Market musings

How to Pick the Best Virtual Phone System for an International Team

by Nina Quasebarth
July 5, 2017

Today’s marketplace is truly global, and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are becoming bigger players in the global economy. Not only are more SMBs sending goods and services abroad, they are working more closely with global teams that provide regional sales and support, as well as providing specialty services such as call center support and software development. When working with international teams, you need better collaboration tools that break down communications and cultural barriers—tools such as the best virtual phone system for international teams.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that 30 percent of the United States economy is made up of global trade, and small business makes up 97 percent of U.S.-identified exporters. The SMB segment of international exports also is growing 35.5 percent faster than larger companies. Thanks to resources such as the web and ecommerce, it’s easier than ever for SMBs to do business overseas. Coordinating international teams becomes a bigger problem as businesses expand, and finding the best virtual phone system to promote understanding and collaboration becomes a priority.

Choosing Real-time Versus Delayed Collaboration Tools

When managing an international team, building rapport and promoting true collaboration becomes more challenging. Communications technology can enhance collaboration. However, you want to find a collaboration solution that not only promotes productivity, but also promotes a sense of teamwork and reduces social distance.

Email has become the most common technology used for team communications, but it has limited effectiveness, especially when working with international teams. A Forrester survey of 10,000 workers in 17 countries showed that 94 percent reported relying on email, but only 33 percent ever participated in a desktop video conference (i.e. from their computer or smartphone), and 25 percent reported using room-based videoconferencing.

Choosing between delayed forms of communication, such as email, and real-time communications, such as teleconferencing or videoconferencing, has a big impact on team-building.

Email does offer some advantages for global teams, primarily delayed response to accommodate multiple time zones. Unfortunately, email lacks contextual cues and may make it harder to span language and cultural barriers. If you need to share information, email is a great tool that is less disruptive to people’s schedules. However, if you need to build consensus or resolve a conflict, real-time interaction is much more effective.

Teleconferences or videoconferences make it easier to promote understanding because you can read the other parties’ emotions and interact in real time to promote clarity. Real-time interaction helps to bridge cultural gaps and eliminates many of the misperceptions or miscommunications inherent in email. English may be considered a global language for business, but there is always room for misunderstanding when you are communicating in a foreign language. Real-time communication promotes better understanding.

Virtual Phone Systems Are Best for International Calls

Teleconferences are still the preferred tool for real-time collaboration, which is why SMBs continue to shop for the best virtual phone system.

Virtual phone systems are very cost-effective, especially for international calling.

Essentially, a virtual phone system allows callers to make long-distance calls as though they were local calls. The virtual phone system routes the call to the actual phone number, and is commonly used with Voice-over-IP (VoIP) systems. For international calls, virtual phone systems eliminate the global telecommunications charges; users call a local number and are routed to their calling destination via the internet, and phone charges are substantially lower than normal phone charges.

Since most virtual phone systems are IP-based, you may also get the advantages of using a digital phone network, such as being able to share digital files, establish video calls, and more. When shopping for the best virtual phone system for international team collaboration, tools such as video conferencing and whiteboarding applications can help break down language barriers and promote better understanding.

Smartphones Complement Virtual Phone Systems

Smartphones are an ideal tool for international calling using virtual phone systems. Establishing international conference calls often requires someone to be up early or stay up late. For example, when it is 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles it is midnight in Tokyo. By using a virtual phone system to connect to your smartphone, you can take or place international calls from anywhere, at any time, and not incur expensive international cellular phone fees. Plus, virtual phone systems make it easy to use wireless connectivity for telecommunications applications such as Skype, and they have built-in collaborative tools such as a camera for videoconferencing.

Apps such as Spoke can make smartphones an even more versatile extension of your global virtual phone system. Spoke converts employees’ smartphones into a single business phone system complete with auto attendant, smart directories, caller presence, teleconferencing, and other features. For international business, Spoke supplements the capabilities already available with the smartphone, such as web access, chat/texting, file and email access, and more, with all the features of a typical office telephone system.

When shopping for the best virtual phone system for international team communications, look for those features that will complement your existing phone system. Bear in mind that the follow-me functions of a virtual phone system may be used to connect to callers’ smartphones outside the office after hours. Often the best way to promote collaboration for international teams is by using a virtual phone system with a smartphone, and consider solutions such as Spoke to make your virtual phone system even more effective.

The Productivity Hacker's Guide to Integrating Remote Teams
The Productivity Hacker's Guide to Integrating Remote Teams