Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why a Single Phone Line is All You Need

Technology Review

2010.04.27_Google_voice_logo I’m writing today about the use of a single phone line for all business and/or personal phone and SMS communication.  Specifically, I’m writing about Google Voice.  This type of service is often referred to as part of a Unified Communications (UC) platform. A complete UC package involves other services such as email, IM, and presence meta data. You can read more about UC in this Wikipedia article.

The first question I asked when I heard about Google Voice last year was why should I care.  I already owned a cell phone number, had an assigned IP Telephony work phone and fax number, a home number, and I used assigned phone numbers when I was at client sites.  That meant exchanging anywhere from two to five or more numbers with people, depending on the circumstances and the need.

The immediate problem that I faced was what if a coworker wanted to get a hold me.  He could, of course, try each of my numbers until he found me.  This often leads to wasted effort and multiple voicemails, wasting the caller’s time in leaving so many messages and the receiver’s time in having to listen to all of them, or at least listen long enough to realize some are duplicates before deleting them.

What’s more, if I needed to conference someone in, I either had to use a conference line, an office phone with its associated conferencing feature, or use my cell phone and dial in no more than three people at a time.

Enter Google Voice.  Here are the features that Google advertises on its home page as part of the Google Voice features (they include features that require getting a number with Google Voice), with an explanation of the benefits of each:

  • Google voicemail: voicemail like email
    What this means is that your voicemail is saved to Google servers, similar to how web-based email works.  It’s not deleted until you decide it should be.  It’s searchable based on generated transcripts (See below).
  • Voicemail transcription: read what your voicemail says
    That’s right!  Your voicemails are transcribed.  Keep in mind, the transcription is only as good as each caller’s annunciation of the words.  So, if someone speaks in a garbled tongue, you’ll end up with gobbeldy goo.  Nevertheless, you can have a transcribed message and send in those that are too scrambled to Google development to help them refine the service.
  • Custom greetings: vary voicemail greetings by caller
    This features rocks.  You can have a different greeting per user, which may be too much, but you can also have a custom greeting for each group of people.  So long as you have all of your contacts assigned to different groups, you can record a different outgoing message for each group.  What better way to differentiate between how professional or laid back you sound on your outgoing messages for business or family, respectively.
  • International calling: low cost calls to the world
    I know the Skype users will want to know this: Google Voice gives you better international rates than Skype.  I’ve seen a difference of up to 50% in per minute fees between the two services.  All you need to do is purchase a block of time, and start making calls directly from Google Voice or use the Google Voice for Mobile (See related post on Google Voice for Mobile).
  • Notifications: read voicemail messages via email or SMS 
    The brief description says it all, except that if you install the Google Voice for Mobile on your Smartphone, you will never use this feature! 
  • Share voicemails: forward, embed, or download voicemails
    Oh yeah! Just like an email, you can also forward your voicemails or download and archive them on your computer or network.  Want to embed a conversation into your project report? No problem.  Google Voice has you covered.

    NOTE: Check with your legal department before you do this.
  • One number: a single phone number that rings all your phones
    This is one of the biggest features of Google Voice, but it requires that you get a free phone number from Google.  Don’t worry.  You can get a local number with your area code, or one with your client’s area code, for most areas.  Even if you don’t initially, Google is adding new numbers constantly.  You can get a number close to your area code then change later for a $10 fee per phone change.

    Once you have your new number, you can setup all of your land-line and cell phone numbers on Google Voice so that your incoming calls to the Google Voice number rings all or a handful of these other phones.  This sounds confusing, but it’s not.  Let’s assume you have an office number, a home number, a cell number, and a client-assigned phone number at the client site.  You register all phone numbers with Google Voice and setup so that all phones ring when someone calls your Google Voice number.  Whichever phone you answer is where the call gets transferred to.  Neat, right?
  • Free SMS: send, receive & store text messages online
    You may or may not have a cell phone plan with text message support, technically known as SMS.  If you don’t, you can use this service and avoid paying your cell phone provider for the service.  With the Google Voice for Mobile, you can even send SMS directly from your cell.  If you already have SMS service on your phone, you can now track and archive all of your messages by using the Google Voice version.  What’s more, you can send and receive unlimited message.  You can even forward them as an email.
  • Block calls: send unwanted callers straight to voicemail
    This features is like an email spam filter, but for your voice calls.  You can mark phone numbers or contacts as those whose calls you don’t want to take.  You can send the blocked callers directly to your voice mail or spam folder.
  • Record calls: record phone calls and store them online
    If you need to record a call for legal purposes, or just for good record keeping, you can do that too.  The beauty of this feature is that the callers will all be warned that the call is being recorded before the recording process starts. 
  • NOTE: Check with your legal department before you do this too.

  • Conference calls: join several people into a single call
    The brief description says it all, except that you don’t have to be limited to just three people on a call, as is the case with conference calls on most cell phones.
  • Screen callers: hear who is calling before you pick up
    Do you wish you had a secretary that would tell you who’s calling before you decide whether to take a call?  You get that through caller ID for the most part, but what if you’re driving and pickup the phone, unable to focus properly on the screen to see the caller ID?  This feature asks the caller to record their name and it announces it to you before you decide whether to take the call.  You then decide to take the call, screen it, send it to voicemail, or answer and record it.

Not bad for a free service, eh?  Once you switch over to Google Voice, be sure to give one last call to your answering service and thank them for all of their services, BEFORE you let them down gently!

What Do You Think?

Have you tried Google Voice or a similar service?  Then you should let us know what you think of these services by sharing your thoughts below.

Related Posts

Why Google Voice Rocks on My Smartphone


Photo Credits: Google Voice logo is the property of Google Voice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Be a Dog: Be Here...Now.

Call to Action

2010.04.21_MeetingGraffiti Have you ever sat in a meeting or held a conversation with someone only to be interrupted by a phone ringing?

Or if you’re in a meeting with people using their notebooks, getting IM interruption rings?

It’s interesting how so many of us (me included) forget the importance of focusing on the here and now, one person, subject, or thought at a time. 

I was reminded of this through two separate, unrelated incidents.  One involved a meeting where all four of us placed our cell phones on the table while discussing the business at hand.  I can understand if you’re expecting an urgent call, like from a sick grandmother, if you’re a surgeon, or an on-call IT personnel, in which case monitoring your phone is a necessity.  None of us at the table had any such concern.  Instead, we were just used to doing it.  Everyone does it, right?
2010.04.21_MeetingTimeWhat’s more, at least two of us didn’t bother turning the phones to a vibrate mode.  How do I know this? Because each of the two offenders’ phones rang during the meeting.  What’s more, one of the people simply stood up and stepped away to take the call.

Aside from business and human etiquette of paying attention to the person you’re with, this is a complete waste of time.  Why? Based on studies of engineers that were interrupted in the midst of a task, it takes a person an average of 15 minutes to refocus and continue a conversation or thought thread.

In other words, taking a one to two minute call, decreases efficiency of a meeting, conversation or task by at least 650%!!!

I’ll surmise that not all tasks require as much focus as what an engineer does, but when we commit to focus on a conversation, like by accepting to meet with someone, shouldn’t we make every effort to focus on them?

2010.04.21_BusterThe second incident involved our family cat and dog.  We own a gray tabby cat who’s quite set in his ways and somewhat of a grizzly in size: he weighs in at an agile 17 lbs.    He’s very territorial and a bully.

Our dog is the opposite.  She’s a very affectionate 60 lbs. American Pit Bull Terrier, and a complete push-over, especially when it comes to what our cat wants, like the dog’s food.

Not a day goes by without an incident.  It’s quite common to find our cat chasing the dog around the house, scaring the heck out of her. 

During one of these recent incidents, I noticed our dog was shaking from all the fight or flight adrenaline (likely, from the “flight”).  I decided to distract her and use up some of that adrenaline.  So, I grabbed one of her favorite toys and played fetch with it, while running her around the house. 

It worked! After just five minutes of play, she was wagging her tail, spry, and walking around with a spring in her step.  This wasn’t terribly surprising.  It shouldn’t be for any dog owner.  Dogs live in the here and now.  They let go of fear, anger, or any other negative feeling the moment they’re distracted with their favorite toy, person, or activity.

Having fun comes naturally to them.  So does living in the now.

LolaSquintWhen I put the two stories together, I realized what important lesson I could learn from my dog: the importance of living in the here and now.  When blocking out time to spend with my family, I need and want to be there with them, not thinking about what happened yesterday with my aunt or in the office.

In that same light, when I’m in a meeting or in the office, I need to pay attention to the task at hand and avoid interruptions that take me away from the here and now.  Aside from being rude, it just doesn’t make financial or business sense to let every focused interaction get muddled and dragged out because of interruptions.

Think about the number of meetings you had to extend, or the clarifications via email, documents, and phone calls that followed every interaction that was interrupted. How many of these can we reduce to increase our efficacy and efficiency?

I argue we’d need less time to finish and enjoy every task, if we only focus on it on its own time.

So, I now make sure my phone is on vibrate and left in my pocket at all times.  I take only a notepad and pen to a meeting when I can.  If I have to take a notebook computer, I use it for whatever purpose I need it, ensuring my email client is turned off, and then shut it off when I’m done.

I’ve turned off all sound notifications for IM and email on my notebook computer and Smartphone.  So, I get no interruptions during any event…and I’ve already seen the difference in how fewer calls I have to make or meetings I have to hold to make up for the interruptions that I no longer have.

It’s now up to you.  Do you want to live in the here and now?

Photo Credits: clagnut, poolie, Asim Bijarani

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why Google Voice Rocks on My Smartphone

Technology Review

2010.04.20_GoogleVoice Are you a Google Voice user?  Do You have a Smartphone like iPhone, Blackberry or an Android-based device? If you answered yes to both of these questions, or if you’re curious what’s in the horizon for Google Voice, read on.

2010.04.20_HeroPhone I’ve been a Google Voice users for a little over six months.  In fact, you can reach me on my Google Voice number directly from this page with the link under my Profile on the left.  I’ve listed my Google Voice number on my business cards and it’s what appears with my signatures in all emails.  There are many reasons for this, such as voice mail transcription, call recording for conference call presentations, integration with Google Contacts, email and Chrome, as well as ringing multiple phones at disparate locations with one number  for all incoming calls (for example, home, cell, and office phones). 

However, one challenge I noticed was when I dialed out from my cell phone. When I used to dial from my cell phone, my Caller ID showed my cell phone number, rather than my Google Voice number.  I prefer the latter.  The only way to do this before was to dial in to my Google Voice number, search for the phone number I wanted to dial from my list of Google Contacts via voice command or number pad, then give the command for Google Voice to connect me.  This was tedious and I seldom did it, unless I was sitting in front of a computer and I could directly access Google Voice to dial out and connect the call to my cell, home or office.

That changed with the introduction of Google Voice for mobile devices.  I now have a Google Voice application installed on my cell phone that not only dials all numbers through Google Voice, thus displaying my Google Voice number as a part of my Caller ID, it also gives me direct access to my voicemails and their associated transcripts directly on the phone, without the need to use the browser. 

What’s more, I can access many of the Google Voice features, previously available on the Google Voice website, directly on my phone.  These include marking voice mails as spam (so that all future calls from that number are placed under my Spam folder in Google Voice, the same way email spam filters work), unread, archived, or deleted.  I can also add the contact information of the caller to my Google Contacts, call that person directly after listening to their voice mail, or send that person an SMS message!

And that is why Google Voice on my Android phone rocks!!!

What Do You Think?

Feel free to checkout Google Voice for your Smartphone and provide your opinion below.


Photo Credits: All images are the property of Google and were obtained from the Google Voice for mobile site.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Hypocrisy of Kleenex Hand Towels

weekly Rant

It’s been a while since I wrote a rant piece. I prefer not to complain about something. Rather, I like finding a problem and figuring out how to solve it.  As an added bonus, if I see I can benefit from it, I may even pursue it as a business product or service. 

I’m making an exception to my “no rant” policy today because of a product advertisement I saw recently for Kleenex Hand Towels while watching TV.  You can probably still catch the ad during any of the evening shows.  Every time I see  it, it makes me angry.


Because our society should be and, for the most part, seems to be focusing on sustainability. Yet, Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex, somehow feel we need to add to our landfills by generating more waste. 

I believe Kimberly-Clark has forgotten the first two R’s in the sustainability equation: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Arguably, you can reuse a paper towel, but the ad certainly speaks against it as the announcer explains that cloth hand towels could hide germs and you’ll want to throw away a paper towel after each use.  There’s no reduction either.  If you were to buy the product you would INCREASE your use of paper products!  May be Kimberly-Clark got it reversed.  May be they thought they were supposed to reduce our natural resources by helping consumers use more of them!!!

I can accept the argument that any damp towel could attract airborne bacteria.   I also remember an old wives tale that if you leave a wet towel on the ground, spiders and other insects will “grow” out of them.  I”m not sure if anyone believes towels can grow insects.  Likely, the towels create damp, warm environments that attract insects to nest and procreate in them.  However, this is not what the majority of us do.  Likely, we wash our hanging towels once a week or two, and certainly towels on the ground are ready for a wash now. 

So, why the heck would you want to buy another product that promotes killing more trees, dirtying more water in their construction, and adding more to our landfills?  If I were a product marketing manager at Kimberly-Clark, I’d search for or fund scientific studies to determine how to sell more regular hand towels and how sanitary they are, or figure out a way to create a cotton towel that’s more sanitary. 

A perfect example of a product they could develop is one by PeopleTowels: reusable hand towels made from organic cotton and ink.  Their idea is to replace paper towel usage, not just in homes, but in public places with these personal towels that you can carry in your bag, purse, or pocket.  (DISCLAIMER: I’m in NO way affiliated with PeopleTowels.  I just find their product innovative and a sign of good things to come.)

So, if Kimberly-Clark’s goal is to generate more waste, I think they’ve accomplished it well, but if they want to win public opinion and dollars, in my humble opinion, they’re going about it all wrong.

What Do You Think?

Do you disagree with me?  Does this argument resonate with you? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Feeds Feed Me


2010.04.13_RSS Yeah…I know! The title of this post is a little confusing. The point is that I get a lot of my information from blog feeds, and I keep track of them in Google Reader.

My goal for this post is to share with you my public feeds, especially since when I speak with folks about news and blog feeds as a source of information, I’m often asked which blogs I read. 

So, here are my lists in alphabetical order :

  • Agile Management: These feeds focus on Agile Project Management topics, such as those posted on Fourth Medium and APLN-OC blogs.
  • Creativity: These posts encourage creativity in yourself and others.  The posts are from sites such as TEDTalks and Write Creativity.
  • Education: Given I’m PMP certified (not to mention certifiable), I need to fulfill a minimum number of Professional Development Units (PDUs) each year.  This list contains posts that provide paid and free training to help you earn your PDUs.  Most of the posts are synopsis of webcasts that you can view in your reader or online.
  • Motivational: You may very well be a positive person, but there are times you need a reminder about what to focus on or how to get your groove back.  These sites provide you with posts from Zen Habits to Tim Ferriss’s blog among others that do just that: get your motivated.
  • Personal Finance: Are you curious where to invest your money next, or what are some good personal finance habits? Check out these posts.
  • Product Support Blogs: These are mostly support blogs for Google products like Google Wave, Voice, among others.   There are some exceptions, like RememberTheMilk’s support blog.  Mainly, you read about upcoming changes just as you would in product release notes, except these are a lot more usable.
  • Recreation: What do you do in your time off?  I get some ideas from these guys.
  • Social Media: This is the hot topic of the day…or it was.  In either case, you can read posts by some of the big wigs of the industry like Chris Brogan and Seth Godin.
  • Strategy – Business: Interested in learning about business from the leaders? Who isn’t!  Read posts by a sampling of leaders in this collection.  These posts include employee motivation, sales strategies, and financial how-to’s, among others.
  • Strategy – Technology: So you now know all about your business strategy, but what about the software and hardware aspects?  What business IT strategies should you be concerned about or pursue?  Get a better idea by reading this collection.
  • Technology: Want to know about what’s the buzz on the latest Android phone, social media, or technology in general?  Then you need to start here.

These are lists that I’ll continuously add to and subtract from.  So, keep coming back to get an update…and don’t be surprised to see them change.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your feeds or comments below.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Employee Retention: Sharing the Benefits

Business Strategies

If you’ve been following this series on Insuring Employee Retention, so far you’ve read about  working with your employees to understand their goals, aligning them with your company’s, tracking their progress, and insuring you, as the manager, keep your promises.

In this post, we’ll wrap up the series by discussing what it means to share the benefits of your employee’s success in achieving their goals.

You recall the last three of the steps to insure employee retention are the following:

  1. Employees actually realize the benefits of the employer’s decisions (the management’s promise to deliver comes to fruition)
  2. The organization is constantly growing, thereby gaining new business and providing new employee opportunities
  3. The benefits of the company’s success are shared with employees

2010.04.08_MoneyStack All three of these focus on sharing benefits the company realizes once employees reach their goals.  You as the manager, and the company, benefit from your employees reaching their goals as the company efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction increases.  All these result in higher revenue and profit margins, a portion of which should be shared with the employees that directly affect it.

All employees reasonably accept that the profits of the company belong to the company.  So, even if the employees gain the equivalent of 1% of the profits, they’ll be ecstatic..  What is that portion should be determined during the goal setting sessions after considering what effect each of the employee goals will have on revenue and profits. 

Keep in mind, the benefits could very well be the sharing of recognition for a job well done.  Sometimes, nothing beats a public recognition of an employee who was able to streamline your processes, bring in additional business, or deliver a high quality product or service. So, don’t forget to thank them profusely and publicly for insuring the project and company success. 

The next factor is employee growth within the organization.  Lack of growth opportunities certainly drives away employees.  If you plan to keep your organization small, you’ll have to accept that you’ll loose your star employees at some point once they reach the limit of what you can provide them.  You’ll possibly even have to help them find employment elsewhere, but who really wants to do this after making such a large investment in their employees? 

Alternately, you’ll have to insure that as your company grows you align your employees goals with that growth so that they may eventually fill larger roles.  This is, once more, the sharing of the benefits, i.e., insuring your employees grow with you and get the larger responsibilities as well as the associated salaries and bonuses.

You now have all of the ingredients to help you retain your employees and, potentially, drive your attrition rate to zero.

What are you waiting for? 

What Do You Think

Please feel free to share your thoughts below.

Related Posts

Insuring Employee Retention
Employee Retention: Be a Goal Miner
Employee Retention: Goals Alignment
Employee Retention: Goals Progress
Employee Retention: Managers Deliver on Promises

Photo Credits: AMagill

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Eat All the Garbage You Want

Optimist’s Perspective

You are what you eat!

2010.04.06_FoodTray I’m sure you’ve heard that statement many times.  Often, it’s used to describe something about gastronomy.  I believe it applies just as well to our thought process.  Our mind produces the person out of the thoughts we let it consume.  If I let my mind be preoccupied with happiness and success, that’s what I’ll have.  If I think of failures and an inability to reach my goals, I will succeed only if by accident.

I’m not telling you anything new…at least I hope not.  What I’m sharing with you is more the result of some introspection over the past few weeks.

At the end of every quarter I review what goals I set out, and compare them to what I achieved.  Often, these are not the same.  I don’t mean that I fail at my goals, but that what I set out to achieve aren’t necessarily the results I get.  For example, Last year I wrote about setting a BHAG, after I’d been laid off, to find my next employer within three months, by September of 2009. 

I didn’t.

However, in the process I learned a lot more about myself and what I cared most about.  I learned what work environments I like and which don’t fit my personality.  When September came around, I decided to start a consulting firm to provide project management services and help outsource software development for small to medium sized companies.  I established a business name, created an online presence and setup shop. 

Strictly speaking, I didn’t achieve the goal I set out, but I achieved results that were, arguably, more pertinent.

2010.04.06_ChristopherColumbus I recently read a posting claiming that setting goals is overrated. The author believed that setting goals is useless since seldom does anyone achieve them.  However, this is the equivalent of dismissing the validity of a contract because of one faulty clause, or calling the attempt to find a new trade route to Asia a failure when Columbus landed in the Americas!  I call such thinking complete, utter nonsense.

But how is goal setting related to what you feed your mind?

The answer lies with the turmoil I felt this past quarter.  Looking back I realized I’d veered far away from the goals I’d set out.  I began to think that maybe I’d failed.  In fact, this defeatist thinking began to spill into my conversations with other professionals, until a good friend made a comment. 

I was having coffee with Sven Johnston of the WAOC fame who was able to get Orange County on the map on LinkedIn.  He asked me about the state of business; what we always ask each other.  I replied, “it’s terrible!”  He told me at least I was stark and frank, but that comment made me think.  I’d let the thoughts of failure fester in my head and now I was spewing it.  It felt wrong. 

Deep down I knew all wasn’t terrible.  I’d lost a chance to win two pieces of business, but we still had demand.  There were folks contacting us asking about and for presentations on our services.  Certainly, the newer inquiries were in early stages, but I had traction and interest. 

I get it! I know how you feel as a freelancer, entrepreneur, job-seeker (face it, you’re an entrepreneur too), or student who has set out goals, didn’t get the results you wished, and had to re-plan.

The point is you shouldn’t let unexpected results detract you from setting more goals, refining your approach, and getting up the next day thinking you’re on top of the world, certain that you will succeed in life.  Continuously thinking of your success rejuvenates the mind and feeds it with what will insure your success, whatever form that success takes.

What are you waiting for, then? Take out that pen and paper.  Start the re-planning and goal-setting process, so that you too can be one step closer to treading on your true path.

What Do You Think?

What are you doing to feed your mind with positive thoughts of your future?  Feel free to share them below.

Photo Credits: meshmar2, David Paul Ohmer