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Virtual Office: Can You Gain Mobility?

In our last article, we discussed the security benefits of using a virtual office. In this blog, we’ll cover how a virtual office can help to make your job easier and more enjoyable.

Let’s face it, you can have a beautiful corner office — but it’s still an office. Very few normal human beings enjoy being stuck in an office let alone commuting to one everyday. Thankfully, it seems that physical offices are becoming sparser these days for a wide variety of reasons.

Virtual Office: Why Consider Mobility?

Many of you reading this might have been skeptical about the idea of a mobile office. Back in the 1980s, mobile working meant having a giant word processor, dot matrix printer and wired car phone. Compared to what we have available today, that seems more like a nightmare than progress. Today, you may be concerned about how you can effectively manage your employees in a remote environment.

For the past decade or so, more businesses have been moving to mobile workers. This allows for flexibility, creates an always-on (or always-accessible) workforce, and eases national recruiting. Once the recent pandemic hit, much of their day to day operations continued without consequence. Those that hadn’t considered mobility were quickly forced into finding a way to send employees remote. Since we don’t know how long the current crisis will continue or what the future may present, the current COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of why it’s best to consider creating a virtual office.

If you can work from home or on the go, you’re free from the office and can work wherever, whenever. Have a doctor’s appointment? Keep up with your clients, so you don’t have to take personal time. Did last night’s weather make the roads unsafe? Run your reports from your home office while not putting your life at risk. It’s no secret that employees who have the option to work from anywhere are happier employees who often stay at their company longer.

Virtual Office: An Office In Your Pocket

Here’s an important question: why do you go into work all? Some people have to be at a location to do a specific task. For example, you won’t find too many jobs as a carpenter working remotely. If a particular job requires that a person be on location, there isn’t much you can change.

However, many of us come into the office every day just to sit at a computer and use commonly available software to do our job. Other than meetings (that can usually be an email) or for workplace gossip at lunch, there’s no reason you have to go to that office to sit at that computer. If a portion or all of your workforce fits into that category, why bother wasting all that money on a large workspace? Many companies find that even if a few employees have to be in the office, they can still cut down the size and location of facilities significantly. It’s not uncommon to see a company with 100+ employees using an office with less than a dozen offices or workstations.

A Real Solution

Up to this point, we’ve only talked about this concept of a mobile office in the abstract. What exactly is a mobile/virtual office?

You can log on to any system mobile, desktop, laptop or otherwise and have the same exact experience as you would have on your desktop computer. All of the apps are there, in full functionality, all with single sign-on and secure multi-factor authentication.

Besides being as secure as a bank vault, this style of a virtual office gives you the ability to work at any location on any device. Just a generation ago, no one could have dreamed of this kind of freedom or flexibility! Start your day off on your desktop, run a quick errand while connecting to your smartphone, sit on the back porch with your laptop, then end your workday lounging on your tablet—all while connected to the “office.” What happens if your device gets lost, damaged, or stolen? Nothing. Your data isn’t stored on the device itself and logging in requires multi-level authentication, which we routinely monitor.

While it’s true that other types of systems have existed in the past that allowed remote access to systems, they were rather clunky, slow and nonsecure.

Bring your operation into the 21st century! If you can move some or all of your workforce into virtual offices, now is the perfect time. Contact us today to see how we can quickly get your operation virtualized and running at peak efficiency—anytime, anywhere!

Hacking, Phishing, Ransomware, and over-all Data Breaches are on the rise. It seems that every advancement we make with data security, hackers are able to find a way through.

In this blog, we will discuss the importance of keeping your data secure. While we are using Medical Offices as an example, this information crosses over to almost every industry. If you use cloud storage, proprietary software, and store personal data, this blog holds valuable information for you.

Your Clients Put Their Trust in You

Medical professionals are not only entrusted with caring for the health of their patients, but also for keeping their information private. Given that, it’s no wonder why physicians must be some of the most trustworthy people in our communities.

However, on the other end of the spectrum are those who actively look to take advantage of the information that medical practices and hospital systems have accumulated over the years. But why are medical records so valuable and what can be done to protect them?

Richer Than You Think

Medical databases are among the top targets for hackers with more and more breaches taking place each year — but why? CBS News reported that while a social security number may be worth $1 and a credit card number $110 on the dark web (average numbers), a single medical record can be worth a whopping $1000 or more!

The reason for the value is that your medical records typically have more personal information than any other source out there. This may include your social security number, address, phone number, banking information, and a lot more. With so much at play, it’s no surprise why hackers are starting to focus more on these records than any other.

Who Bears the Responsibility?

Everyone in the healthcare industry in the US is aware that HIPAA prevents sharing medical information except under particular circumstances. But what if that information left your hands and was spread involuntarily? Although it may be a gray area, there’s still the strong likelihood that the medical office could be held liable, at least in a civil court — especially if they haven’t done everything possible to avoid the hack. Don’t forget that data breaches cost the healthcare industry upwards of $6 billion per year.

How to Protect Your Patients — and Yourself 

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are often used by the medical industry to help avoid such situations. One way we do this is by helping these customers when it comes time to update ICD codes, (International Classification of Diseases). This can be tricky since HIPAA approved systems aren’t always the easiest to upgrade. Not only is the computer update important, but the people updates are as well.

Also, there is plenty for your MSP to do in helping you avoid HIPAA violations. For instance, any device used that contains or has access to patient information needs to be encrypted. In 2016, one iPhone that was lost at a single facility ended up created a $650,000 fine. Remember: it’s not your fault if the device is lost or stolen, but it is your fault if you failed to encrypt the information beforehand.

In a similar vein, when you dispose of older devices, you can’t just toss them in a dumpster and go about your day. These devices must be wiped clean, often in a way more substantial than just deleting records. While that might be acceptable if you want to dispose of your personal devices, those who understand computers can quickly get access to files that weren’t properly deleted. A good MSP can make that happen as part of their standard service.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Where you store your data is also a major part of data security. As we previously mentioned, some medical practices have used standard cloud storage and paid a heavy price when data was easily breached. While it’s true that cloud storage is easy and often a more inexpensive option, you have far less control over the information and the security of that data if it is out of your hands. Unless you use a top-of-the-line service, your data will be vulnerable as weaker services make prime targets for hackers. After all, why go after an individual when you can get data from thousands of companies at once through a cloud service?

Even if you decide to go with local storage, who has access to your data? With the genuine value of these records along with the absolute risk of liability, if things go sour, you need to be very careful with whom you allow access to the database. MSPs make sure that not only will your information be safe, but that the people who oversee your databased have all the proper education and certifications to avoid any problems down the line.

Bottom Line

Let’s get real for a second here. Medicine and medical technology are advancing at breakneck speeds. Would most people feel comfortable with a physician who hasn’t been to a class or conference since graduating from medical school? Of course not!

Data security is exactly the same. As hackers become more and more advanced, MSPs must stay one step ahead of them to protect our clients. That’s why we make it a point to continually train our team on new security options and protocols.

If you don’t have a robust security plan in place for your office or business, don’t wait to give us a call. Every moment you’re not protected is a moment of opportunity for a pirate to rob you over your clients’ trust and confidence.

If your organization is starting to fall behind over a lack of attention to your IT, contact us today. Our expert team will be more than happy to evaluate your needs and help you implement and maintain the most reasonable and secure solution. The only thing you have to lose is sleepless nights.

In last week’s blog, Can VoIP Help Your Business, we took a look at the pros, cons, and the ease of VoIP installation, and concluded that, yes, most likely it can help your business. Today we’ll do a deeper dive into the benefits you will see by switching to a VoIP Phone System.

We can’t, however, talk about the current popularity VoIP is having without bringing up COVID-19 and the restrictions it has caused across the country. Due to the pandemic’s quarantine, many employees from all kinds of businesses were directed to work from home, if they were lucky enough to keep their jobs, that is. This sudden crisis caused businesses to scramble and create new ways for those employees to communicate with their managers and clients. At first business owners were skeptical about this arrangement. Up until now, it has always been easy to monitor the work of employees, but how can we know what they’re doing if they are working remotely?

Suddenly webcams flew off the shelves and many suppliers ran out completely. Laptops were also being scooped up, and new cellular contracts were signed so employees would have ways to stay in touch with their office. It’s the cell phones that bother us. As you know all too well, the average cost of a cellular contract is between $40 and $80 dollars per month. More usually, with hidden fees and penalties if you use too much data. And who hasn’t done that?

On top of those costs, you have to buy the phone! Sure, sometimes they’ll throw in the phone, but, if not, you’re looking at $600 to $1,000 for each phone. Possibly more if you’re investing in something suitable for work. This is where a lot of businesses were hit hard in the pocketbooks. And, unnecessarily so, if you ask us. There’s got to be a better way!

And there is! Let’s take a look at some of the key reasons VoIP is such a hot topic right now:

Easy Installation

IP phones are virtually plug-and-play. There is no need to run separate phone lines – your VoIP phone connects to the same network cable your PC runs on. Or, for some applications, you can even use it through WIFI. The phones are easy to maintain and should last years with normal usage.

Telecommuting

VoIP technology is extremely portable, and it easily allows users to connect to your system from their office or at home. It’s even easy to connect if your employees travel abroad. Your employee’s dedicated phone number is linked to them wherever they choose to work.

Conferencing

With standard phone systems, you’ll often end up paying an additional service fee for hosting multiple callers when you set up a conference call. Those days are over when you switch to a VoIP system.

Scalability

VoIP systems allow you to add or delete lines as your pool of employees grows or shrinks. You only pay for what you use, and phones are easy to add, delete, or move. You can also use your desktop computer, your smartphone, or laptop to make and receive calls through your browser or a special app.

Additional Features

There are many features VoIP offers that can help small businesses, such as; customizable call forwarding options, customizable greetings, automatic call transfer, voicemail transcription to email, detailed usage reports to help control costs, and an updatable customer contact book. There are also instant messaging and video chat functions you can use, and you can even set-up an automatic phone recording that may help resolve customer issues in the future.

You’ll also get advanced call center functions. With state-of-the-art analytics, you can track the usage of your staff and calculate the amount of time they’re contacting your customers. Cloud-based phone systems are proven to be reliable and secure.

The Cost

The monthly and yearly cost of using a VoIP system is much less than using a conventional phone provider. Not only does daily use cost less, but long-distance calls are also cheaper when using VoIP phones. The typical savings over older phone systems is 40% or more. The reason for this is, with traditional phone systems, a call is made by switching the path through a series of physical exchanges until it reaches its destination. The more exchanges you need to complete the call the more it may cost. And those exchanges need a lot of upkeep.

With a VoIP system, your voice is turned into a data packet with an identifier, and sent through your existing network, through the cloud, and into the network of your destination.

To get set up you need to get your network checked, purchase the phones, and find the best monthly contract that fits your needs. And the good news is we can help you with all of that.

A very recent study just reported that, due to the COVID-19 quarantine, 15.2% of all small businesses that closed their doors will not re-open. We don’t need to tell you that the main reason most of them won’t re-open is because of a lack of funds. When it comes to running a business, you’re always looking for ways to cut costs. And, as you can see, VoIP phone systems are definitely cost savers. Watch your budget and don’t become a statistic.

Contact us today and find out if a VoIP phone system is the kind of technology you’ve been waiting for.

Over the past couple of months, everything has changed. Many of these changes will have ongoing impacts on our businesses. As we begin to see businesses looking toward their futures again. It’s time to take a look at the state of the union. Particularly where things stand with technology, communication, and the workforce of the future.

Shifts in Communication

A popular meme at the beginning of this pandemic said, “we’ll now see which meetings really could be emails.” While we have seen our clients tighten up their communication by shifting to chat platforms like Teams, we’ve noticed an even greater shift toward video communication. In fact, webcams flew off the shelves so quickly that some are still back-ordered. More practical video conferencing ushered in new etiquette expectations for surviving the new workplace, and we expect continued heavy use of video conferencing moving forward. Many offices have seen it is a much more efficient, yet personable way to gather teams together. See the whites of people’s eyes, and check-in on both a personal and productivity level. We highly recommend gathering with your teams on video chat daily. Twice a day if possible. Even as people return to the office. Maintain these meetings to sustain connections, particularly if you have a hybrid workforce with some in office and some remote.

A Note on Web Cams

Webcams are a fantastic lens into your employees’ and clients’ worlds; however, hackers also love to access webcams. They’ll install a backdoor virus on your system through social engineering, a link you clicked, or they could be phishing for information. Then use the stolen info to turn on your webcam without your permission or your knowledge. We recommend limiting the platforms that have permission to utilize your webcam, as well as utilizing a webcam cover when you’re not actively on camera (a sticky note or opaque tape will even work in a pinch).

Rising Safety Concerns

Nefarious hackers are taking advantage of the confusion, frustration, and fear surrounding COVID-19. Social engineering attempts are on the rise as they use COVID-19 related “news” to lure people into giving up their information. People working from home traditionally don’t have enterprise-grade firewalls and anti-virus protection. If you continue to work from home during and post-pandemic, bear in mind these seven necessities.

You also need to consider where the pandemic ranks on your disaster-preparedness planning. Prior to this event, you probably hadn’t considered what would happen if you had to scramble to get all of your employees working remotely or how to keep business operational in a curbside pick-up-only world. Now’s the time to make sure you document your plan. Write down what you did well this time, and what you would change should something like this ever happen again. We have no excuse to enter another pandemic unprepared. Next time, businesses should be able to continue much more smoothly.

Events in Motion

Many industries live and die by their conferences. Some have chosen to cancel in-person meetings for the foreseeable future, while others have pivoted to online platforms. An online event cannot take the place of everyone meeting up at a bar for networking or cruising the tradeshow floor looking for your next business investment. However, we highly recommend embracing the growing virtual event culture.

Lunch and Learns can be moved to webinars. Training events can be moved to streamed sessions. In-person casino nights can translate to online bingo games and video karaoke. We may have gone a little too far with that last one, but the point is, when the world changes we need to embrace the technology. Connections do not have to suffer due to diminished in-person events. You just have to choose the right platform and continue to move forward, which is something we can help you with technologically. 

Where is the workforce heading

A recent Gallup poll indicates that between March 13 and March 30, the percentage of people working remotely increased from 31% to 62% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that people are starting to return to offices, 60% would prefer to continue to work from home. Employers who create adaptable work environments will be more likely to keep their top employees and maintain a positive work environment than those who make rigid demands to bring everyone back to the office. Flexible and remote work is the future, whether business owners want to admit it or not.

On the plus side, there will be less need for high overhead office space, upkeep, and on-site framework. On the other hand, employers will have to make a significant investment in culture, productivity tracking, and cloud infrastructure to ensure their teams remain productive. Now is the time to set your remote work policies, determine who and how people can work from home, and create your technology roadmap to keep your remote and on-site workforce on the leading edge.

A Note About Perfect Attendance Culture

Regardless of how you decide to handle remote work globally, decide what you want people to do when they are sick. A traditional “we’ll rest when we’re dead, as long as you still have a pulse come to the office” mentality is not going to work moving forward. First, it’s bad for the health of all of your employees. Second, some individuals are going to be more sensitive to hearing coughs and sniffles in the office; which will impact how often they, in turn, call in sick, or if they’ll leave for greener pastures with more flexible policies. Third, this strange time has provided a glimpse of the potential impact of communicable disease.

It’s time to truly believe and enforce the “if you’re sick, stay home” philosophy. Thankfully, remote work means staying home doesn’t halt all work if an employee feels up to it; but be sensitive to the importance of rest. Put in place a clear policy of when you expect people to stay home when they can work from home (minor illness, family member illness), and when you expect them to take legitimate sick time.

The Bottom Line

We are anxious for everyone to get back to work in however they feel safest. Maybe continuing to work from home, bringing in a skeleton crew, or hitting things full force with your entire staff. Regardless of your path forward. We know that adjustments need to be made to ensure your technology, culture, and strategy are ready for this new-age. May this state of the union point you in the right direction.

You’ve probably grown tired of hearing the words “adjusting to the new normal.” Unfortunately, though, there’s really no other way to say it. This pandemic has permanently changed our work environment, whether you’re already back in the office or remain in quarantine for several more weeks. We must create a new normal for how we work, manage network security, and maintain productivity across a more widespread team. For example, a client earlier this week asked with their employees working from home, how are they supposed to ensure HIPAA compliance? What if someone innocently leaves the computer screen open, or takes a note with a patient’s name and walks away from the notebook? Here’s how we recommend redefining work parameters to create the greatest opportunity for compliance and security in all work situations. 1. No personal systems. If you allow your staff to utilize their personal systems to work, store company data, and interact with customers, you’re just asking for a data breach. First, you have no control over that system. You can’t log in to perform updates, ensure it has the latest virus definitions, or wipe it if they left the company or were terminated. Second, they are probably not running the strongest virus protection, intrusion prevention, and monitoring. Supply systems that meet minimum standards. Some companies have sent employees home with their work equipment. As long as it’s properly documented, this is a safer bet than letting someone go rogue (intentionally or unintentionally) on an un-managed personal machine. 2. Clear Expectations. There is a difference between working from home and lounging on the couch in your pajamas getting work done. If you’re expecting people to be effective remote workers, set clear expectations for their work setup and communicate clearly. For example: 3. Signed Employee Agreement. Whether you expect remote work to be a temporary situation or believe it’s a permanent shift, put in place a clear remote worker agreement. It should lay out all of the expectations that we listed above. If you’re expecting employees back in the office, reiterate the temporary nature of the arrangement. If it’s a trial, state that. Working from home is one of those things that seems really appealing at the beginning, but depending on the worker, it may or may not be effective. As the employer, you want to maintain the option to bring them back into the office, if necessary. 4. Regular Communication. We recommend touching base via video at least once a day and having one other scheduled touchpoint – video, phone, email recap, something that is scheduled and required for each and every employee, whether they’re on-site or remote. You cannot underestimate the power of water cooler conversation throughout the day, so you need to find some way to replace that in order to keep your employees engaged and effective. One of the ways we do this is by opening each meeting with a “good thing.” Every team member shares something good (personal/professional) happening in their lives. When you’re in the thick of it, sometimes it’s hard to come up with something good; but it sets a positive tone for the meeting and allows you to get to know a little bit more about your staff. We also encourage shenanigans more than usual. Perhaps set up a chat feed for funny memes, allow people to use filters on their video calls, just something that brings a little levity and lets people connect outside of their daily tasks. 5. Effective Administration. Ultimately, adapting to this new normal is all about effective administration. Have the right policies in place, communicate the standards and expectations, follow-up with your employees, partner with an MSP that specializes in creating secure, remote workspaces. Together, we’ll continue creating this new normal.