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Surviving the New Workplace

With the ongoing situation in the world, there are many people who are furloughed or laid off from their jobs. Those of us who can work from home are very fortunate to be able to keep working through this crisis.

Some companies have been hesitant to let their employees work remotely. Although there is a slew of benefits that might keep employees working from home even after the COVID-19 crisis settles. There are some unique challenges that come alongside remote work, though. Here are some new issues that may arise and what can be done to lessen the blow.

Keep in Touch

When you work in an office with your employees, you may take that proximity for granted. Even if you don’t have daily meetings, how often do you stop by for a minute just to see how things are doing or for a quick update on a project? This creates a relationship beyond just instructions from a faceless email.

Make sure to take the time to check in daily with your team, perhaps even a couple of times a day, and make these connections on video. There’s no shortage of free or low-cost programs (such as Skype, Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting) that can help you stay in touch without wasting too much time. The more often you do these meetings, the more efficient the process will be for everyone. We recommend a 15-minute huddle in the morning, as well as something to close out the day.

Stay Positive

Working from home sounds great, but it can be an adjustment, especially if you’ve been forced into it like many are today. People may find themselves getting claustrophobic and uneasy since they no longer have a routine of getting ready for work, traveling, and just getting out of the house. For many, this can be a source of anxiety and stress.

Keep meetings informative, but uplifting. Don’t just talk about work — have everyone talk about a positive thing that happened. It could even be something as simple as finding a new series that they like or their children making breakfast for the family etc.

Make it Personal

In addition to group meetings, make it point to meet with employees one-on-one at least once a week, more if you have ongoing projects that need attention. When you’re home alone or with the family, it can get really easy to be sidetracked compared to working in the office.

Remember that, for some people, the office is their main source of socializing, so this connection could be a lifeline to them as they’re isolated at home. Younger employees also appreciate more frequent feedback from their superiors. Without this, they can get easily distracted or disheartened.

Be the Fun Boss

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your employees are going to work 8 solid hours a day at home. As long as they are getting their work done at a high level of quality, it’s best just to leave that be. In fact, encourage downtime and even create games or challenges for your team. With everything going on, if you don’t give them the occasional distraction, they’ll find something on their own that could end up keeping them off task for longer.

Keep Their Heads in the Cloud

Since they are now working remotely, make sure that your team’s data is backed up properly is crucial. While most companies are using a cloud storage solution on some level, others rely mostly or entirely on server storage. Find a way to make sure that all your employees’ work is backed up safely and efficiently. This type of data solution will also allow employees to work on a project simultaneously even if they’re physically separated.

Hardware and Software Checks

The last thing you want is your employees to have nothing to do because they don’t have the proper tools. Whether you provide them with their equipment or they’re using their own. Make sure that your team always has everything they need to do their work. To avoid progress interruptions, keep all software licenses for programs such as Microsoft Office up to date.

Lastly, don’t forget security considerations. Especially if they’re using their own equipment. Since what works at home may not cut it for your business needs.

We were all forced into a new work environment very quickly. With that being said we think this shift is just a picture of times to come. In fact, some predict that 20% of the workforce will be fully remote within the next two years. That’s why an MSP might be your best option to help in these trying times. We have the tools, resources and experience needed to take care of all considerations without ever having to step foot in your office. Contact us today and we can show you how we can start to implement your perfect solution for your business.

Just as people were starting to get in front of stay-at-home recommendations with robust video conferencing and on-line learning options, “zoombombing” was born, proving yet again that evil knows no bounds.

Zoombombing occurs when hackers break into Zoom meetings and wreak havoc by sharing inappropriate video or drawings, screaming obscenities, or posting hate speech. They attack open meetings, those that have no password, have posted the password online or that allow everyone to share their screen.

Hackers have worked swiftly to develop programs that can scrape hundreds of Zoom Meeting IDs every minute. Then, they go hunting for the most vulnerable meetings. Schools, church meetings, and even a student defending his doctoral thesis have been affected. The FBI has issued a warning about these challenges and Zoom has publicly apologized for their lapses in security.

What can you do about it? Businesses rely on successful video conferencing today to keep their teams connected, conduct meetings, and to continue to move the sales process forward as much as possible when the world is at a stand-still. Locking down your meetings with proper security protocols is the most important thing you need to do when video conferencing during COVID-19 and beyond. Here are a few steps you can take.

Use Alternate Platforms

Zoom is likely the biggest target because it is a free platform with an easy to use interface. It also has a few admitted security holes, placing it high on the list of easy to hack software. We recommend choosing an alternative, if possible. An upgraded version of Zoom with built-in, protected meeting rooms could be the answer. Teams, GoTo Meeting, or WebEx are your best alternatives. While more costly, these are more secure and protected programs.

Lockdown Your Zoom Meetings

If you choose to utilize Zoom, make sure that you’re following a few important security protocols.

  1. Do not publish the meeting ID online. People do this to try to get a lot of audience participation in things like study groups or discussion platforms. This is just inviting a Zoombomber into your meeting. Instead, publish contact information to get the Meeting ID and login. Then, only provide the login to people that you know and trust.
  2. Secure meetings with a password. While it’s a little bit more challenging for people to enter, this extra step ensures that a nefarious player can’t gain access.
  3. Only allow one host. Some Zoombombers are getting in because the meeting is set to allow multiple hosts. That means they can actually start the meeting for you. Restrict your meetings to only one host.
  4. Lock down screen sharing. Only allow the host to screen share. You can pass this control as needed, but you shouldn’t just allow everyone to take control.
  5. Utilize the waiting room feature. This allows you to confirm people before they enter the meeting. Only allow those you know in.
  6. Use mute diligently. As the host, you have the ability to mute all participants. Know where that button is and prepare to use it should anything go awry.

Copious video conferences are going to be in our daily lives for the foreseeable future. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay safe.

COVID-19 has forced event cancellations, school closures, and a consideration for remote work where possible. As more companies are sending their employees home to work, we compiled this list of tips to be successful away from the office.

  1. Reliable Internet: Nothing is more frustrating than having spotty Internet, especially when you’re trying to work on a big project through a remote access connection to your work computer. Most Internet packages available today will be fine. However, you might need to curb ancillary access of the Internet, like streaming and gaming if you’re trying to do something more than upload and download documents. If your Internet seems slow, shut down and restart your router/modem. This can sometimes speed things up for a while.
  2. Good Computer Hygiene: You know that “It’s time to update” pop-up that you’ve been avoiding for weeks? Take the time to update. This is most likely handled automatically by your IT team at the office, but your home system may be woefully behind, curbing your speed, as well as opening up unnecessary security holes. We recommend applying security patches as they are released to keep your computer up to date. Not sure if there are updates available? You can check your computer’s control panel for notifications. You can also try simply restarting your system. Often, the updates will kick into gear.

To maximize effectiveness, watch the number of programs you’re attempting to run and browser windows you have open at any given time. Computers are not great multi-taskers; they will regularly switch between a multitude of processes (the instructions behind your applications) to complete commands. In fact, the number of processors in your system is the maximum number of things your computer can be “working” on at once, so if you’re seeing a drop-off in performance, take a moment to close a few programs that are not actively in use.

  1. Connect Securely: In order to protect your business, connect through remote access software or VPN. This will allow you to use your regular work desktop without risking business data in an open atmosphere. Consult with your IT team to review their plan for remote access as well as enterprise-grade antivirus before beginning remote work.
  2. Establish a Routine: When you go into the office, you have a clear routine. You come in, grab a cup of coffee, banter with your co-workers for a few minutes, sit down at your desk, and get to business. While it may be appealing to work in your pajamas, try to maintain as much normalcy as possible. Stick with a clear starting time and work schedule. Create an office space so that you’re not just piled up on the couch. Plan to get dressed and ready for the day, just like you’re going into the office. In essence, act like it’s just another day at the office.
  3. Over-communicate: You may find yourself feeling isolated pretty quickly when working from home. This is likely because you’re missing out on the short interactions and general banter with your colleagues. We highly recommend setting up a daily touch-base with your team in order to discuss priorities, work through sticking points, and to simply connect with other human beings.

Don’t be afraid to send more progress emails than normal. Utilize messaging apps liberally, and don’t underestimate the power of a video chat or meeting. If an email exchange is getting too long (more than three replies back and forth without solving the problem) pick up the phone.

Working from home can be an efficient way to keep a business running. When done right, you can be just as productive, if not more so, than at the office. Enjoy the opportunity presented by COVID-19 concerns to establish a new work normal, at least for a short period of time.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are considering work-from-home options to facilitate social-distancing and to keep their workforce healthy. However, it’s not as simple as sending your employees home, firing up personal laptops, and getting to work. Here are seven things you need to have lined up in order to successfully deploy your remote workforce.

  1. Secure Remote Access: Employees should not have open access to everything on their work systems from their personal computers. This keeps company data protected. In order to be productive through this pandemic, however, employers will need to provide a secure connection utilizing VPN or remote access software. These solutions will mirror the employee’s work desktop without housing all of the data on the individual’s personal system, allowing them to seamlessly continue work.
  2. File Sharing Capabilities: While people will be working in isolation, they must still be able to collaborate. File sharing/group editing software will be critical to moving forward on creative or documentation projects through real-time editing, commenting, and versioning. Software like Dropbox for Business, Microsoft Teams/Sharepoint or Google Documents fill this need securely.
  3. Enterprise Level Antivirus: Basic home-level antivirus is not sufficient, particularly in secured industries. Extend your enterprise-level antivirus to home systems that will have access to your network in order to create an added layer of protection. You may also consider deploying firewalls on top of individual’s home networks to create the same secure connection employees experience in your office.
  4. Video Conferencing: Meetings must go on while people work remotely; however, voice-only leaves much to be desired in terms of tone and context. We highly recommend putting in place video conferencing options. You can implement something as simple as Google Duo/FaceTime, or something more feature intensive, like Zoom or GoToMeeting.
  5. Messaging Software: You can’t just spin your chair around to talk to your co-worker when working remote, yet it’s not efficient to always pick up the phone. We recommend implementing a messaging software like Microsoft Teams or Slack to open communication channels and allow employees to continue to interact quickly and accurately. Utilizing these tools, you can set up one-on-one conversations or set up channels to facilitate team communication.
  6. Phone: A strong VoIP solution will allow employees to take their office phone numbers remotely on their cellphones without giving out their cellphone numbers. Office calls will transfer seamlessly to the employee’s cellphones, voice mails will be sent via email, and the employee can dial-out using a phone application to maintain office functionality.
  7. Remote Access Policy: Prior to providing access to your employees, put in place a clear access policy that acknowledges that your company monitors whatever they do while connected. Employees should be encouraged to act as if they are on site even while working remotely and reminded that punishments for doing something illegal/against company policy will apply.

The COVID-19 situation is ever-changing. Schools across the nation have been closed and events have been cancelled. While it may make sense to keep your employees on-site for now, we believe it’s important to have a plan should you need to close your physical offices. Getting these seven pieces of the puzzle in line will prepare you to take your workforce remote. For assistance implementing these things, contact us today.

We hope you understand that this article is being written with tears in our eyes. After months of being part of the loud choir warning about the End of Life of Windows 7, some estimates state that up to 32% of all computers worldwide are still using this operating system!

Currently, the most common cyberattacks against small and medium businesses are phishing, malware, denial of service attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, and ransomware. A man-in-the-middle attack is named that way because a hacker wedges a barrier between two parties who are conducting a business transaction. The hacker then becomes the liaison for data swapping, so it is easy to steal sensitive data. An SQL breach involves installing malicious code into a SQL server and then siphoning out the data. And we’ve all heard the latest horror stories on how ransomware is holding businesses, corporations, and even whole cities hostage.

Although the funeral seats of Windows 7 are still warm, the first major attacks and vulnerabilities are already starting to raise their ugly heads. As the OS becomes more and more obsolete and more information is passed from hacker to hacker on the Dark Web, the overall safety of your data becomes less and less.

Count the Costs

Data breaches do a lot more than just cause chaos in your office. Once your system has been compromised, you need to find a way to get your information back, either because you need it to function or because it may contain sensitive information. The 2018 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report calculated that on average, a data breach can cost your company $148 — per record. Many companies have hundreds, thousands or even millions of records!

Besides the costs of just having the records themselves stolen, think of the liability that those stolen records can expose you to. Think about lawsuits if your customers’ personal or financial records become available to the public. If you’re a medical office or happen to have medical files on patients, a hack can put you in hot water with HIPPA violations, which can put you on the line for up to $25,000 for each breached file. Clearly just on a financial level, making sure your company is protected is worth its weight in gold.

The Problem and Solution

So, what exactly are hackers looking for? In a perfect world, they can trick you by either downloading a virus or hooking you with a phishing scheme. However, computer users have become more knowledgeable over the years, so those scenarios have become only minor tools for hackers.

As the expression goes, “Every lock has a key.” Sometimes there are ways to get into your system that were put there by design and sometimes the programmers made a mistake and created a backdoor in the OS without realizing it. Either way, it’s usually only a matter of time before one or more hackers find their way into your system. Once one finds their way in, they rarely keep this information to themselves and often sell it or just give it away.

In a normal situation like this, once Microsoft is aware of the vulnerability, they will create a patch to remedy the problem. A patch is downloaded code that will update the part of Windows where the problem is located. It is always recommended that you download and install patches as soon as they become available.

The End of Life Problem

When Microsoft or any other company says that its software is at its End of Life, it usually doesn’t mean that it will stop working. Rather, it just means that the company will no longer support it. In the case of Microsoft, that means that they will no longer provide security patches or any other updates in addition to not offering support from their techs. Really, it’s just a matter of time before the system becomes obsolete and holes are found in its armor.

Speaking of which, 2 security researchers at Guardicore Labs recently announced that the Barbarians are not only at the gates, they have already entered. According to them, a medium-sized medical tech company was hacked when pirates found a way into their system via WAV files. As we said, it’s just a matter of time before this grows to more and more ways to undermine the system of Windows 7 users.

The Obvious Solution

We’re not going to beat a dead horse on the topic, so we’ll just say that the best way to avoid these problems is by upgrading to Windows 10. But not so fast! Simply upgrading your OS is not going to keep you safe forever. Just because you will then have access to the safety protections that Windows 7 now lacks doesn’t mean it’s a one-and-done situation. You need to make sure that your systems are always up to date. Did you just get a pop-up for a new update? Stop what you’re doing and make sure that every machine on your system is updated. Having just one person put it off can put your whole network in danger.

We understand that there is a big difference between taking care of a single personal computer at home and a whole network of computers and servers at your business. Updates, especially on servers, can often be a time consuming and daunting task. That’s why we’re here to help. If you feel that you need a helping hand in making sure your system is up to date and stays that way, please contact us to see how we can assist.