AnswerConnect is a software-based answering service based in Portland.
Calls are forwarded to live receptionists who answer questions. The company also provides call centers, lead capturing tools, and video and chat connectivity for distributed workers.
CEO Natalie Ruiz told the Business Tribune, "The technology really came about back in 2007 when we transitioned our own team to work anywhere. What we found was there was not the right tech to do that well. We created our own tech that combined different pieces of software into one. We can see geographically where our team is, if they are logged in and what status they're in, chats, group chats, video calls, what work they are working on."
The company now has 1,000 people — mostly virtual receptionists and client account managers. Clients include small businesses, such as house painters, where the owner is often too busy running the company to take every call.
"It is not based on how big the company is, but it is based on what they need. They are, on average, paying between $200-$300 for our whole suite of services."
"The sweet spot in a video call is between five and twenty people," she told the Business Tribune.
"I would not have wanted it to be a governor mandating it for us. But that is where we are, and we all need to be overly communicative, be human, and treat working-from-home like work because it is. I think if companies do this and in three months after all of this, there will be some staying power in remote work flexibility. It truly gives people back their time. People spend an hour a day commuting, so working from home saves tons of time. For me personally, it was more than an hour of commute."
Real versus virtual
The company also had a large office at Southeast Main and 11th Avenue, but half of it was not being used. People were only coming in for collaborative work, so they turned half of the space from desks into collaborative space, and hosted a meal there once a week.
The app allows Ruiz one-click access to video or audio calls to anyone in the company, across the globe. "I can see who's online and where and what they've been working on."
The clients include healthcare, real estate, accountants, attorneys, HVAC, house painting, and service providers such as salons and spas.
"I believe that people who have now gotten a taste of working from home, and they can thrive, they can be productive. They're not going to want to return to an office 100% of the time. So possibly they get one day a week and are connecting over video instead of battling traffic two hours a day. That's going to be a hard sell, to go back to the old way."
There will still be offices, and there will always be in-person meetings.
"But I think we'll all have learned that there are some alternatives, and that levels the playing field, for accessibility, for budget, for the time investment that's required to make some of these in-person connections happen."
"When it comes to jumping into the deep end on working from home offices, my advice would be to breathe. To know that it can get better, and to be really honest about what's working and what's not working, because, in any normal transition, there are bumps. So, I wouldn't expect business leaders to think that their first week or two into this is going to be perfection. And that doesn't mean it's a failure. It just means we have to keep working."
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