Editor’s Note: I’ve been looking at a lot of office productivity tools lately, like internet faxing , and I knew one of the guys associated with Toktumi, one of the leaders in the home office PBX space. Since I’m on vacation, I asked him to write up a little something about how virtual office tools can help a small business, bribing him with the opportunity to talk about his company.
David Pogue of the New York Times recently revealed his productivity secrets . The very first item he credits: “I work at home. That’s two, three or four hours more work time each day that I don’t spend commuting.” Oftentimes, the appeal of limiting wasted commute hours is offset by the fear of losing access to the work tools available at the office.
Fortunately, as collaboration technologies improve, broadband proliferates, and the country goes greener, working at home will become more popular. For many companies, particularly those that employ knowledge workers, it makes little sense to spend money renting an office and requiring employees to commute every day. When you add in gas, parking, bus or train fares, and wasted hours commuting for little added benefit, the choice becomes easier.
Today’s technologies make it easier than ever to enable your employees to work at home without sacrificing the big company image or the ability for employees to collaborate effectively. Virtual office phone systems, or hosted PBX systems, tie all of your employees into a single company phone system, no matter where they are in the world. This type of system, combined with desktop sharing and online collaboration tools, electronic fax services, and phone and video conferencing, give you everything you need to create a productive virtual work environment with a professional image at significantly lower costs.
Let me explain a little more about each of these:
Virtual Office Tools
Virtual Office/Hosted PBX phone systems: These new phone systems provide the power of traditional office PBX systems but at a fraction of the price. They have superior mobility, letting you set up office wherever you are and you can have all the amenities of traditional office systems (extensions, view call histories, web-access to voicemail, etc). You can use these systems with softphones for PC-based calling or in combination with other phones including cell phones.
Desktop Sharing / Online Meetings: This is software that allows you to share a live image of what’s on your PC screen with other people, so that you can jointly review documents, spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations – whatever you like. It’s useful for project collaboration and is great for sales pitches and product demos and can significantly cut down on travel expenses for traditional face to face meetings.
Electronic Fax: These systems allow you to send faxes either straight from applications using the print command or simply by sending an email to a special address with the documents you want to fax attached. Inbound faxes arrive by email as PDF attachments. No fax machine is needed.
Conferencing: Conferencing solutions come in many forms, ranging from dedicated dial-in conference numbers to tools that let you set up instant conferences on the fly. Video conferencing is also possible, typically for up to as many as eight people using software on your PC.
Providers: Small businesses and virtual office workers have many vendors to choose from for their communication needs. For hosted PBX platforms options include Toktumi.com, RingCentral, 8×8, and Onebox. For online meetings there is WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Toktumi.com. Electronic fax providers include eFax, Fax.com, and Toktumi.com. For conferencing, FreeConferenceCall.com offers a free dial in solution while Toktumi offers instant conferencing as part of the basic hosted PBX solution.
You might have noticed that Toktumi.com comes up a lot. That’s because it is the only company that offers a “quadruple-play” for small business, with hosted PBX, desktop sharing, electronic fax, and conferencing all at a great price compared  to both traditional communication providers as well as the new breed of virtual office providers.
Toktumi’s hosted PBX , which is $14.95/month, includes an auto-attendant (“Press 1 for…”) with multiple extensions and voicemail boxes, call screening with call announce (like an automated personal assistant), instant conferencing for up to 20 people, voicemail by email, after-hours call handling, and the choice of an 800 number, a local number or porting over your existing number. Unlimited calling to the US and Canada is included in the price, and international calls start at just 2c/minute.
Toktumi’s newest feature is called Line2 , which lets you add a Toktumi line to your cell phone. Two lines, one phone, each with its own voicemail, call history, and contacts. It’s available for both the iPhone and the Blackberry, with other platforms coming in the future. It lets you keep your personal cell phone private and ensures that all your business calls are handled properly by allowing you to place and receive calls on your Toktumi line right on your cell phone.
In summary, I believe that as broadband proliferates, and more and more people work on laptops over Wi-Fi and use mobile phones rather than desk phones, virtual office tools will become increasingly important and useful to people everywhere. If you want to give Toktumi  a try, we offer a 30-day free trial, and readers of Bargaineering can save an additional $10 off their first month by using promo code 182734792.