In my previous blog entry, I described the Green benefits of telecommuting and my plan to “road test” telecommuting technologies and experience. For my first test, I have chosen voice communications.

My reasons for choosing this over something more obvious such as remote application access, is that most telecommuting scenarios that I have seen or experienced were based on the telecommuter being able to use a mobile phone for making and receiving calls business calls. This is not always the case, and not in my current temporary scenario where I am overseas from my Silicon Valley office. And if my mobile phone did work here, it would be extremely expensive to use for the number and length of calls I normally make. Generally, I also find this reliance on mobile phone a hassle due to the cost when compared to business or even home landlines, and the knowledge that people who want to call me need to know a. that I am not currently in the office and, b. what my cell phone number is.

Here’s something else, I strongly believe that talking is still the most efficient and effective form of communication between two people and sometimes more. I have seen way too much misunderstanding, delays, unnecessary stress or conflict through even best written email, as the written word often lacks the nuances you get in verbal communications. While talking on the phone is still less effective than true face to face talking, it still is a big advancement on email or even IM. I’m sorry, but emoticons just don’t match body language ?.

So, as I start this particular evaluation, I have three criteria that I want to test:

1. As many of us work in a highly mobile manner, with the “office” now including when working from home, business travel and other mobile scenarios, how do we maintain a consistent way to be contacted by voice as well as email?

2. We all have a single work email address that is constant wherever we are, but what about our phone number? Why is it that we have to guess whether the best phone number to use is the desk or cell phone?

3. How often do you have to be the manual link between two electronic systems when you have to enter a phone number from an email or customer record into a phone keypad? How often do you type the wrong number because of this? I know I have.

4. How expensive is it to use mobile, home or hotel phones to maintain a consistent amount of voice communication? I believe that the frequency of calls to staff, management, colleagues and customers should not diminish just because you are not in the office.

Now the last 2 of these criteria I can test by using one of Citrix’s own products, EasyCall. By installing EasyCall, I can make calls from my PC either by entering the number, or using the click to call feature to dial directly from, say, an email footer. Rather than being a VoIP solution, EasyCall connects a call by first calling my own phone (could be my home line or mobile) before establishing the connection to the number I have dialed. It also has a pretty cool corporate directory function, allowing me to search for colleagues by their name in a similar manner to the deskphone I have in the office.

Now before you think I am just using this blog just to promote EasyCall, there are still the other 2 telecommuting phone criteria that it seems I cannot use EasyCall to evaluate. This means that I still have not re-routed inbound calls so that people calling me, especially from outside Citrix, need not to know that I am in the office or out. In previous telecommuting scenarios I have had to set up, I achieved this by using softphone products such as Avaya IP Agent. In my personal life, I am a heavy user of Skype, so will also be looking at it and other VoIP solutions for inbound calls as well as possibly outbound. The only issue I can foresee with this is that my current connection to the internet has nowhere near the performance I have become used to in California, which may mean the call quality is not to flash. I’ll keep you posted on what I try for inbound calls and how it works (or not).

Now back to EasyCall. To use it, I need to install an agent as well as have a EasyCall Gateway installed between the LAN and PBX. Fortunately, the good folks at Citrix IT Services have installed the gateway, allowing me to worry only about the agent. Installing the EasyCall agent is pretty straight forward, the only things I really need to know is where to find the installation files and the host name of my EasyCall Gateway. To see what the installation process was like, check it out at http://www.utipu.com/app/tip/id/2955.

As with all my blogs on Telecommuting, I am eager to hear from you your own views on this topic, or any criteria or scenarios you think I have missed for my evaluations. Just post a comment to this entry.