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Resources: Productivity

How Do We Make This Work? 5 Ways to Adapt in this New Work World

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:

  • Do they need an office with a door that closes?
  • Can they utilize their cell phone for business calls or do they need a VoIP/softphone tied into your network?
  • How often do you expect them to check in on a daily basis?
  • If you can’t get a hold of them immediately, how long do they have to respond?
  • Can they attend meetings via phone, or is video required? 
  • How do they connect to your secure information? VPN? Firewall?

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. 

9 Things To Do Before Business Picks Back Up

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, most businesses have slowed down. A recent Goldman Sach’s survey found that more than 50% of 1,500 small business owners said they couldn’t continue for more than 3 months at current rates. Rather than wallow and wait, though, take the opportunity to do those things that you never have time to do. Here are nine things that you should do now so that you’re ready to excel when this crisis is over.

1. Maximize your security protocols.

New security threats pop up every day. Even amidst COVID-19, hackers developed phishing attempts to prey on peoples’ thirst for news surrounding the virus. What happens when a hacker gains personal information from one of these attempts? Often, the value isn’t in the initial data theft or financial potential therein. Hackers really don’t care what your password to one particular site is. Instead, they sell the information on the Dark Web. Take the opportunity to lock down your security protocols, now. Start with determining if your information is on the Dark Web, then set up ongoing monitoring to maintain awareness. Beyond the Dark Web, make sure you have a security plan in place that includes your firewall, antivirus, and protecting remote connections.

2. Write your compliance plan.

There are new privacy laws popping up all over the world, including data privacy laws across the US. How are you going to be compliant with customer, prospect, and website visitor data? In addition to website compliance, take a look at PCI, NIST, and HIPAA (if applicable) compliance. We can help you review your current compliance and create a plan to overcome challenges.

3. Update your hardware.

While you cannot use any PPP loan funds to cover hardware upgrades, if you received a PPP loan, you may have some cash available to upgrade your hardware to be prepared as business picks back up. Even if you weren’t lucky enough to secure funding in the first round of loans, still look at upgrading your computers systems. While you likely want to avoid the hefty expenses of a project, consider Hardware as a Service as an option to pay monthly for your hardware, lowering initial outlay and turning your hardware expenditure into an operating expense rather than a capital expense.

4. Refresh your website.

Creating your company website was probably a major undertaking. From writing the content to agreeing on design, it’s one of those projects that probably does not bring fond memories. The challenge is your website should be completed renovated every three to five years, while content updates every quarter. Dig back in and address your website, making sure you’re highlighting your most recent offerings and addressing SEO effectively.

5. Clean up your leads list.

Databases get old and sloppy really quickly, especially if you don’t undergo regular upkeep. Who has time for regular upkeep? Now is the time to get everything straightened out. Audit your prospect and client lists. Remove duplicates, re-classify types, as necessary, and create a plan for ongoing upkeep so that you don’t have to undergo a major cleaning project again.

6. Create a strategic plan/ Determine Your Next Offering

If this crisis hasn’t shown you that you need to be agile, nimble and always have a plan for what’s next, I’m not sure what will. Brainstorm your next product offering, or your next marketing moving. Create a plan for the next 12-18 months. Strategic planning often hits the back burner but is critical for ongoing success. You’ve just been given a great gift – time to plan.

7. Collect testimonials and case studies.

If you’re doing your jobs well, customers are likely sending you emails of appreciation, anecdotes of quality customer service, and sharing accolades about your team. Unfortunately, when you’ve got a lot on your plate, these tend to be fleeting messages in your inbox with a mere “thank you” response to the sender. Dig those out and position them as testimonials, case studies, and customer shout-outs for your website.

8. Educate yourself and team.

One of the biggest reasons business owners avoid training their teams is that it involves taking time away from the business. Immerse yourself and your teams in training so that they’re armed with best practices when business begins to rebound.

9. Update your standard operating procedures.

Documentation gets behind when you’re in the thick of day-to-day business resulting in standard operating procedures that are several years old and woefully out of date. Have your team take a look at your current standard operating procedures. Work through them one-by-one ensuring that you have the latest version on file and that you’ve removed any superfluous processes. Work toward a complete business manual to help any new hires and to ensure standardization across your team.

We have every hope that the country will begin to safely open up very soon. In the meantime, though, make the most of this business downturn by prepping your business for resurgence.

9 Things To Do Before Business Picks Back Up

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, most businesses have slowed down. A recent Goldman Sach’s survey found that more than 50% of 1,500 small business owners said they couldn’t continue for more than 3 months at current rates. Rather than wallow and wait, though, take the opportunity to do those things that you never have time to do. Here are nine things that you should do now so that you’re ready to excel when this crisis is over.

1. Maximize your security protocols.

New security threats pop up every day. Even amidst COVID-19, hackers developed phishing attempts to prey on peoples’ thirst for news surrounding the virus. What happens when a hacker gains personal information from one of these attempts? Often, the value isn’t in the initial data theft or financial potential therein. Hackers really don’t care what your password to one particular site is. Instead, they sell the information on the Dark Web. Take the opportunity to lock down your security protocols, now. Start with determining if your information is on the Dark Web, then set up ongoing monitoring to maintain awareness. Beyond the Dark Web, make sure you have a security plan in place that includes your firewall, antivirus, and protecting remote connections.

2. Write your compliance plan.

There are new privacy laws popping up all over the world, including data privacy laws across the US. How are you going to be compliant with customer, prospect, and website visitor data? In addition to website compliance, take a look at PCI, NIST, and HIPAA (if applicable) compliance. We can help you review your current compliance and create a plan to overcome challenges.

3. Update your hardware.

While you cannot use any PPP loan funds to cover hardware upgrades, if you received a PPP loan, you may have some cash available to upgrade your hardware to be prepared as business picks back up. Even if you weren’t lucky enough to secure funding in the first round of loans, still look at upgrading your computers systems. While you likely want to avoid the hefty expenses of a project, consider Hardware as a Service as an option to pay monthly for your hardware, lowering initial outlay and turning your hardware expenditure into an operating expense rather than a capital expense.

4. Refresh your website.

Creating your company website was probably a major undertaking. From writing the content to agreeing on design, it’s one of those projects that probably does not bring fond memories. The challenge is your website should be completed renovated every three to five years, while content updates every quarter. Dig back in and address your website, making sure you’re highlighting your most recent offerings and addressing SEO effectively.

5. Clean up your leads list.

Databases get old and sloppy really quickly, especially if you don’t undergo regular upkeep. Who has time for regular upkeep? Now is the time to get everything straightened out. Audit your prospect and client lists. Remove duplicates, re-classify types, as necessary, and create a plan for ongoing upkeep so that you don’t have to undergo a major cleaning project again.

6. Create a strategic plan/ Determine Your Next Offering

If this crisis hasn’t shown you that you need to be agile, nimble and always have a plan for what’s next, I’m not sure what will. Brainstorm your next product offering, or your next marketing moving. Create a plan for the next 12-18 months. Strategic planning often hits the back burner but is critical for ongoing success. You’ve just been given a great gift – time to plan.

7. Collect testimonials and case studies.

If you’re doing your jobs well, customers are likely sending you emails of appreciation, anecdotes of quality customer service, and sharing accolades about your team. Unfortunately, when you’ve got a lot on your plate, these tend to be fleeting messages in your inbox with a mere “thank you” response to the sender. Dig those out and position them as testimonials, case studies, and customer shout-outs for your website.

8. Educate yourself and team.

One of the biggest reasons business owners avoid training their teams is that it involves taking time away from the business. Immerse yourself and your teams in training so that they’re armed with best practices when business begins to rebound.

9. Update your standard operating procedures.

Documentation gets behind when you’re in the thick of day-to-day business resulting in standard operating procedures that are several years old and woefully out of date. Have your team take a look at your current standard operating procedures. Work through them one-by-one ensuring that you have the latest version on file and that you’ve removed any superfluous processes. Work toward a complete business manual to help any new hires and to ensure standardization across your team.

We have every hope that the country will begin to safely open up very soon. In the meantime, though, make the most of this business downturn by prepping your business for resurgence.

Surviving the New Workplace

With the ongoing situation in the world, there are many people who are either furloughed or have been outright laid off from their jobs. Those of us who can work from home are very fortunate to be able to keep working through all of this, even as business slows down.

Although some companies have been hesitant to let their employees work remotely, 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 gets 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 tasks for longer.

Keep Their Heads in the Cloud

Since they are no longer in a physical location that you have control over, 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 for your employees to have nothing to do because the 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 or any other industry-specific apps up to date.

Lastly, don’t forget security considerations. This is especially important if they’re using their own equipment since what works at home computer may not cut it for your business needs.

We were all forced into a new work environment very quickly, but 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 these 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.

7 Reasons to Upgrade from Windows 7

It’s true that we’ve been running around like Chicken Little, shouting about Windows 7 End of Life, but you know what? The sky has fallen — Windows 7 is dead. That’s right, we are past the End of Life date and Windows 7 is no longer being supported by Microsoft. At least that’s what they are saying.

“But wait,” you say. “My computer system still works. In fact, I’m reading this on a Windows 7 computer right now!” While it’s true that Microsoft didn’t pull the plug on the operating system, that doesn’t mean that you should still be using it. And if you are clinging on to that dated technology, we’ll offer you 7 reasons why you should upgrade from Windows 7.

#1. No More Updates

Ok, so we’ll get the big issue out of the way first. Microsoft has ceased releasing new patches and security updates for Windows 7. You might feel safe for now, but hackers will soon learn how to get past the latest security barriers, as they always do. In the past that wouldn’t be that big of an issue as Microsoft would regularly come out with new patches. Something that won’t be happening now.

When hackers find a new way to get in, not only will they cause as much havoc as possible, they’ll also share or sell this information on the Dark Web. Then it will be open season.

#2. Large Target

Some people figure that if they continue to use the outdated OS, it’s no big deal since most people have already switched to Windows 10. The thought is that hackers going after a handful of people on the older systems isn’t worth the time. Yes, most Windows users have indeed upgraded, but keep in mind that there are between 1.2-1.5 billion current PC’s running on Windows. The US Digital Analytics Program estimates that as of December 2019, 18.7% of those users were still on Windows 7, which would add up to almost 300 million users. If you were a hacker and you had a pool of potential victims who were using an operating system that is no longer supported, you would most likely dedicate your time trying to pirate their systems. The path of least resistance.

#3. Speed

The newer Windows OS is much leaner on the backend. Take booting up as an example. On average, you can save more than a minute starting up your computer. That may not sound like much, but think about how much time that saves over the course of just one year. Assuming you work five days a week for an entire year, that’s 260 minutes (4.3 hours) of you unnecessarily waiting at your computer. If you have a team of just 20 people, that would be 87 wasted man-hours every year!

That’s just the bootup time. Even web browsing is faster! The newer OS platforms use more web and cloud-based applications. Less network interaction between your computer and server means faster runtime across the board.

#4. Touch Support

When Windows 7 came out, touchscreens were still a novelty. Now, since everyone is using tablets and smartphones, more and more applications for touchscreens on PCs are commonplace. These can range from signatures to graphic design and beyond. Given, this alone probably isn’t a reason to upgrade your entire network, it’s still a great feature that we’re sure you could likely benefit from.

#5. Connect Everything

Ten years ago, we were all just babies when it came to connection. Remember taking pictures on your digital camera then connecting it to your computer with a USB cable? You know, like a caveman?

Now you can link your phone to Windows and have pictures, videos, weblinks and more instantly available on your workstation. You can also connect screens with a colleague or customer without having to download third-party software and go through a long process of trading logins. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you can upload and backup your documents using OneDrive. This is a great tool if you’re a very small operation or as a backup to your backup in a larger business.

#6. Your Software Has Already Moved

One of the many arguments we hear about is the cost and hassle of purchasing and installing new software. Sure, it might be a small investment to get with the times. but you know what? There are companies out there using software that runs on MS-DOS, too! You can only justify not upgrading for so long before you become obsolete.

Sure, there are indeed unique custom software programs that large companies — such as banks and hospitals — use that would cost millions of dollars to upgrade and migrate. However, for 99% percent of the rest of us, it’s best to just suck it up and move on with our lives. There are few if any programs out there that can’t migrate that are worth keeping around. Chances are that if your software hasn’t upgraded, there are probably a dozen others available that can do the job better.

#7. New Features

Wow, this is a big one. We could dedicate a month’s worth of articles about the new features between Windows 7 and 10. You’ll find new features that used to only be available with expensive third-party systems such as advanced voice-to-text recognition. Some updated features are beefed-up copy and paste abilities, the ability to edit screenshots, virtual desktops and even a digital assistant — Cortana.

At the end of the day, you really do need to upgrade no matter what. If you’re still part of the undistinguished group of Windows 7 users who aren’t sure what the next step would be in upgrading, we’d be happy to talk with you and go over your options.