Tim Ebner is senior editor of Associations Now in Washington, DC.
Digital technology has turned land-line phones into a thing of the past. Today, more associations are switching to virtual phone systems to cut costs and give staff greater flexibility.
When you call Sharon Kneebone, CAE, executive director of the National Society for Histotechnology (NSH), she doesn’t answer using a landline or a mobile phone. Your call is coming to you courtesy of the internet.
Or, more precisely, courtesy of a virtual phone system via an app downloaded to Kneebone’s laptop computer.
“I tell people that my office is my laptop,” she says, fielding an interview from the road. “Right now, I’m here in St. Louis getting ready for our annual conference, and I’m using the virtual and remote configuration.”
Since NSH cut the cord on phones a year ago, she’s been able to take important business and member calls using her Maryland area code and phone number no matter where she travels—as long as she has a WiFi connection or a cellphone signal.
The biggest reason for going virtual: The app-based service cut her association’s phone bill nearly in half. “It’s freed up more operating capital for us to invest in IT infrastructure and new projects,” Kneebone says, including a new blog launched earlier this year.
Virtual phone environments also give her team of four staffers more freedom and flexibility to choose how they communicate and collaborate online. Staff routinely host video calls or use instant messaging instead of dialing.
While there are many virtual phone systems to choose from, step one to achieving organizational buy-in is to identify staff preferences, Kneebone says.
“Before we did anything, I had very in-depth conversations with staff to look at what communication configuration would work best for us,” she says. “Then, we tested out a few services as part of a dress rehearsal.”
NSH’s decision to cut the cord coincided with a much bigger decision to move from a brick-and-mortar office in Ellicott City, Maryland, to a completely virtual office environment.
“There was a bit of a learning curve,” Kneebone admits. “And we’re all creatures of habit.”
To smooth the transition, she set up a series of staff trainings to make sure her team felt comfortable using the new system, including basic functions like call transfers and three-way calls, as well as less familiar bells and whistles like video calls or screen- and file-sharing capabilities.
Now the NSH team is primed for effective collaboration in their virtual workplace.
“We instant-message each other with a history of the conversation, host videos or group chats together, and record conversations,” Kneebone says. “For us, it’s become this one-stop communications tool.”
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Cut the Cord."]