Resources: COVID Resources

The State of the Union: Where Technology Stands Coming Out of COVID-19

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.

The Most Important Thing You Need to Do When Video Conferencing During COVID-19

Just as people were starting to get in front of stay-at-home recommendations with robust video conferencing and online 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.

3 Ways Technology Will Help Pull Us Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Many businesses and people are struggling as the COVID-19 Pandemic. Closures of restaurants and bars, canceled events, and other restrictions force our society to practice social-distancing. In this time of need, we, as a group, are more prepared than most other industries to help our clients maintain their businesses through this crisis. As an MSP, we brand ourselves as partners to our clients, and now is the time for us to step up and help you, our partners.

These are scary times. Many businesses are closing their doors to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, businesses like restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and movie theaters cannot operate remotely because they count on patrons walking into their facilities. But certain sections of other businesses, like accounting, law, and even parts of the medical and dental fields can utilize the efforts of remote employees.

Much like the disaster recovery plans, we offer for technology, we can also help with the back-up solution of setting up people to work from home. We deal with remote employees daily, so it is something we’re used to figuring out and operating smoothly.

We also regularly use the internet to communicate with each other using platforms like GoToMeeting, Skype, and Facetime. Around this office we have daily meetings with remote employees, so we’re used to setting up access for meetings and special events.

The technology on our side allows us to maintain productivity and ensure life will continue at a somewhat normal clip. With that being said, we believe there are three key reasons why technology will pull us all through the COVID-19 Pandemic.

  1. Remote Work Capabilities: You may have never dreamed you’d be writing up your next big report with your child sitting next to you playing their online educational game, but here we are. Many employers have sent their employees to work from home in an effort to quell the spread of COVID-19. With strong remote access or VPN, work continues without a great deal of interruption.
  2. Virtual Events/Streaming: Events organizers across the country are canceling, postponing, or moving events online. Technology allows these events to continue without major hiccups. Artists taking to Facebook Live to perform, speakers moving to platforms like Zoom or YouTube, and church services across the world streaming, only reveals the tip of the iceberg when it comes to streaming technology.
  3. Communication: Video chat, online messaging, email, and phone communication will keep the world connected through this difficult time. We’ll quickly see how important it is to connect with our fellow man for work, pleasure, and sanity.

During these trying times, it is our job, as IT professionals, to help those who are in need. Whatever we can do to help our local businesses keep their heads above water will only make our community stronger. People helping people, and professionals helping businesses stay open.

It is unknown how long drastic measures stemming from COVID-19 will last, but with technology on our side, thankfully the world will continue to progress.

5 Tips for Successfully Working from Home

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.