How do SMBs Create an Effective Telecommuting Policy?

As the economy continues to give us a bit of a bumpy go, companies are still looking for smart ways to cut costs and retain talent. Some business owners have found an easy answer: allowing employees to work outside the office. According to a U.S. study, virtual work policies can save businesses $400 billion (around £269,640,000,000) every year. In fact, a 100-employee company could save $576,000 (around £388,281) if it allowed employees to work from home just half of the time. Savings include reduction in turnover costs and employee absenteeism, office supplies, increased energy efficiency, and more.

With such staggering figures, one would think small businesses trying to save money would jump at the chance to implement telecommuting options, but many still aren’t. Why? Fear and uncertainty is my guess. Some business owners fear loss of control over their employees, while others are just not sure how to get started.

My response to that is two-fold. Firstly – you’ll never get anywhere in business if you aren’t willing to take a few risks and try something new. So, if you’re interested in telecommuting, give it a go. If you do institute this work model, my second bit of advice is to develop a telecommuting policy.

Now, I’m a bit of an individualist and prefer to take my chances. As such, policies aren’t typically my favourite subjects. However, I do think a telecommuting policy is essential to the success of the program. A policy will ensure that while everyone may not be in the same office, everyone is on the same page and clearly understands expectations and requirements. A standard policy will help to ensure that telecommuting is valuable for your staff and your business.

Here are some tips I’ve learned from my own experience and from some of our loyal customers at Powwownow on what to include in a telecommuting policy:

It sounds obvious, but ensuring employees know what hours they are expected to work is important. Often, staff can confuse the right to telecommute with the right to create their own hours. If you decide to instill flex hours as well, make that a separate policy. Otherwise, be sure employees know when they are expected to be working, regardless of where they are working.

Equipment Guidelines and Resources
Help telecommuters make the transition by providing guidelines for efficiency in your policy – and include a list of resources for equipment. Does your telecommuter need an office door? A headset? A laptop? A fax machine or printer? While access to such equipment is assumed in most offices, one cannot assume every home office to be properly equipped. Set clear guidelines and offer resources so the virtual workplace mirrors the physical workplace and employees continue to be as efficient as always. I wrote a previous post on some other tools for virtual success that could also help you decide what your employees may need to be comfortable and productive.

Communication Requirements
Out of sight should not mean out of mind. You’ll need to be very clear about what’s expected from telecommuters in regards to updating managers, collaborating with teams, holding meetings and more. Be sure people are connected and collaborative and know what the requirements are for reporting their work and hours.

Many companies require telecommuting employees have an instant messaging technology, like Google Talk, open at all times during business hours. Maybe you’ll require daily updates in a shared network environment like Desktop Central. One telecommuting tip I’ve found to be efficient – and necessary – is to pick up the phone. Often, when working alone, employees default to working in a silo and need to be reminded to stay in touch.

If you previously had regular meetings, you should continue to do so. Routine is important to maintain consistency and a sense of shared responsibility and contribution. With free conference and web sharing services, like Powwownow, meetings are instant and easy, don’t harness or retain sensitive personal data, and can be scheduled ahead of time, recorded and more. If you require employees to participate in meetings, be sure you outline which tools or services they are expected to use and provide training as needed.

Training and Culture Requirements
Managing a staff in the office is a little different than overseeing staff you can’t actually see. You’ll need to provide your supervisors with proper training on how to manage virtually, and require ongoing education in this vein. Part of that is my “pick up the phone” advice from earlier – it’s not complicated, but it’s important, especially from managers. Ensure that they continue to lead telecommuting staff just as diligently as they do non-telecommuters: provide clear direction, ensure proper resources, celebrate wins and share good news. Keep staff connected by soliciting feedback, holding people accountable for work and having proper reporting procedures in place. Again, I recommend putting IT and tech requirements into your policy, but also providing proper and ongoing training for their use. Make a monthly or quarterly mandatory training – and take attendance.

For the most part, I find that employees appreciate the opportunity to work from home and respect it accordingly. But a policy is always a good idea to avoid unnecessary complications and ensure a successful business.

I continue to tweak my own telecommuting policy based on great advice and tips I receive from others. So, what have you found absolutely essential to communicate in your telecommuting policy?

Posted in Advice for SMEs Tagged communication requirements, culture, policy, telecommuting, training |

Are entrepreneurs born or made?


Do you reckon you have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur? There are two schools of thought about what makes an entrepreneur. The first is that anyone can do it if they really want to, provided they put in the effort. The second is that you are born and you inherit the skills.

I have long pondered this and would really welcome your thoughts, here in the meantime are some expert opinions:

They are born:

  • Adrian Atkinson “This theory that anyone can become an entrepreneur is absolute nonsense. And what is terrible about that message is that it is making people risk their money and is therefore creating larger debts. It is just awful. I often have people saying they are going to sell everything and become an entrepreneur, and I say for goodness sake don’t do it. Very few people are wealth creators and it is really important that people realise where their strength lies.”

    • Richard Baister “You only need to look at entrepreneurs like Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and Richard Branson to see that the best entrepreneurs are gifted with certain personality profiles that make them designed for the job. They simply find themselves becoming entrepreneurs against the odds – not because someone has suggested it as an alternative to being an engineer or a doctor.

    As many of you reading this will no doubt agree, being an entrepreneur is not a job; it’s a lifestyle.

    • Survey: Two-thirds of entrepreneurs claim they were inspired by innate desire, not education or training, according to a new survey.

    • They are Made:
      • Steve Welch: ‘We Are All Born Entrepreneurs’ explains why so many of us have a deep-rooted desire to be entrepreneurs, while using vivid examples of how so many entrepreneurs have succeeded in the face of adversity. Written by a successful entrepreneur in the biotech field, Steve Welch, WAABE demonstrates that there is no single path to follow to achieve one’s dreams and in fact every path is different. Through hundreds of interviews Steve uses his story and those from a vast array of other entrepreneurs to explain what drives them, while sharing lessons learned from the success — and failures — of entrepreneurs.

    • Both:
      • Dan Bricklin: Are entrepreneurs born or made? “Both” says Dan Bricklin, the inventor of VisiCalc and creator of four startups. “Sure, training, talent, and that most elusive component, good timing, are essential. But they are not enough. You need to have a true passion for what you’re doing.” Bricklin describes his formative experiences and lessons he’s learned along the way: Know your true talent, don’t wait to get started, be frugal, and recognize that you are not your business.

      Now it’s your turn – let me know your thoughts on this:

      Are entrepreneurs born or made?

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Posted in Opinions

A Degree of Uncertainty?

Around 170,000 people are predicted to miss out on a place on a degree course this year. Applications reached a record high this summer and it seems that young people in this country think that going to University is the only way to get ahead.

I think it’s time we gave teenagers some more encouraging, open-minded messages, as there are alternative routes to success. Not going to university doesn’t mean your life is over, nor does it mean you can’t have a successful career. I would like to see young people inspired to go straight in to work via apprenticeships or training schemes. Equally, it would be great to see industry creating opportunities for none-university goers.

I am really proud of the fact that I haven’t got a degree.  I dropped out of university in Derby when I was 20 as, to be honest, I was bored, broke and just had the feeling I wanted to be out in the really world making some money!

My parents were supportive of my decision but insisted I had to earn my keep. My Dad wasn’t about to fund my partying!

I started the first of my businesses, BinClean; cleaning wheelie bins for £2.50 a bin. It was back breaking work cleaning between 150-200 bin every day, but it paid off, and three years later when I could no longer take the business forward I sold it for £20,000. I would have accumulated that amount in debt if I’d stayed at Uni!

I then succumbed to the pressure to get a ‘proper job’ and started working in a bank’s call centre. With no degree I was at the bottom of the heap, but I listened and learned and it gave me my next business idea.  Inkfish Call Centre was born. I grew it into a £26.4m turnover business in seven years, employed 0ver 2,500 staff. This business was sold to Domestic and General PLC in 2001.

I am now running Richmond-based conference calling provider, Powwownow and employ 41 people.

I’ve never actively recruited candidates with degrees, even though my competitors do. I firmly believe it’s the person I’m employing, not their qualifications.

If someone is hungry to earn and learn, we’ll take them on and provide them with mentoring and training; they are the future managers of Powwownow. Take Casey for example; she joined as our Marketing Manager two years ago and now manages an in-house marketing team of four plus three external agencies . She has no degree and yet she is extremely good at what she does and I trust her to manage an annual marketing budget in excess of £1,000,000.

I think there is a great deal of intellectual snobbery surrounding degrees in this country. I do agree that three years at university provides a cultural and social education as well as an academic one, however the ‘mates & fun’ argument is wearing a bit thin, and it’s a huge amount of taxpayers’ money to spend on a subsidised dating agency!

We always have career opportunities here at Powwownow; Marketing, IT, Web Development and Customer Care to name a few. If you are keen to learn and don’t want to, or can’t go to university, drop me a line telling me what your skills are on

Posted in Advice for Young Entrepreneurs, Opinions

The Right Technology For The Job

I was attending a Conference Call Service Providers conference in Berlin earlier this week; I know what you’re thinking….we should have had a conference call!

There were over 50 attendees from Video, Web and Audio companies from across Europe and the USA, there were a number of topics being covered including the importance of Audio Quality during conference calls (sexy!) and how the future of collaboration products and services will help business into the future.

Towards the end of the day we cut over to a presenter from Salt Lake City who was joining the conference remotely, the Conference organisers had opted for Skype and Go To meeting. Ironic, when you have most of Europe’s conference call industry in the room!

Once the introductions had been completed the presenter ploughed on through his presentation whilst the audience struggled to understand a word as the call quality went from ok to appalling. It’s known as ‘packet loss’ when you get jittery speech and words are missed out all together. On a number of occasions the presenter had to stop and repeat a whole slide both annoying and time consuming.

The Go to Meeting service worked perfectly but as the presenter was only showing a PowerPoint presentation, it seemed silly to be paying £25 per month for the Go To Meeting service when so many free services exists such as Yuuguu, Dim Dim, yugma to name but a few. The important audio part of the presentation, what the speaker was actually saying, was completely lost as they scrimped by using Skype, software not really designed to be used like this. There were also 10 conference call vendors in the room that could have provided a much better service absolutely free.

Sadly this whole debacle made the organisers look cheap whilst attendance was not!

The organisers quickly realised they had made a mistake with the technology they used. But it does beg the question these guys are the analysists and the experts for the conference calling and collaberation industry and they can’t get it right, how the hell are other business supposed to do it??

Posted in Advice for SMEs

BP v’s Obama

Thank god some one in England has finally seen the light.

At last someone has stood up for BP, thank you Lord Tebbit! (where were David Cameron and Nick Clegg?!)  Finally someone is backing a British company that is being severely criticised by a President who will do anything to deflect attention from his administration’s incompetence.

Whist this is a terrible disaster, one that I wish could have been avoided, the facts remain it’s happened and we have to deal with it, and there is little to be gained from apportioning blame. The reality is that when we are exploring beyond our current abilities accidents can and will happen. The Nasa space shuttle Challenger exploding in 1983,is a good example, who sued Nasa or the American government then?

Since the gulf spill disaster on 20th April, BP , and particularly the CEO Tony Hayward, have been subjected to condemnation from the American administration and is now under threat of a criminal prosecution, and the company directly responsible for the disaster is American!

Personally, I think it’s time for President Obama to grow up he is running the most influential country in the world and needs to behave like a world leader. I firmly believe that it’s the lawyers in the USA that are the vermin not the political administration. Although the way this President is going maybe very soon be looking for a new job as his popularity decreases by the day.

Posted in Advice for SMEs

How to Make a Good Impression Over the Phone

In today’s increasingly mobile workplace, a lot can happen during a phone call – deals can be made, incredible ideas can be shared, sensitive negotiations can be conducted – or none of these things can happen because the people on the phone don’t know how to communicate energy, enthusiasm, commitment and courtesy. Trust me, I know.

Over the years, I’ve participated in thousands of conference calls. I can tell you with some authority that conference calls can be really tedious. There’s always someone who isn’t paying attention, someone else typing too loudly, and the call is nearly always too long. It’s these breaches of etiquette that led us to launch our ban on anti social behavior during conference calls earlier this year.

Making a good impression on the phone goes beyond basic courtesy. It’s really about communicating your interest, engagement and commitment to the discussion. As more business is conducted by phone, the ability to make a good impression is becoming an important skill to master. Here are some tips to consider before you dial into your next conference call.

Start with the right service – If you’re hosting a conference call, it’s important to use a quality conference service. Whichever service you choose, be sure it portrays professionalism. The conference service you select should offer no-hassle dialing, introduce all parties and provide crisp service like we do at Powwownow. Look for services that offer call recording, web conferencing or an iPhone app, services we provide absolutely free for all of our Powwownow customers.

Use an agenda – You wouldn’t host a face-to-face meeting without an agenda, right? For a conference call, it’s important to plan the discussion and goals in advance just as you would for a meeting in the boardroom. Develop your agenda in advance and share it with all participants then move quickly through each item to keep the discussion on track and all attendees engaged.

Don’t interrupt – Everyone’s contribution is equally important on a call, but it’s crucial to be a good listener.  Keep quiet until the person speaking has finished, but be ready to jump in. Without visual cues, it can be difficult to inject your thoughts before someone else does.

Keep it quiet – Your customers or colleagues should never wonder where your attention is focused. Whether you’re dialing in from a home office or workplace, it’s important to convey the same focus and attention to the discussion as you would in the boardroom. Try to avoid or mute background noise, other people talking, or the dog barking as much as possible.

Turn it off – Just as if you’re in an in-person meeting over coffee or in a boardroom, all your attention should be focused on the people and conversation on the call. Turn off email, Facebook and any other distraction that might keep you from being an active and engaged participant. Dedication shows, whether face-to-face or via airwaves!

Stand up – That’s right, I said stand up when you’re talking on the phone. Sitting back in your chair automatically signals your body to relax. Your posture slumps, and before you know it, your chin is sinking toward your chest. This causes your energy level to plummet and your voice to become muted. Standing up gets your blood flowing, keeps your chest upright and your lungs expanded. You immediately feel and sound more energetic and that energy is conveyed to everyone on the call.

Smile – You’re probably starting to think I’m some sort of yogi spiritual quack, but I’m completely serious. Smile while speaking and your voice projects more clearly, with more energy, and yes, with a smile that’s contagious.

See and Be Seen – Video conferencing is another option for those who want to see the people they’re speaking with. Webcam technology is getting better all the time, and there are many good, affordable video conference services available. Try, I use this for video whilst I am having a Powwownow.

Making an impression over the phone is easier than you might think. It’s making a good impression that takes a little effort. I’ve shared some ideas gleaned from my own experience and tips from some of our loyal Powwownow customers, and would love to hear your advice too. How do you make a good impression on the phone?

Posted in Advice for SMEs Tagged iPhone app,, phone call tips, phone conference, Powwownow |