fbpx

Resources: Productivity

Getting Ahead of Windows End of Life

With Windows 7 end of life quickly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about what needs to be done to prepare. Technically, regular Windows 7 support has been dead since 2015, however, the extended support period is over January 2020, which means no more updates or security patches. What should you be aware of for EOL? Get ready, you may have some work to do.

Many are concerned that their PCs will stop working. That is not the case. Your Windows software will work, but its security will depreciate rather quickly, which could put your PC in danger of cyber-attacks and viruses. Back in 2014, Microsoft ended support for Windows XP. It affected 40% of computers worldwide. Now, years later, it is estimated that about 7% of computers are still using Windows XP. These computers are the ones hackers like to target because of the security holes caused by lack of regular patching.

Currently, about 70% of businesses worldwide use Windows 7, so it’s highly likely that you need to take action before Windows 7 retires. The more systems you have on Windows 7, the sooner you need to prepare. Here‘s a quick action plan:

  • Determine how many systems need an upgrade. Simply take a count of all the systems running Windows 7 or, if you still have some, Windows XP. If systems are on Windows 7, and the hardware is up to par, you likely will be able to do a simple license upgrade.
  • Assess your hardware. Windows 10 will not work on all hardware systems. You may need an upgrade. Contact your IT provider to help you determine if your hardware has the right specs. Easiest way to tell? If your hardware came out in the last three years or so, you’re probably in the clear. We recommend upgrading your hardware about every three to four years to avoid any compatibility issues.
  • Create a timeline and budget. You don’t have to make all these changes all at once. You could plan them out up to and including January 2020, but we recommend getting started sooner rather than later. Again, your IT provider will be able to help determine your best path forward.
  • Create contingency plans. Unfortunately, not all line of business applications will immediately jump to operation on Windows 10, particularly if you’re utilizing an older version of the software, or if your software provider has gone out of business or moved to their own end of life cycle. Sometimes this is inevitable, but you need to be able to quarantine these vulnerable systems from the rest of your network as much as possible or take the time to plan your upgrade now. A quality IT company will be able to help you make the decision, as well as set up a test environment so that you know your contingency plans are working long before you need them.
  • Training Your Staff. While the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is not the monumental shift past software updates have been, the new system does take a bit of getting used to. Plan time to work with your staff one-on-one or in a group so that you don’t end up with them wasting time tinkering or trying to figure out why their favorite button isn’t where it used to be. Your IT provider should be able to provide this user-based training for Windows 10, as well as the majority of software you utilize on a daily basis.

Keep in mind that Windows 10 end of life takes place in January of 2025; so, while planning, ensure your devices can make the switch again in a few years, or that you’re budgeting for another upgrade. Also, document your processes during the shift. This could make life so much easier down the road. Most of all though, act. You don’t want to be stuck without security patches or an up-to-date operating system. It’s like hackers can smell your outdated system and will gladly break-in. Protect yourself and your business and begin planning sooner than later.

What Does Windows End of Life Mean to my Business?

You’ve all heard the panic. Windows is cutting off support for its widely popular version 7 software. January 14, 2020 will officially mark Windows 7 End of Life. Many companies have used Windows 7 since it launched in 2009 and are still actively using it today. So, what’s the big deal? Can you just stick with Windows 7 or will your computer self-destruct?

The good news is that your computers will work just fine after the End of Life date. However, just because your computer will function doesn’t mean it’s wise to hold onto outdated software. The largest concern for Windows 7 users is security. Since updates and support will no longer be available, your device will be extremely vulnerable to cyber threats. In fact, this is a bit of a hacker’s dream. They are standing by, knowing people will neglect to update their operating system.

Windows 7 is actually already in its ‘extended support’ phase and has been since 2015! Microsoft ended mainstream support including new features and warranty claims. Yet, throughout this time, Windows has kept virus patches and security bug fixes up to date. With End of Life, that will go away. IT and security experts alike strongly suggest migrating your operating system to something current before the Windows EOL date. Theoretically, you could pay for Windows 7 extended support on each individual device, but the costs will build up faster than simply migrating. Not only that, but specific security and bug fixes will also be more expensive and charged on an individual basis.

Currently, there are a few options to choose from when it comes to Windows 7 EOL. Don’t be cheap and go to Windows 8. Though it is a newer version, it’ll only be a matter of time before you need to migrate all over again. You could transition to Windows 10 (recommended). If you are worried about cost efficiency, you could try a free operating system like Linux. It will take some research to find the specific Linux platform that’s best for you, but it may be worth it if you’re someone who likes to tinker. Then, of course, you could swap to a Mac altogether. Just keep in mind that Apple’s products are pretty expensive and you may need to re-purchase certain business applications.

It’s important to begin working with your IT Company on this migration as soon as possible. They’ll take a look at the devices you are using, determine how many are utilizing Windows 7, and ensure your hardware isn’t out of date. Not all computers will be able to handle a new operating system, which could make a migration take much longer, more difficult, and costlier as you upgrade hardware. Your IT company will provide a recommended path for an upgrade with a clear budget and timeline for completion.

Overall, take some time to plan your transition. Talk to us if you need additional help or options. Most of all though, get moving now. EOL will be here in no time.

Business Evolution

Figuring out how to effectively utilize social media within your business can be a tricky task. On the one hand, it’s critical for marketing. On the other, it can be a major time suck. You’ll have to walk a fine line of utilizing the main players like Facebook and Instagram, alongside other lesser-known social-related platforms to evolve your business and increase communication and productivity amongst employees and clients. We’re not going to spend time in this blog giving you a large how-to of using each of these platforms, but we will get you started down the right path with the correct technology.

Customer Service

While nothing can replace a human voice, sometimes, utilizing social technology can massively improve your customer service. Start with simple tools like the Facebook Messenger autoresponder. Whenever someone messages you on Facebook, they immediately receive a response acknowledging their message in addition to expectations for further interaction. This allows you to be continually responsive without constantly sitting on Facebook.

If you’re ready to take it a step further, consider specific customer service profiles on Facebook and Twitter. You’ll need to be able to clearly track customers’ complaints and rants, but quickly showing up in response on these social profiles will make a big difference. Check out how these companies do Twitter support very well.

Finally, consider a chat mechanism on your website. A whole generation of customers is rising that much prefers chatting online to getting on the phone. You don’t have to constantly manage this service. You can either set office hours or outsource to a third party to start and triage conversations.

Utilizing these techniques, your office manager and customer service team can get off the phone and answer questions through a social platform while they are working on other items creating greater efficiency.

Communication

Communication between employees can also be enhanced with social platforms. For example, Microsoft Office 365 offers Teams, a software for messaging, video conferencing, calls, and screen sharing. Instead of walking all the way to someone’s office or trying to multitask while waiting for answers, you can type in a name and send a message to anyone in the company. It cuts time in half; you get quick on the spot response or support. When employees are working remotely, they can still communicate effectively with anyone in the office utilizing a screen share and video to make their message clear. Something like this will also allow you to eliminate other video conferencing software for a more complete, all-in-one solution saving time, training, and money. Your IT company can point you in the right direction when it comes to implementing a software like this.

Morale

Finally, social media, social tools, and social platforms are all shown to increase morale within a business. They are allowing employees to streamline their jobs without the stress and hassle of attempting to collaborate with different people via email or an office visit. It also shows them that you trust them to use these things on work time and not abuse the privilege. Taking a small break to check Facebook or network with a client makes a surprising difference in the workplace. Do some research and find out what would work best for your business.

How much time do your employees waste?

Very few employees can honestly say they spend the entirety of their workday actually working. Whether it’s the 15 minutes you spend making your coffee in the morning or the 10 minutes catching up on Facebook after lunch, the occasional work break is inevitable.

A recent study showed that the average worker admits they waste three hours per eight-hour workday, not including lunch and scheduled break-time. However, a different study stated that workers only spent about 35 minutes, per day, not working.

While concluding the exact amount of time workers waste during their workday might be difficult (because no one wants to admit they are looking for deals on patio furniture rather than writing that “time-wasting” blog they were assigned), we can all say we have been guilty of frittering away some precious time during our workdays.

Here are the top four ways employees are wasting their time at work and a few ideas on how to be more productive during your workday.

Time Waster #1: Emails

Emailing has become the top form of communication in the workplace. What’s the first thing most of us do when we come into work? Check our emails. Technological advances in the way we communicate have brought about the notion of having to be connected at all times. Our clients—even our colleagues—tend to expect instant responses to each and every message, even when we are sick or on vacation. While email can be extremely beneficial, a lot of our workday is spent reading and answering emails. Many professionals have actually found they can get much more done during their workday if they don’t respond immediately to every single email.

Solution: Try not to check your email first thing in the mornings. Instead, spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour working on something more important first thing in the morning. This allows you to fully concentrate on what you have to do without any of those unread emails distracting or stressing you. You can also increase productivity by simply turning off your email notifications for short periods of time during the course of your day. It could be 15 minutes or 60, but you’ll realize that during that distraction-less time, you’ll be able to blast through your to-do list.

Time Waster #2: Online Distractions

The internet is known for luring employees deeper and deeper into its web (no pun intended) with each and every click. It is said that 60% of online purchases are made during regular work hours and 65% of YouTube viewers watch between 9am – 5pm on weekdays while (presumably) at work. Social media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook can be a great platform for brand awareness and business growth, but let’s be honest–how many times are you actually on these sites marketing for your company? You’re not. You’re wishing your uncle Brad a happy birthday. Some professionals have even admitted to spending time job hunting during work hours on the company computer–shame on you!

Solution: If you just absolutely can’t keep yourself from refreshing your Facebook feed every 10 minutes, simply block it. StayFocusd is an extension Google Chrome offers that allows you to set a certain amount of time you’re allowed to visit any website of your choice. Once that time is up, it denies further access to these sites. Company-wide, you can have your IT Company adjust your firewall settings to block certain sites entirely, for certain periods of time or just for certain people. If that seems too harsh, you can always better manage your lunch time. Take the first half of your lunch break to feed yourself and use the second half to completely indulge and get your daily fix of online distractions without feeling guilty. If you still can’t get away from these Internet sites, well, you’ve got a bigger problem, buddy.

Time Waster #3: Colleagues

Nobody enjoys spending their entire workday in silence. Humans are social creatures by nature. We all appreciate a little chat here and there during our workday. For that reason, co-workers can be awesome, but they can also be a major time suck.

What amazing thing did you do this weekend? Are we supposed to send this email this week or next? Where should I upload the document? Can you review this really quick?

We have all had those colleagues who would rather talk than work. While it can be very flattering to be the expert/most interesting one in your group, the fact that you are constantly engaged in conversation can quickly become irritating, not to mention that it can take up a huge part of your workday.

Solution: Headphones! Wear headphones while you work, at least while you’re concentrating on a project. Even if you aren’t listening to anything, having both of your headphones in will signal to your colleagues that you’re focused and in the zone. I understand some of us have very persistent co-workers who may still decide to come on over to your desk and give you a quick tap on the shoulder. At that point, simply tell them you are glad they came by because you need help with [insert irrelevant work assignment here]. If they leave your desk with some work to do, they’ll think twice next time they come on over for a chat.

Time Waster #4: Meetings

Meetings are a necessary evil in most companies. 47% of professionals say their biggest time waster is having to attend too many meetings. On average, 33 minutes a day are spent just trying to schedule these meetings. You don’t always need to have a meeting. Nothing makes an employee more frustrated than having their schedule filled with unnecessary meetings. We have all been to those meetings where literally nothing pertained to you and absolutely zero words came out of your mouth. While communication in the workplace is extremely important, there are better ways of communicating information that doesn’t involve attending meetings every other hour.

Solution: The next time you’re invited to a meeting that you believe might be irrelevant for you, ask the host why they think your presence is needed. You can then set up some sort of system where your supervisor can go in your place and simply cascade that information down to the rest of the team. If your supervisor is too busy to attend, then you could ask to meet with the host a couple minutes before to share your insight because you will not be able to stay the entire time. You can also make the suggestion that a meeting be handled via email or through your project management software. Using this strategy can at least start a project in the right direction without bogging down everyone’s time.

There are many other time wasters that we could discuss, but we’ll have to save that for another time–I have a meeting.

Fixing Your Weakest Link: Your Employees

You can have every piece of security hardware in the books: firewall, backup disaster recovery device, and even anti-virus. However, your employees will still be the biggest vulnerability in your organization when it comes to phishing attacks. How do you mitigate as much risk as possible?

  1. Create and Strictly Enforce a Password Policy: Passwords should be complex, randomly generated, and replaced regularly. In order to test the strength of your password go to howsecureismypassword.com. (This is a perfectly safe service sponsored by a password protection platform that tells you how long it would take a hacker to decode your password.) When creating a password policy, bear in mind that the most prevalent attacks are Dictionary attacks. Most people utilize real words for their passwords. Hackers will typically try all words before trying a brute force attack. Instead of words, use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. The longer the password, the stronger it is. While it’s difficult to remember passwords across different platforms, try not to repeat passwords. This will protect all other accounts in the event of a breach on one of your accounts.
  2. Train and Test Your Employees Regularly: Educate your employees on how they can spot a phishing attack. Then, utilize penetration testing (this is a safe phishing attack orchestrated by your IT company to see how employees respond) and how well they do. If employees fall for phishing attempts then send them through training again. We recommend doing this on a quarterly basis to ensure that your employees stay on their toes and you should provide education on the latest attacks.
  3. Create a Bring Your Own Device Policy and Protect all Mobile Phones: You can safeguard as much as humanly possible on your network, but your employees are all walking in with cell phones. Are they allowed to get work emails on their phones? What about gaining access to the network remotely? Cell phones create a big black hole in security without proper mobile device management and mobile security.
  4. Perform Software Updates Regularly: Make sure that your software is up-to-date with all the latest security patches. Holding off on updates means that you’re leaving yourself open to vulnerabilities that have been discovered and addressed.
  5. Invest in Security: Security is not something for cost savings. Home-based hardware is not sufficient, and you, at the very least need a quality firewall and backup device. Invest in your employee’s training, ongoing security updates, and maintaining a full crisis/breach plan.

There are two things that aren’t going away in any business, employees and security threats. Make sure that you’ve taken care of everything you can to avoid falling victim to these attacks.