For all of its advantages - flexibility, no commute, a greater ability to tailor your personal work style - working remotely isn't without its challenges. Often, you feel them most when you're relying on technology to help you participate in a meeting as effectively as if you were sitting in the conference room back at Corporate HQ.
What's your meeting style? Take the ShoreTel Business Meeting Challenge and find out.
For many workers, this is more easily said than done. For too many, signing into a remote meeting requires downloading special apps, entering multiple PINS, and ensuring you have a robust Internet connection. Fortunately, ShoreTel Connect eliminates those hassles by connecting you to the meeting with a single click, allowing you to join through whatever device you prefer, and offering the tools you need to easily share documents, look up notes from earlier discussions, or reach out to a colleague whose input is needed on the fly.
Such tools allow you to make the same kind of contribution as you would in person. With that in mind, here are some ways to make the most of your remote meetings.
Know Where You Stand
In the days leading up to the meeting, background yourself on all of the issues included in the agenda, identify any questions you may have, and develop a feel for how you believe the team should proceed. While you don't want to be so locked into an opinion that you blind yourself to your colleagues' points of view, you should be familiar enough with each topic that you can make offer appropriate input when you need to.
Know What You'll Say
Even if the meeting's organizer hasn't assigned you a specific topic to cover, make a list of points you want to make during the discussion, and prepare any supporting materials you'll want to share with the group. With ShoreTel Connect, you can present documents, videos, images and more - just as you would on-site.
According to CNBC, executives consider 67% of meetings to be failures. Considering that numerous other surveys show that participants regularly multitask during meetings, that's no surprise. So avoid the temptation to check your email, surf the Web or do other work during meeting time. Be sure your door's closed and the room is quiet. While human nature is giving way to shrinking attention spans, you'll find that discussions proceed more quickly and your team will accomplish more when you're fully engaged.
The old saying goes that "decisions are made by those who show up." But showing up involves more than connecting. ShoreTel Connect provides the capabilities you need to fully participate in the meeting, but it's up to you to take advantage of them. That means you have to be prepared to speak up when it's appropriate, but also have materials to share so others can see your thought processes and have something to focus on while you talk.
Prepare ahead of time, be focused and use ShoreTel Connect's capabilities, and distance won't be a factor in the quality of the contributions you make.
Are you a Meeting Maverick, Meeting Multitasker, or Meeting Maximizer? Find out by taking the ShoreTel Business Meeting Challenge.
Publish Date: February 10, 2016 5:00 AM
Government agencies are complex organizations, often home to hundreds of employees and operations that span numerous locations. That means efforts to improve their productivity and deliver better customer service are often difficult.
But unified communications can help. Features such as integrated phone directories, contact centers, collaboration, application integration and mobility can streamline processes and cut costs significantly.
How? Let’s look at how four agencies are reaping UC’s benefits.
Streamlining Labor-Intensive Tasks
For the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, streamlining labor-intensive processes was a compelling reason to switch to a UC system. And after deploying ShoreTel Unified Communications, the organization saw a significant improvement in the way it handled applications for subsidized housing.
As the public housing authority for the City and County of Sacramento, Calif., the agency processes new applications and annually certifies current residents of subsidized homes. A number of topics must be covered, including changes to jobs or income. Performed for 11,000 voucher holders and residents of 3,500 public housing units, it’s a time-consuming process.
Rather than collect this data on paper and scan it into a database, SHRA is piloting a process where the information is faxed into a single Microsoft Outlook folder and immediately transferred to the County’s FileNet document imaging system. It can then be accessed through a property management application.
“ShoreTel will enable us to have seamless fax integration, so we eliminate the paper trail in favor of an electric one,” explains Ann Roland, the agency’s IT manager. “Data is captured into our document management system, which eliminates staff from handling the documents and paper document storage. And, we have a manageable method for retaining these types of records.”
Another housing agency, the Seattle Housing Authority, used ShoreTel’s UC to improve its emergency communications.
ShoreTel’s reliability and E-911 applications allow the agency’s employees to easily connect with each other, with residents and with the city. In the event of an earthquake or other emergency, they can use the system to quickly dispatch maintenance employees to locations around Seattle so that they can check the stability of its buildings.
Then there’s the Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District covers 45,000 square miles and 49 remote locations in West Virginia. Almost half of its 1,000 employees work remotely, making efficient communications a top priority.
By deploying a unified communications across all of its location – as well as its mobile repair fleet – the Corps was able to boost productivity. For example, although fleet engineers are based in the district office, they spend much of their time working on repairs in the field. With ShoreTel, they can log into the network from wherever they happened to be occupied that day. And because phone numbers are associated with individuals, calls automatically follow each user as they move around.
“The overall economics and manageability of this system are unbelievable,” says Anthony Estep, Huntington District Computer Specialist, Army Corps of Engineers. “When you hear someone describe this technology, you say, ‘Show me. It can’t be this good.’ But it is.”
Morristown Utility Systems operates as an enterprise fund of the city of Morristown, Tenn., providing entertainment, Internet and communications products and services to local residents.
Not surprisingly, when its services were introduced call volume skyrocketed as users reached out with questions. “The volume of calls tripled, plus the length of calls went from an average of two minutes to more than 20 minutes, due to the complexity of the fiber-to-the-home business,” explains Mike Fawbush, information systems manager.
However, once the utility deployed ShoreTel’s Unified Communications system with the Enterprise Contact Center application, the utility was able to respond more quickly to changing customer needs.
“The previous call center wasn’t really a call center, but simply a group of about seven people responsible for answering the phones,” says Fawbush. “We had no advanced call features, and no way of knowing why people were calling.”
Call center features such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR), intelligent routing, outbound and media handling enabled the agency to respond to calls more quickly, reducing the chance of long wait times and frustrated customers.
In addition to improving communications capabilities and boosting staff productivity, many agencies also find that unified communications lowers their costs and simplifies maintenance and support. But perhaps the greatest benefit is how UC makes it easier for agencies to keep their customers happy. In a complex organization, that’s a benefit that stands out.
Publish Date: January 28, 2016 5:00 AM
One of the biggest complaints we hear about meetings is that they waste people’s time. Indeed, some researchers say between 25% to 50% of the time spent in meetings is put to no good use. Given that many people today feel as if they’re always trying to cram too much activity into too little time, wouldn’t it be nice to recover some of those lost hours?
You can if you identify just where all that time is going and understand how to use what you’ve got wisely. Here are five of the biggest challenges we face in having productive discussions, and tips for dealing with them.
1. No Agenda
Meetings without an agenda are like road trips without a map. You might know where you want to end up, but you have no idea of how you’re going to get there. The solution is both simple and obvious: Lay out an agenda and distribute it ahead of time. Be sure it includes who is responsible for each segment, and assign each a set amount of time.
Creating the agenda is only half the battle, however. You also have to enforce it. If someone moves off-topic, step in and bring them back. Use tools like ShoreTel Connect’s collaboration features to keep track of how the meeting’s progressing and whether a segment’s running out of time. If it looks like a presenter is going to use more time than they’ve been allotted, ask them to wrap up their comments before they hit their limit.
If something seems important enough, ask whether there’s a consensus for dropping another agenda item in order to give the current discussion more time.
2. Scheduling Too Much Time
NPR says one reason meetings drag on is because of “Parkinson's Law,” which states that tasks take as much time as you plan for them. So, if you schedule two hours for a conversation, two hours is how long you’re going to talk. On the other hand, take the same agenda, give it half as much time, and you’ll accomplish just as much.
So be stingy. If your gut says a meeting needs two hours, schedule it for 90 minutes and see what happens.
3. Too Many Distractions
People have shorter attention spans (8 seconds) than goldfish (9 seconds). That wasn't always the case, but a study by Microsoft found that our continual use of smartphones, tablets and the like have trained us to expect more mental stimulation in less time. When we’re bored with what we see on one Web page for example, we move to another Web page. Or, when we’re bored with what someone’s saying in a meeting, we pull out our smartphone to check email.
To keep that from happening, ban smartphones, tablets and laptops from your meetings. They make it too easy for people to satisfy the need of their wandering attention by surfing the Web, reading email, or doing work that has nothing to do with the discussion right in front of them. To discourage multi-tasking by remote participants, take advantage of ShoreTel Connect’s video features. This will make them feel more visible, as well as increasing their sense of “presence.”
4. Rambling and Sidebars
Some people have a lot to say, so they talk. And talk. And talk some more. Along the way, they may make valid points, but their volubility chews up time and prevents others from giving their own input. As the meeting’s leader, it’s up to you to politely cut off the talker. Try interrupting then with a thank you for their excellent points, then call on someone else to speak. That way, you’ll keep things moving along.
Then there are people who have their own conversation, outside of the general discussion. Their whispering is distracting and can derail your agenda if their talk grows to include others. Ask them to save their side conversation for another time, or to share their thoughts if what they’re discussing is on-topic.
5. Ill-Timed Objections
Sometimes people may object to the very premise of the meeting, but not say anything about it until well into the conversation. For example, your agenda may cover the launch schedule for a new product, but one participant believes the entire marketing angle is off-target. If they inject that into the conversation 30 minutes after the meeting starts, it may be nearly impossible to get things back on-track.
To address this possibility, ask people early on whether they have any overriding issues with the topic at hand. If they do, you can set up a separate discussion to deal with them.
As maligned as they are, meetings are often necessary, but they don’t need to be painful. Prepare yours in advance and be ready to actively manage the discussion, and you’ll accomplish your goals with a minimum of pain.
Are you a Meeting Maverick, Meeting Multitasker, or Meeting Maximizer? Find out by taking the ShoreTel Business Meeting Challenge.
Publish Date: January 27, 2016 5:00 AM
With so many digital tools at our disposal, marketers often fall into the trap of believing that all metrics are created equal. We often make two common mistakes in regards to this.
First, we fixate on what metrics tell us without understanding and applying the rationale of the voice of the customer. In this case we feel falsely empowered about what we learn because we have the ability to change a promotion or campaign in real-time through A/B testing. But that gain is often eclipsed by missing the larger view of the customer’s overall perspective by focusing on the single result being tested.
Secondly, A/B testing gives you the short term view – a snapshot in time -- that is often focused on a product-related campaign message. It provides little understanding of how the prospect or customer thinks beyond your products to their feelings about your company and its brand.
In reality, the most valuable metrics are the ones that provide your prospects’ or customers’ insights into what you and your brand stand for. Metrics are a journey that reflect the relationship, the promise you have with your customer and prospect. They are not an end in themselves. Metrics that measure how effectively those outside the company resonate with the brand message, that ultimately reflect the growth of a person’s brand loyalty over time are the most valuable.
Those measurements that will help you determine a deepening relationship with prospects and customers that you want to be sure to capture are:
Don’t be seduced by marketing technology into measuring everything just because you can. That’s no way to run or build a brand.
Publish Date: January 25, 2016 5:00 AM
Over the last several weeks, we’ve written about how people dread meetings and offered tips on making them successful. A lot of our advice is common sense – plan and stick to an agenda, don’t allow conversation to wander, be sure everyone participates and use effective meeting technology like ShoreTel Connect.
But what is it that makes a meeting effective? Is it simply getting through the agenda on-time? Having everyone leave with an assignment they understand? The answer is a little more complicated than that, and the more we thought about it, the more we realized the key to an effective business meeting is – engagement.
Consider the fact that executives label 67% of the meetings they attend as failures. According to author Rick Gilbert, who’s studied the issue, their reasons range from lack of preparation to a chip on somebody’s shoulder. To Gilbert, the keys to ensuring a successful meeting are to keep your energy up and do your homework on the other participants – what are their agendas, their concerns, their hot buttons?
The Turning Point
Those are good points, but you need to go further if you want your meeting to be effective. By “effective,” we mean that the discussion hasn’t only informed people in a timely and professional manner, but given them a certain enthusiasm about the follow up tasks they’re taking on. An effective meeting is a turning point of sorts: Participants depart with information they can use and a clear sense of what comes next.
For that to happen, everyone must be fully engaged in the discussion, participating without the distractions of side conversations, emails or technical glitches that muddy the waters for those who attend virtually. Indeed, the meeting’s leader must pay special attention to remote participants to make sure they’re not talked over by people in the room, and don’t use their distance as an excuse to stay quiet.
ShoreTel Connect helps accomplish all this by allowing participants to click into a meeting from their desktop, tablet or smartphone, removing barriers to making their voices heard and reinforcing their importance to the team. The simplicity with which they connect – they only need to click on a link – combined with Connect’s ability to share desktops, co-browse the Web and shift control of the meeting enables you to engage whoever, whenever and wherever you want, in a way that’s both dynamic and hassle-free.
As the workforce becomes increasingly distributed, with more employees working in different locations or calling into meetings during business trips, the need for simple technical tools that allow everyone to participate with equal effectiveness grows in importance. With ShoreTel Connect, taking part in meetings virtually becomes routine and remote team members get access to the same types of capabilities for information sharing as are enjoyed by those who are physically present. Who’s connecting remotely and who’s sitting at the conference table becomes less important, and meetings become more effective because everyone fully participates, wherever they happen to be.
ShoreTel is hosting a fun challenge that will identify your business meeting style. Take the ShoreTel Business Meeting Challenge to find out if you’re a Meeting Maverick, Meeting Multitasker, or Meeting Maximizer.
Publish Date: January 22, 2016 5:00 AM