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Voice

How to effectively communicate collaborate & control with your business phone system

Business phone systems traditionally haven’t been considered much beyond their ability to connect callers. For most businesses, telecom is a line item on an expense budget—no thought is given to how the technology actually can help improve your company’s bottom line. The truth is, your business phone system should be considered one of the most important assets in your company. It’s not just a tool for connecting calls; it’s a tool for creating and building relationships and for improving productivity. When choosing the ideal system for your company, look for the three Cs: communication, collaboration and control. Each are important elements and should be considered carefully in your purchasing decision.

Communication

It’s not just dial tone or voicemail. An effective system will have robust calling features that enhance the user experience, such as personalized call handling and presence, conferencing, voicemail to email, interactive voice response voicemail access and more. Integration with third-party business systems, such as integration with CRM systems, can further enhance the user experience and create a top-notch customer experience as well. Above all, the system must be simple to operate, so your employees can get the most out of their communications environment.

Collaboration

A good system also includes collaboration tools that are not only seamless to the communications experience but also easy to use. Instant messaging, web and audio conferencing, peer-to-peer video chat, desktop sharing and file transfer capabilities can increase your employees’ productivity by giving them the tools they need to communicate beyond voice, effectively and easily.

Control

For some businesses that don’t want to manage their business phone system, a cloud system is a good option. ShoreTel has the same robust functionality in one platform whether for cloud or for onsite, or even a combination of both.  Both the CLOUD and ONSITE solutions are end-to-end, as ShoreTel provides the phones, system software and applications. ONSITE is perfect for companies that like to control their apps in-house and have the IT resources to do it, while CLOUD is geared to companies that no longer want to manage their phone system or are light on IT resources. Your employees need more than just dial tone to communicate effectively. Discover what an onsite unified communications and collaboration environment can do to enhance their productivity. ShoreTel Connect ONSITE is a feature-rich yet cost-effective option that also provides a future path to the cloud while leveraging your onsite investment. If your current business phone system is missing one of the three C’s, it’s time to see how a new system can help improve your company’s bottom line.
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Voice

3 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cloud Communications Provider

June 20, 2016 – Smart businesses everywhere have embraced the cloud as a cost-effective alternative to capex spending with on-premises hardware and software. For SMBs in particular, the cloud enables enterprise-level functionality without the associated price tag. As with all technology, however, not all cloud offerings are the same. There are literally hundreds of cloud providers, all with varying levels of abilities. Choosing the right cloud services provider for your business can be an arduous, time-consuming task—if you don’t know how to simplify the search. Reliability, security and usability all are important considerations in determining which cloud provider to use. With that in mind, here are three key questions to ask when choosing a cloud communications provider:
  1. What features does your cloud communications service offer?

    At a minimum, a cloud communications service will include voice services—calling, voice mail and possibly auto attendant. But to get the most out of what the cloud has to offer, look for a communications system that offers additional robust functionality, such as voice mail to email capabilities, for example.
A feature-rich cloud communications system, such as ShoreTel Connect CLOUD, also includes features such as:
  • VoIP call control
  • Mobility apps
  • Instant messaging
  • Audio and web conferencing
  • Video calling
  • Online meeting collaboration with web share capabilities
  • A feature-rich client interface
Such additional functionality can help your employees achieve higher productivity while being able to work wherever they are, and help your company establish a deeper connection with its customers.
  1. What security controls does your cloud communications service have in place?

    Cloud communications, like any other cloud service, is only as secure as the security measures that surround it. At a minimum, a cloud communications service should have protection against malware, data breaches and service hijacking—all of which are very real threats.
ShoreTel Connect CLOUD combats cloud security issues in the following ways:
  • Session border controllers, which enforce security, quality of service and admission control mechanisms over the VoIP service and include firewall protection
  • End-to-end encryption protects IP voice against unauthorized recording, playback and other forms of electronic snooping.
  • Full API catalog, so users don’t have to rely on third-party APIs that might contain malicious code
  • Strong password policies to help prevent unauthorized access to the system
  • Fraud monitoring to detect and shut down potential fraud early
  • State-of-the-art data center to ensure the highest level of security
  1. What type of infrastructure is supporting the cloud communications service?

    Most cloud service providers have carrier-grade infrastructure that ensures minimal downtime even in the face of disaster. Be sure to ask the cloud service provider about its service level agreements and policies for ensuring uptime, as well as its backup services to protect against data loss.
Choosing the right cloud communications service for your company is easy when you know what to ask. Keep security, reliability and usability in mind when vetting cloud services providers and you’ll make short work of an otherwise arduous task.
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From ATI
The continual advancement of technology as an integral part of the majority of businesses has meant an expanded role for CIOs. With that territory has to come a necessarily closer working relationship and shared understanding with the CFO as well. In fact, 42% of IT departments report directly to the CFO (that number is a whopping 60% at smaller businesses). Clearly, a relationship must exist between the CIO and CFO that supports active communication and effective collaboration. Keep reading to find out some of the best ways that CIOs can work to build these kinds of relationships and ultimately support the overarching business goals of their company.

The CIO CFO Relationship

In one recent survey from CIO Magazine, only 13% of CIOs reported being seen as a “business leader” while 38% were seen as a “service provider.” Both leadership and partnership and important elements of the CIO/CFO relationship. In order to establish themselves as someone deserving of a seat at the executive table, CIOs need to be business leaders and partners as much as they need to be technical contributors. Technical know-how is certainly essential to the CIO role, but business acumen is also a critical skill. Showing how investments in new technology can impact core company goals, growth objectives, and ultimately the bottom line is the best way for CIOs to earn and maintain attention from the CFO.

Solving Communication Issues

Great communication skills are key for virtually every level of employee, but when it comes to top executives, they become even more important. Going forward, it will be key for CIOs to not only have great ideas as to how technology can lead towards business goals but to be able to communicate these ideas to other executives in a way that everyone can understand. This means overcoming those communications issues that can sometimes hinder relationships between technical and non-technical departments. Leadership training and perseverance is key here, in order to find common language with which to describe the technical needs of the company.

Emphasis on Security

Security is one of the top issues facing IT departments in 2015, but it is chief among CFO challenges since security breaches can be hugely expensive. Therefore, moving forward one of the important CIO jobs will be to utilize his or her communication skills in order to explain security risks and present business savvy solutions to protecting the company from these kinds of breaches. As with any big financial investment, financial transparency will also be key here. CFOs want to be protected against security risks, but also want to know what they are paying for, making clear cost breakdowns and technical explanations of different expenditures essential. A mutually beneficial relationship between CIOs and CFOs can have a hugely positive influence on a business overall. The more CIOs can work with CFOs and other executives, the better the outcomes.
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From ATI
According to the 2015 ECP Compensation Study, office managers who are responsible for multiple-location practices are earning, on average, 31.5% more than those managing single offices. The reason for this is likely due to the fact that multiple locations come with a great deal of work and responsibilities. Different time zones, environments, and personalities can create unique challenges for each business location. Managers need to find ways to encourage cohesiveness so everyone feels a part of the team no matter what location they work in. So how can you more effectively manage multiple locations? Consider these tips:

Tip #1: Embrace New Technology

The reason people are able to work so effectively from virtually anywhere today is due to solid internet connections and helpful applications that ensure we are still able to communicate effectively despite distance limitations. If you aren’t able to embrace technology and how it can help your business, you are creating more work for yourself as a manager, and that list of office manager duties will only get longer and harder to navigate. Although custom-built software and VPN systems have served as helpful tools before, there are many viable options available that are robust and require far less IT and financial commitment. Here are a few more commonly used applications that help multiple locations communicate more effectively:
  • com: Collaborate about your sales and opportunities in real-time with this popular CRM tool.
  • Basecamp: This project management tool gives you the ability to manage a variety of projects with a simplistic and easy-to-use web platform.
  • Google Gmail/Documents/Calendar: Give your employees access to their work documents from anywhere using Google. Having instant access to appointment information, email, and important business-related documents will enable your employees to easily get what they need right when they need it.

Tip #2 Make Communication King

Tools can help, but real communication tops them all. Every office should feel equally involved in how the business functions, and the only way to do that is through effective communication. A robust phone system like ShoreTel Connect Cloud should be accessible for every employee so they can connect quickly and easily. The CEO or owner of the business should make regular trips to each location to connect and hear employee concerns. A weekly team meeting where everyone participates should be a priority. And lastly, plan to have the entire team together at least once a year to participate in brainstorm sessions and team building events.

Tip #3 Get Systems in Order

Systems provide the ability to duplicate offices and reduce the amount of supervision needed to get work done. Establishing roles, responsibilities, and authority helps prevent possible issues caused by confused employees. Ensure each employee knows what the organizational structure of the business is, as well as what they are responsible for and measured upon. This encourages a clear sense of accountability no matter where someone is working. Implementing the proper systems and new technologies partnered with effective communication can help you navigate the growing list of office manager duties.
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From ATI
While small business owners definitely face a lot of challenges on a daily basis, one that can have a major impact on whether the business is able to thrive or not is communication. Between vendors, employees and customers, great communication can be a big hurdle. After all, great writing skills and perfect oration are hardly a prerequisite for the dream of owning your own company. Following are five communication issues that are common among small business owners as well as the communication solutions that can help to ease this daily stressor.

1. Missing Communication

A lack of communication is always a problem. When employees or vendors are simply not communicating, small issues can quickly snowball into insurmountable stresses simply because no one knows what is going on. More communication seems like the simple answer here, but a better way to frame it is setting expectations. Whether that means scheduling check ins with remote employees or freelancers or asking for reports from vendors it is important that everyone is on the same page about how often they are expected to communicate progress to you.

2. Micromanagement

On the other end of the spectrum is micromanagement. When you hover over employees and try to manage every aspect of their job, you are not only fostering an adversarial and distrustful environment, you are wasting everyone’s time. There are a few ways to solve micromanagement – or overcommunication – issues. In the long run, it is essential to hire people that you trust and allow them to do the job you hired them for. Sometimes, communication can feel like micromanagement when it isn’t and this is an easier fix. For example, when you’re constantly calling an employee or scheduling meetings, they feel compelled to stop whatever they’re doing to address your needs and it can weigh them down and cost everyone efficiency. If what you have to say can be communicated in an email instead, the employee has the option to respond at their convenience. This simple assessment of the best technology for certain communications can have a big impact on relationships and overall communication efficacy.

3. No Down Time

Overcommunication isn’t limited to micromanagement. A chief complaint among many employees and managers/business owners is that they feel as if they are always connected. The advent of the smartphone has made it impossible for people to unplug. In fact, only 25% of people with paid vacation time take all of it during the year. As a communication solution for this particular issue, be sure to encourage employees to take down time. This can range from actual vacations to simply turning off email notifications or phone calls for the time when they are not on the job. This can lead to overall happier and more productive employees in the long run.

4. Maximizing Meeting Efficacy

Scheduling regular meetings is an essential part of managing any team, no matter what the size. But inefficient meetings can lead to to a lot of frustration for those that have to attend them – not to mention the damage they can cause to overall productivity. One study suggests that employees can waste an average of 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings. Setting expectations can be a great communication solution for this particular issue as well. Have a meeting agenda and stick to it. There are plenty of business advice books and programs that can give you a good framework for scheduling meetings. Find one that works for you and make sure no one is dreading your next staff meeting.

5. Scattered Employee Base

Utilizing freelancers and offsite employees can be a great option for small business owners who need to cut down on overhead. You don’t have to find office space or even computers for these employees. But a scattered base of employees can create some difficult communication problems for you as well as for your customers. A unified communications solution can be a way to make sure that remote employees feel part of the team and are able to contribute seamlessly. UC options like VoIP can make it possible for people to answer customer calls from home as if they were in the office with access to all the same features and reliability. No matter what the size of your business, when you are able to communicate effectively with your team and your customers, you will be able to more effectively accomplish your bigger business goals.
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From ATI
Did you know that according to the National Business Research Institute, they estimate that an engaged employee will save their company 5% or more off the costs they’re responsible for? That kind of savings can add up quickly when more and more employees become engaged with the financial future of their organization. This statistic is powerful, and should motivate more CFO’s to look into creative solutions as to how they can create a more financially engaged workforce at their organization. But how can they do it? Consider these employee motivation ideas:

Name a “CFO of the Day”

What better way to get employees to understand the financials of the company than to put them in the shoes of the person who manages it? The employee selected will have to present figures at a weekly or monthly staff meeting regarding the financial matters of the business. As each staff member hears from others’ who are serving in the temporary role, it will motivate them to improve the statistics they are presenting about when they are taking on the position. Because the employees now understand how the company operates from a financial perspective, they will be motivated to make small adjustments to improve the overall bottom line.

Consider the Removal of Standardized Performance Reviews

Make a commitment to your employees by showing that you care about the environment in which they work. Consider the possibility of doing away with the more formal performance reviews that stress highly corporate processes that establish a “pass or fail” mentality.  Most of these reviews focus solely on performance and disregard many of the other accomplishments or outside struggles of that review time frame. It can often be perceived by employees as a demoralizing process where the boss serves as their judge. Instead, start an interactive coaching program that guides the person towards improvement, learning, as well as how they can bring their productivity to the next level.

Showcase Employee Success and Contribution

People generally love playing a role in something that is bigger than themselves rather than just collecting a paycheck. If work is considered to be a waste of time and effort, they are demotivated almost instantly. CFO’s should align the work of the employee with the day-to-day operations to foster value and success for both the organization and employee.

Encourage Positivity

ARS Research shows that employees with a high level of enthusiasm, confidence, and inspiration are 5 times more engaged than employees with negative tone and emotions. To encourage more enthusiastic employees, CFO’s and other leaders should always lean toward an optimistic approach rather than a negative tone. Leaders should be a trusting source of the organization, they need to focus on consistency and transparency as well as avoid inter-office gossip and negativity. Doing so will encourage employees to do the same. We hope you found these employee motivation ideas helpful as you look to improve your CFO engagement and improve productivity at your business.
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From ATI
According to a recent study, 75% of employers’ rate teamwork and collaboration as very important to their business. In order to be an effective team member and collaborator, you must be an effective communicator. Yet many office managers struggle with communication, both electronic or in person. It can be difficult to get across your point while also putting it in the right context and the right tone. Luckily, there are communication solutions that can help office managers and other essential team members to communicate more clearly and effectively, and therefore help your business run more smoothly.

Saying What You Need

First and foremost, business communication should be concise. That means that whether you are composing an email, a presentation, or a phone call you should make the goal of the conversation to be saying what you need. Communications expert Karen Friedman recommends adhering to the tried and true journalistic method of establishing:
  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
for your business communications. That means if you are assigning a task to someone, you need to not only make clear what it is you need, but what the larger purpose of the task is as well as a clear deadline. This rule can make communication a lot clearer.

Non-Verbal Cues Are Still Important

Because we do a lot of our communication electronically these days, it can be easy to let in-person communication skills fall by the wayside. Whether that means staring at your incoming emails while an employee is trying to talk to you or simply letting your mind wander when you’re on a conference call, you can take physical steps to make your communication come across better. Making eye contact is one easy way to improve face-to-face conversations, as is taking you hands out of your pockets and adopting a comfortable, open stance. On the phone, try smiling or maintaining a neutral expression. And do your best not to read emails or attend to other tasks while on the phone. The other person will notice.

Cultivate Good Listening Skills

Listening is not antithetical to communication. In fact, listening can be one of the best communication solutions. Office managers often have to act as a liaison between different departments and even different offices. This means that it is especially important that you are able to listen to the needs of different employees and managers so that you can effectively communicate them to others. While good listening is important in all scenarios, pay close attention to your own attention when it comes to employees offer suggestion or ideas, team collaboration environments, and emotional situations. Unfortunately, communication solutions are not one size fits all. Some offices communicate better via email while others prefer phone calls or meetings. Use these communication tips to better understand what your office needs and how you can be a more effective manager through communication.  
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From ATI

Scared of Speaking?

February 11, 2016 – Widely known as the #1 fear among Americans, public speaking can be a scary thing. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, about 74% of people report they have some form of speech anxiety. That’s the feeling you get right before a big presentation or speech that produces symptoms like sweaty palms, an upset stomach, and maybe even body trembling. It’s annoying, distracting, and most people would agree they’d like to have some tools to stop it from happening. The good news is that it is possible to control the problem, but it takes some practice and preparation. Here are our 5 public speaking tips to help decrease the anxiety for better public communication:
  1. Preparation is Key

The problem for public speaking is usually the nervousness it causes. However, those nerves can be significantly decreased with proper preparation. Going over and outlining exactly what it is you will say helps to improve the delivery of your speaking as well as the quality of the information you are presenting. Most often, public speaking goes horribly wrong when someone has not thought through or practiced what they were going to say beforehand. Also, if you will be public speaking time and time again, ask someone to videotape it so you can identify some of the unconscious things you do that may be distracting to your audience.
  1. Focus on the Opportunity

Many times we are so focused on “getting it over with” when it comes to public speaking that we don’t give any appreciation to the opportunity we have been given. You have been asked to speak to a particular audience because your knowledge and expertise is of value to them, and that’s something to embrace and appreciate. When you walk into a public speaking environment, try to change your mindset from simply getting through it to an opportunity for you to educate and help others.
  1. Make Eye Contact

Eye contact has always been an important communication tool, and even in today’s tech-savvy world, eye contact remains key when it comes to public speaking. Don’t just gaze over the eyes of your listeners either, try to look deeply into them. Doing so makes the audience feel a direct connection with the speaker, keeping them engaged and eager for more of what you are saying.
  1. Make Friends with TED

There are some amazing public speakers out there today, and they are available right at your fingertips. TED Talks are some of the most viewed and highly-rated public speakers today. Observe the various ways they are able to connect and motivate their audiences, then try to replicate those observations within your own speech delivery.
  1. Watch Your Watch

Did you know the average attention span of an adult is 20 minutes? A common problem among many public speakers is talking too long talking about something they’ve already articulated their point about. Making the first 20 minutes of your speech the most informative and dynamic it can be is key to an effective delivery. If you are talking for longer than 20 minutes, it’s also your opportunity to capture the attention of the audience so you can keep them engaged with you for the rest of the presentation. We do hope these 5 public speaking tips (along with a few deep breaths beforehand!) will help you to become the most dynamic and engaging public speaker possible.
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From ATI
Keeping employees motivated during all times of the year can be difficult but especially challenging in winter months with holidays causing distraction and cold dreary weather singing the blues. However there are a lot of ways to keep employees motivated and you’ve probably heard a few, but do you know that your data solutions can help you implement some employee motivation tactics? Keep reading to find out how.

Celebrating Milestones & Achievements

The employee birthday party might be the standard for celebrations, but being able to recognize employees for a variety of reasons is a great way to keep motivation and morale levels high. Luckily, when all your data is in the cloud, it’s easy to keep track of a synchronized employee calendar with milestones like work anniversaries and birthdays.

Job Flexibility

Giving employees the ability to work from home – and to have flexible hours – can be extremely motivating. In fact, one study found that when managers allowed employees to set their own schedule, they actually worked on average 7 hours more than those who had a prescribed schedule. With a virtual desktop solution for your office, workers can set their own work hours and work from their home – or anywhere in the world – during the summer.

Get Outside

By the same token, even workers who choose to work from the office benefit from some sunshine and fresh air during warm months. Some HR managers suggest holding meetings outside for employees who are happier and healthier, but you can even take that another step further and have workers conduct all types of business outside. Both virtual desktop solutions and mobile phone management – through Bring Your Own Device technology  – means that employees can spend time outside, taking advantage of great weather, and still pick up important calls and work on business documents without compromising security.

Be Creative

Perhaps the most important thing that any company can do to keep employees motivated is to be creative and to foster creativity. If that means finding ways to celebrate and recognize employees, to host social gatherings or friendly competitions, or just to get to know employees on a more personal level, it will encourage healthy relationships among employees and keep them motivated to do a good job for their team and their company as a whole. And the importance of creativity does not only extend to management and HR actions. Allowing employees to be creative with their time, to work on independent projects (e.g., Google’s 20% rule), and to bring fresh new ideas to the table is the best way to keep employees interested in their jobs and to improve company morale. Check out more ways to keep things fresh in the cloud here.
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From ATI

Business Communication Solutions: Promote Diversity with Communication

March 3, 2016 – Promoting and encouraging diversity in the workplace is a key component in running a successful and inclusive organization. Simply adopting the attitude that “people don’t see color” or the thought that “gender bias never happens here” puts a company at risk for an increase in employee turnover, low morale, and distrust within the entire organization. In order to effectively embrace diversity among all employees, you must enhance the communication in the workplace in a way that promotes, recognizes and encourages a diverse environment. But how do you do this in a professional and respectful way? Here are some business communication solutions that will help your organization enhance diversity in the workplace:

Acknowledge Differences

Simply pretending differences don’t exist isn’t practical in today’s business landscape. Take time to sit down, discuss, and celebrate the differences among your employees. Provide opportunities for them to promote and educate each other on their individualities.

It’s Okay NOT to Know

If another employee honors a different culture or religious practice, ask them questions to learn more about it. It’s okay to admit and be up-front with what you don’t know as long as it’s done tactfully. Who knows? The information they share with you may help you connect or converse with a potential client or another coworker more effectively in the future.

Address Racial Issues

One of the biggest issues among workplace diversity is when a particular group is made the target of a stereotype or bias. If an employee is showing racial or gender bias, it is your responsibility to address it with them and implement a plan to change their actions.

Listen to Others

Words are a powerful tool, and they can easily be used to unintentionally offend someone else. If you listen to coworkers describe their culture or background, pay attention to the words they use to describe themselves: do they say black or African American; Persian or Iranian; Asian or Korean? The words they use are likely the terms they would prefer others use to describe them.

Avoid Assumptions

Just because someone is a part of a particular gender, race, or religious group doesn’t automatically mean they are supporters of a specific political party or that they fit some stereotypical opinion created by others. Avoid using statements like, “Asian people just know…” These types of statements are patronizing and can be hurtful.

Watch Your Writing, too

We might be masters at communication in the workplace and representing a diverse atmosphere in-person, but don’t forget to transfer that attitude to email, messaging and texting. For example, often times men are written with both their first and their last names where women often are named just by their first. Additionally, replace anything that may be judgmental with factual information. For example, when pointing out someone’s age, don’t use “elderly,” instead use their actual age. Today in business, leaders have a major responsibility in creating, embracing and encouraging diversity at their organization. The fact remains that the more inclusive a work environment is, the more encouraged and motivated the employees are. Promoting diversity is more than just a best practice, it’s also good for business.
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