More than 13.4 million people are currently working from home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The challenging economy has forced employers to cut back on costs, such as office expenses, and let people work remotely. There’s also evidence that those unable to find traditional jobs are earning a living by starting home-based businesses and work-from-home businesses.

In order to be successful at telecommuting, an employee — or even a home-based business owner — needs to have the right phone equipment.

“When a client is contacting you, you want to put your most professional foot forward,” says John Putnam, vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. “You don’t want your client to see that you’re sending calls to people working from home; you want them to get that same professional experience, regardless of where  that call is being taken.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about how the right virtual phone technology can ensure a seamless transition from the office to home and back again.

What are some of the advantages that can be found with telecommuting?

It reduces cost. Employees don’t have to drive to work, avoiding wear and tear on their cars, paying for gas and spending time stuck in traffic. Business owners don’t need as much space in their facilities and can reduce the heating, air conditioning, electricity, etc., that go along with having that person in your building.

Another advantage is flexibility. When a client calls on the East Coast at 7 p.m., you can route those calls to someone’s home or someone on the West Coast, giving business owners the ability to expand their service hours.

It’s also a recruiting tool. If the employee is disciplined and can do the work from home, it gives him or her the opportunity to work flexible hours that fit better into his or her schedule.

Why do employers need to ensure telecommuters have the right phone technology?

Along with having a dedicated workspace, telecommuters need technology that doesn’t limit their ability to do their jobs. With a home phone, someone within the household could pick up a phone and interrupt a call, and a cell phone only gives you the ability to answer and place calls. A cell phone also has more of a chance to be used for personal calls or get lost or stolen.

With a dedicated work-from-home handset, you have the ability to transfer calls, put calls on hold, place conference calls and create hunt groups that select which of several phones will receive the call. This creates the appearance of the telecommuter being at your facility, while providing customers with a more professional experience.

Using a home or cell phone can lessen the client experience. A prospective client may even think twice about giving you their business because of questioning your company’s level of commitment. The prospect might think, ‘If this guy is working off his cell phone, is he really in business or is he just doing this until he finds something better?’

How does this phone technology create efficiencies for telecommuters?

With a premise-based IP or  a hosted IP private branch exchange (PBX), phone handsets can be used anywhere in the world, as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection.  With both of these solutions you have all of the business-class features unavailable on a cell phone.

There’s also a higher level of accountability with a phone system that is tied back to the company. The service provider can put limits — such as limiting international calling and the time of day that the phone is in use — on that phone versus just handing someone a cell phone. Also, if an employee uses a personal cell phone, it can raise questions about them receiving business calls after separation from the company.

How expensive are these types of phones? 

It’s not that expensive. For between $25 and $35 per month, you can lease an IP PBX handset and get phone service. The company gets a more professional experience for clients that makes that expense easy to justify. Otherwise, the company would be paying for a cell phone or reimbursing for a home line at the same cost, with fewer features.

How will phone technology continue to assist with telecommuting in the future?

As more applications continue making it ‘into the cloud,’ it makes telecommuting even easier. The applications a person needs to do their job — whether voice or data related — are getting taken off office computers and phone systems, so it doesn’t matter where you are located to access those resources.

As more companies replace their internal phones with an IP phone system, it also gives employees the flexibility to work from home part of the week, for example, by taking their phone home and then bringing it back to the office. They can move that handset to anyplace with a high-speed Internet connection, working as if they were in their office. Employers get the best of both worlds by giving employees the flexibility of working from home one or two days per week, while keeping the same phone system and having the accountability that comes from seeing them daily and knowing they are working.

John Putnam is vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329 or

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Published in Cincinnati