30-day trial to test it out.
If you’re working or running a small business from your home office and need to have regular virtual meetings with clients, or occasionally make a presentation to a potential customer, 8×8 offers a fully-encrypted video conferencing service that you can use all day, every day, for FREE. Visit Jitsi Meet and start today—no need to download software and no account sign-up required. There is also an app for Android and Apple phones.
If you’re a Slack user, Jitsi Meet’s Slack integration adds the /jitsi slash command so that you can start a video conference in your channel, making it easy for your colleagues to join the call. Just type /jitsi into your channel and a conference link will be provided. Jitsi Meet also lets your contacts join over the phone, stream to YouTube, and collaboratively edit documents.
Business Email Communication
And last but in no way least, we have email. If you mainly use email at your office computer, when working from home you need to ensure you’re connecting to your company email over an encrypted connection. Verify that you have the correct ports set up in your email app (Outlook, Apple Mail, Thunderbird, etc) and SSL ticked/selected.
For those running a business from home, using a personal free email service—such as Gmail, Hotmail, YahooMail—to communicate with clients and suppliers may not cut the mustard. Registering your domain name (.co.uk, .com) and setting up an email account is cheap and simple to do. You can do both in one place with 123-reg.co.uk ().
You might find our post on archiving email of interest.