Wow, how fast things can change in just one month!  On March 6th I went on a short vacation to get some well-deserved relaxing time away from the kids and my business.  Coronavirus cases in Ontario hovered around 20 and there wasn’t much to be concerned about.  Five days later, when I returned, the situation still seemed under control but people were much more panicked.  Within a week I had had to ask our staff to work from home full time and our office was only open for installers to pickup products and material.

I can imagine that many businesses owners and managers are struggling to figure this all out.  How do you answer your phones?  How do you receive packages?  How do you protect your empty office?

A few years ago I struggled to find a larger space that would accomodate our growth, so I researched creating a virtual office.  I spent countless hours listening to podcasts about virtual offices, researching the right tools to implement, and testing different ideas.

If you are in the middle of trying to figure this all out and want to talk to someone for some recommendations, send me a message and I will do my best to point you in the rigth direction.  I can put you in the touch with some of the vendors and service providers that I chose and are working well for Spotter.

How do I answer my phones from Home?

The first hurdle was to upgrade to a more flexible phone system.  We had an old Nortel/Avaya analog system with phone sets that looked like they were from the 90’s.  My goal was to eliminate physical handsets and have our employee’s extension ring on a phone app or their laptops.

I spent about 20-30 hours investigating different platforms.  If you Google VOIP phone systems, you will come across all the options that I explored.  One option that you will not likely find is 3CX, an open standards communication solution that my awesome IT service provider introduced me to.  It has every feature you can imagine for a fraction of the cost.  You need an authorized dealer or good IT provider that can set it up for you, but you will not be disappointed.

Here is a cost breakdown to implement and maintain my 3CX phone system:

  • 3CX Enterprise License: Approximately $600.00 USD
  • Amazon AWS Virtual Server to host the 3CX plaftorm: $10-$15/month
  • Voice over IP lines from VOIP.MS: $30-$40 USD/Month
  • Total monthly costs = $40-$60 USD /month

How do I collaborate, talk to, and meet with my Team?

We switched to Microsoft Office 365 years ago, this product has been essential in collaborating with a virtual team.  The ability to use the PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and Outlook online has been a game changer.  You can easily create a document through a browser and securely share it with team members or customers.  Everyone can edit and collaborate on the same document without having to worry about security issues or data loss.  OneDrive and SharePoint, which is basically a tool to store and share documents in the cloud, will eliminate the need to have onsite servers and storage.  You won’t have to worry about lost time associated with viruses, hard drive crashes, or malware.  You can literally toss a computer in the e-recycle bin and start working on another computer.

Teams, Microsoft’s version of Slack, is a tool to message each other, share documents, conduct internal online meetings, call each other, share your screen, and create spaces for each department to post information.

Microsoft Office has two license versions.  Essential which will cost $7.16/month and gives you the online version of all the tools you will need.  Premium is a step up for $16.00/month and allows you to download the Microsoft Office software onto your computer.  Most employees can use Essential, while some heavier Excel and PowerPoint users will want to have a Premium license.

How do I open doors Remotely?

Brivo Access Control

Open your doors remotely with Brivo Access Control and Brivo mobile pass

Now let’s get into some security solutions that made our virtual office possible.  I have to be careful here because Spotter sells and services several different leading Access Control Platforms and they all work well in different applications.  S2 Access Control Systems is a perfect solution for medium to large enterprises that are looking to build a wide area network-based access control system. Avigilon has Avigilon ACM access control system which is perfect for applications ranging from small business to large enterprise.  Brivo is a true cloud-based access control system, perfect for small to medium size businesses or large corporations that have multiple locations with 10-15 doors per site.  We implemented Brivo at our office because it caters very well to our environment.  Spotter is a cloud first organization and we do not have any onsite servers or software.  It only made sense to go with Brivo. Our doors are equipped with Brivo’s Bluetooth readers which gives us the flexibility to use key fobs, cards, and our phones to unlock the doors. Brivo is very easy to use and one of the best features is the notifications.  We have text alerts setup for activity such as door propped open, door forced open, person entered front door during non-business hours, cleaners entered the office, and many more.

Here is a rough cost breakdown to implement a 4-door Brivo access control system:

  • Brivo 4-door Panel + Bluetooth Readers + Installation = $5500.00
  • 4 door strikes + installation = $2500.00
  • Monthly Access Control Hosting Fees = $70.00/month
  • Monthly Fee for 100 reusable mobile passes = $13.00/month
  • Total material and installation cost of $8000.00 + $83.00/month
  • You can opt for a 36-month payment plan of $240.00/month for the hardware/labour

How do I watch my office Remotely?

Security cameras have been my eyes on my empty office.  We change our camera system often to test out different software and cameras, so we have a few systems running at any given point.  Like access control, Spotter carries multiple different leading security camera system brands to cater to all industries from small business to large corporation.  Currently we are using Avigilon which makes great cameras like the H5A Line that comes with built-in video analytics.  We use Avigilon ACC7 Software which comes in a few different versions.  The reason we went with Avigilon at our office is to take advantage of the built-in video analytics to actively monitor our parking lot where our vehicles are parked.  I have rules setup to get a text alert if people enter our parking lot after hours and stop around one of our vehicles.  Through the Avigilon mobile app, I can simply hit a button to activate the siren/strobe and quickly intervene when someone is up to no good.  Inside, we have the Avigilon mini domes which are cost effective and provide a great image.  If you are looking for security cameras, there are a ton of different options available and it all depends on the size of your business, the coverage you are looking for, and what you want your security cameras to do.  Avigilon is on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to feature’s, power, and also price.

Here is a cost breakdown of our Avigilon security camera system with a rough installation price:

  • Software licenses and server for 12 cameras = $4400.00
  • 4 outdoor H5A dome cameras with video analytics = $4200.00
  • 2 outdoor H5M dome cameras : $840.00
  • 6 indoor H4 Mini domes : $2150.00
  • Rough budget installation cost: $2800.00
  • Total material and installation cost of $14,390.00
  • You can opt for a 36-month payment plan of $425.00/month

How do I answer the front door and recieve shipments?

The intercom at our front door took quite a bit of research because it had to interact seamlessly with our virtual staff.  I needed an integrated security camera and I wanted to find something that can integrate with my new VOIP phone system.  Our front door is glass with an aluminum frame, so slim intercom was a requirement.  I chose the Axis A8105-E from leading security camera manufacturer Axis Communications.  The installation was easy and it works perfectly.

We have yet to miss a delivery at our office.  When our staff is logged into the phone system, they are automatically put into a “hunt” group that rings when someone presses the intercom button at our front door. When a call is picked up, either through the phone app or on a computer, our staff can click a button and view the camera live.  Pressing zero on the virtual keypad opens the door remotely and the package is left at the front of our office.

The cost of the Axis A8105-E door station is about $1200.00 plus installation.

Although there are many benefits in working from home and creating a virtual environment, it does create a void that cannot filled by interacting with people face-to-face.  Unfortunately, it seems like virtual offices and working from home will be a new normal for the foreseeable future, so it makes sense to prepare for it sooner than later.  We do not provide phone systems or IT support; Spotter Security can only help with security technology.  If you are having problems figuring all this out, don’t hesitate to give me a call and I will point you in the right direction.