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Set an Effective Out-of-Office Message to Reduce Workload [Communication]

It’s easy to leave a short and ineffective out-of-office message, especially when you’re leaving it on the eve of a vacation or a conference you’re excited to attend. Doing so however, just ensures more work upon your return.

Photo by makelessnoise.

Over at Ian’s Messy Desk, Ian outlines how to create a good out-of-office message. First, what does a terrible out-of-office message sound like? At the worst end of things the message simply tells the caller that you’re not there which gives them nothing to work with except that you’re unavailable to help them or answer their questions. Ian suggests including:

1. Dates of your absence. Let the contact know when you are out of the office. It helps them decide what their next step is going to be; whether to wait for your return or to direct their request elsewhere.
2. Reason for absence. I like to let my contacts know whether I am on a business trip or vacation. A business trip means I am connected to the office in some way and might be able to respond to a message. If I’m on vacation, I’m out of contact range.
3. Who to contact in your absence. I try and leave contact information for alternate contacts when I am out of the office; a minimum of one up to as many as are needed.

The emphasis on the last entry is ours. Most of the phone calls you receive while you’re out of the office will be for matters that will need to be resolved while you are gone; if you leave proper contact information for the people who would most likely be able to resolve issues that crop up while you’re gone, you’re all the more likely to return to the office with those things done and taken care of. Leaving an ineffective message creates a mountain of work for you to wade through when you return.

For more tips on leaving an effective message check out the full article at the link below. Have a tip or trick for leaving a good out-of-office message or any other aspect of preparing to be away from work? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Make Free VoIP Calls from Google Voice [How To]

Google Voice is great, but it isn’t an entirely free voice-over-internet service if you have to pay a phone bill to use it. With a few tweaks, though, you can talk to anyone on-the-cheap through Skype, or entirely for free with Gizmo.

Since we’re extremely cheap, we’ll start out with the Gizmo/Google Voice 1/2 combo, since you can use it to place and receive calls without spending a dime. If you’re particularly partial to Skype, we’ll demonstrate how you can integrate Gizmo, Voice, and Skype for cheaper Skype calls after we demonstrate how to get everything up and running with Gizmo.

What you’ll need

  • A comfortable headset: Mine’s a $30, USB-or-analog model I grabbed off the shelf at Target. If you plan to do some serious talking from in front of your monitor, read up on what works best for your ears and head.
  • Free Google Voice account: If you haven’t already requested an invite, do so now. They’re still dishing them out first-come, first-served style, and the line gets longer every time someone writes an article about the service (ahem).
  • Free Gizmo5 account: It’s a free virtual phone service that Google Voice officially supports and connects to. If you’re more of a Skype person, we’ll show you a relatively cheap solution for hooking up Gizmo to Skype.
  • Broadband net connection: Because you’re doing a good deal of data transfer and service forwarding, you’ll want a pretty good pipe for phone calls that won’t make you wish for your cell phone.

Hooking up Voice and Gizmo

Once you’ve finished signing up for Gizmo and Google Voice, head to, and log yourself in if necessary. Hit the “My” link in the upper-right corner to get to your settings page. The first box asks you to enter your Google Voice number and turn Google Voice calling on, which you should definitely do. That routes all outbound Gizmo calls through Voice, eliminating the need to buy credits for those outbound calls.

Three rows down, under the “Account Overview” section, copy your SIP Number, which you won’t need to memorize, or even use, except this one time. Head over to Google Voice, click the Settings link, then Phones, and paste that SIP number into the “Number” field. Give your Gizmo account a name like, say, Gizmo, then set the “Phone Type” to Gizmo. By default, your Gizmo/VoIP phone will always “ring” whenever someone calls your Google Voice number from any phone. I find that to be just fine, since “ringing” that phone doesn’t really affect any of your other phones, and I don’t leave my computer on at all times with the speakers at full blast. If you only want your virtual phone to ring at certain times on certain days, go ahead and tweak those settings in Voice, then hit Save.

Got those headphones handy? Plug them in, usually through a USB port or the dual red/green mic/speakers ports on your computer. Check that the headphones are picking up sounds and that the microphone is enabled in your system’s volume settings. Want to test out your Voice/Gizmo capabilities? Head to, then sign in with your Gizmo username. Hit the “Test” button for an echo test of your headset and connection. To try out an actual call, call your Google Voice number from a standard cell or landline phone you have handy, or open up Google Voice’s site in another browser tab and make a call to a phone number that won’t mind getting it.

It’s worth noting that since you’re using a VoIP service through another VoIP service’s routers, it’s fair to expect a bit of call lag. I haven’t noticed an audible difference between using Google Voice on my cellphone and through Gizmo but, then again, I’ve had seemingly worse lag experiences overall with Voice than others I’ve complained about it to. Your mileage will almost certainly vary, but if you’ve got an ultra-important phone interview for a job, consider stepping away from your headset. Otherwise, it probably works just fine for normal conversations.

Calling tools

If all went well between Voice and Gizmo, you’ve got a few options for making and receiving free calls through your headset with Voice and Gizmo:

  • The site: You can keep the page itself loaded in your browser, or click the “Open in separate window” link to keep it separate from your browsing work. When it first opens, your Flash plug-in will ask for access to your microphone and speakers, which you should grant and hit “Remember” to avoid future prompts.

    Want to reduce browser tab necessities and make Gizmo even more convenient? Check out Google Voice Tricks’ write-up on embedding Gizmo’s gadget into Gmail.

  • Gizmo software: Available for download for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, Gizmo the application is very similar to Skype, sitting in the system tray and popping up an alert window when a new call is coming in. It also tracks your VoIP calling separate from your Google Voice account, which can be helpful for client billing or other purposes. If you’re planning to keep Gizmo open to accept calls, you’ll probably want to import your contacts into it to recognize callers. You can only import an Outlook-formatted file into Gizmo, but that’s one of the formats most contact managers (Google, Apple Mail, etc.) can export to.
  • Google Voice site: You’ll still need to have some kind of Gizmo notifier running to receive calls, but Google Voice’s own site is pretty handy for making calls. Load up the site (or keep it loaded as a permatab), hit “c” to make a call, type in a contact name or phone number, then select your Gizmo number as the caller. Google will ring you at Gizmo, and once you pick up, the call starts ringing through to the intended receiver.

Forwarding to Skype

If you’re already set up with a Skype name and lots of contacts and you’d prefer to keep Skype as your go-to VoIP app, you can get Google Voice and Gizmo to route calls to Skype for notably less money than Skype charges for its call-out service. Alternately, if you only need to make the occasional Skype call and don’t want to bother installing software and getting a user account, Gizmo and Google are available there, too.

Gizmo explains all the potential uses and ins and outs at its OpenSky page, and also lists pricing. You can make free calls to Skype names and forward your Voice/Gizmo calls to Skype for anywhere from 1-5 minutes, depending on server load—fine for quick "Call me back" or "Here's the deal" messages, but not conversations. OpenSky claims a $20/year price for basically unlimited calling of up to 2 hours per call. We don't do a lot of Skype out calling, but that seems like a pretty good deal.

Whether you're going the free short call route or paying for some OpenSky credit, setting up a Voice-to-Gizmo-to-Skype connection is fairly easy. Head to your Gizmo5 settings page again, then head to the "Forwarding Gizmo5 Calls" section. Set Gizmo to forward all calls to Skype, then fill in your Skype username. That's it—when someone rings your Voice number, if you've got Voice configured to ring you at Gizmo, then you'll actually be rung up at Skype. The last thing you'll need to do is enable Skype to accept calls from anonymous callers—kind of a pain, but necessary, because Gizmo routes your calls through different Skype names from time to time.

That’s the starting point for integrating free (or very cheap) VoIP with Google Voice, but with such open, geeky services, we’re sure there’s a lot more that can be done. Post up your questions, suggestions, and neat hacks in the comments.

Fonolo Records Customer Service Calls for You [Customer Service]

Fonolo, the previously mentioned webapp that phones directly to the right spot in a customer service phone tree, added another killer pro-customer feature: One-click call recording, right from the spot where you jump into the “Press 1 for X” fray.

Fonolo’s basic functionality is still the same. Find the company you’re calling from among the roughly 500 supported, then browse through a tabbed phone tree listing of all the options, with the voice prompts transcribed for easy navigation. Click on the prompt you want to jump to, enter your phone number (unless you’re logged in with a number stored in an account), then wait for Fonolo to dial in and get to that point, at which point it calls you to connect. From the Fonolo web page, you can hit “Start Call Recording,” or the microphone in the upper-right corner, and your discussion about that mysterious charge is noted for your dispute-settling convenience.

Having a record of everything that goes down in a customer service call is one of the surest ways of getting better customer service, and the playback and download functions are made easy enough in your account page at Fonolo.

Fonolo is a free service, requires a sign-up to save recordings and automate phone number connections. It’s also available as a free application for Anrdoid phones.

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