Why I love Lync 2013: A telecommuter's dream come true

After seven years of working from home, I finally have the tools to communicate and collaborate seamlessly with my remote colleagues.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of telecommuting in response to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to end work-from-home arrangements at her company.

As I said in that piece, I've been a professional telecommuter for seven years now. Five of those were spent at IBM, and two of them were spent at Unisys.

I joined Microsoft's SMS&P organization, which is is based out of Microsoft's national headquarters in Bellevue, Washington in December of last year.


Our business unit within that much larger group, which focuses on supporting our North American hosting and service provider industry partners with Microsoft's technology and helping them release their own cloud service offerings, is a tightly knit team of approximately 75 people.

While a good number of them are based in the Puget Sound area, a bunch of us are located in Southern California, Washington DC, Baltimore, Texas, Kentucky, Georgia and Florida, among other places. I also collaborate with colleagues located in the EMEA regions as well.

We are a fully distributed team, and while we do get together on occasion for teaming types of exercises and for partner-facing events, and we also do some travel to visit partners at their place of business, the majority of our workflow occurs in our home offices.

Are we an efficient and dynamic organization? Do we get our work done? Absolutely.

Certainly, we could get our work done with the traditional tools I had at my disposal at IBM, such as regular email and scheduling applications and conference line services such as AT&T.

However, my telecommuting experience and my ability to get closer to the folks with whom I work have been made that much better by the use of Lync, Microsoft's integrated VOIP/Video Conferencing/Group Presenting/Instant Messaging solution.

Now that I have Lync, I don't want to go back to doing things the old way. Why? Because it makes conferencing and communicating via voice and instant messaging effortless.

I've been using the Lync 2013 client on Windows 8 since I started at the company. It turns any PC into a powerful corporate desk and video IP phone which has access to our entire company directory via Exchange and the Active Directory Global Address List (GAL).

So I can call anyone at Microsoft, leave them a voice mail if they aren't in, or ping them with a quick IM if needed.

I can also call out to regular phone lines outside the company with an Enterprise Voice account.

It works with a wide array of Lync-compatible USB or wireless speakerphones/bluetooth extenders, such as the Plantronics Callisto, which I use on my desk at home in combination with my webcam.  

This in and of itself is pretty neat, and the audio quality is excellent even with my lousy, 18Mbps/1.5Mbps VDSL residential broadband.

But that's not why I love this thing.

As a dispersed team, we have to do a lot of conference calls. If you've had to work in an organization where this is the case, and you have to use a confernece service, you know how frustrating it can be to have to call into the number, and remember a long conference code.

It's one thing if you have your own permanent bridge number that you use all the time, but if you are calling into a conference set up by someone else, you better have it written down or can see it on the screen.

With Lync, you don't need to do that. The software is fully integrated into Exchange, so whenever you set up a call, you click a button for "New Lync Meeting" and it sets up a virtual conference line as well as the appointment blocked out in your Outlook calendar along with the meeting invites to the folks that need to join.

When it comes time to call in, you just click on "Join Lync Meeting" in the meeting entry and everyone gets connected to the conference.

Once they have joined, people can:  turn on their webcams; upload PowerPoint presentations to show the group or other document types for folks to download; and present the output of applications on their desktop. They can also instant message the group with URLs and anything else that is needed.

It just works.

Now, obviously you can't be at your desk at the home office all the time. I frequently have meetings in the local Miami/Fort Lauderdale metro area and also when I am travelling. I also have to attend conference calls when I'm at the airport, during breakfast, out eating lunch or dinner, or when I am out doing an errand or even in my car.

So how do you deal with this?

Well, in the old days, if I was using a dumb phone for business purposes -- which is what I was issued when I worked at IBM -- I would write down the call-in number and code (on a personal smartphone which I also carried) and call in at the right time.

Hopefully, I also would enter -- manually -- that appointment into my smartphone to remind me of the call, just in case I got distracted with other things going on that day. But sometimes I forgot to do that.

Have you ever had to multitask between your calendar, look up the number, jump back into the dialer, and hope you remembered it correctly? Not fun.

This is totally eliminated with Lync. Whether I am using my Windows Phone, my iPhone or an Android phone, all I need to do is click on a calendar entry for the call, and the mobile version of the Lync client contacts the remote server, and calls me on the phone, directly inserting me into the conference. Very slick.

And yes, if my data service goes down, I do have a manual, old-school conference number I can call into if I need to.

Now, that was with Lync 2010 mobile client. But this week, we were all migrated to a Lync 2013 server back-end, and Microsoft also released the Windows Phone 8, Windows Store (Modern UI) and iOS Lync 2013 native clients.

So not only can the software initiate the callback, but it can also use a Wi-Fi or a 4G data connection to do pure end-to-end VOIP as well as video conferencing, and on Windows RT tablets and iPads, we can also use (many of) the same screen and presenting features as well. 

So yes, I'm a telecommuter and I'm an effective remote worker. But much of that I attribute to Lync making life a lot easier for me.

Does your organization use Lync and has it improved your collaboration and communication experience? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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