Five Tips for Working in the In-Between

We’ve reached an in-between status of this quarantine. Businesses are starting to open back up (with restrictions), but a lot of employees are finding themselves in an awkward spot between working in the office and remaining at home. Doctors are utilizing video and tele-conference appointments but are holding office hours to see patients and perform “elective” surgeries. Companies are requesting that their employees work from home, if possible, but they’re relaxing requirements for coming back into the office. Other organizations are welcoming people back from tele-worker status to full in-office expectations.

With “in-between” operations, we’ve helped our clients through a few technology hiccups and wanted to help you avoid them too. Here are the top five things you need to know when working from wherever you’re expected to be.

1. The Power of the Web App

The majority of business applications have some type of web version. You don’t have to have the software installed on your system to be effective. While you may not be able to use every aspect of the software (higher processing functions may be limited to the desktop version), test out online versions. This is particularly effective if you’re trying to use a laptop or device with a much smaller hard drive in a remote working environment. For example, you can get to your current emails without storing your past five years of email history on your system’s limited disc space. When using a web app, install two-factor authentication wherever possible to maximize security.

2. A Note on External Hard Drives

First came the punch card, then tape and the floppy disc; now if you want portable physical data storage, it’s all about external hard drives (USB). They are a fantastic way to easily transport data from one place to another, but there are two precautions:

  • Hackers love to stash USB drives places just hoping that people will pick them up, get excited, plug them in, and then infect their computer and network. Moral of the story, only trust USB drives that you are familiar with.
  • If you are transitioning between a Mac and a Windows system or vice versa, there is a very high likelihood that your external hard drive will not work on both. Hard drives are configured to be read on one type of device, and you usually have to delete the drive to re-configure it to work on another type of system.

3. Maximize the Cloud

We firmly believe in the cloud for document storage, backup purposes, and accessing line of business applications. When it comes to document storage specifically:

  • Selective Sync Will Save You. If you already have large files stored in your Dropbox/Anchor/Google Drive/SharePoint, you don’t want your system trying to sync all of it to your hard drive for space, time, and speed considerations. Select only the folders that you’ll be using on a regular basis. The rest of the data will be accessible in the cloud. The online-only feature is also particularly helpful.
  • Follow basic sharing rules. Pay attention to read-only or editable sharing links. If you want someone to collaborate, make sure you give them the right to edit. When sharing, you can share a file or a folder. If you share a folder, bear in mind the recipient will have access to everything currently in the folder, as well as everything you add to it later. Never delete files that you did not create. It’s entirely possible that you delete the file for everyone while attempting to simply delete it from your system.

Learn more in Why SMBs Should Upgrade to the Cloud.

4. Security

Your safety is our biggest concern whether you’re working in the office, at home or a mixture. In order to remain secure, invest in:

  • Enterprise-level security: Install an enterprise-grade firewall, anti-virus, and monitoring system on every computer.
  • Two-Factor Authentication: Like we mentioned above, enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
  • Complex Passwords: When you’re utilizing multiple systems, you may feel tempted to simplify your passwords because you’ll be logging in numerous times. Instead, store your credentials in a password vault to protect all of your passwords, and rotate your passwords regularly.

Learn more in Closing Common Cybersecurity Holes.

5. Backup, Backup, and More Backup

We have seen a surge in interrupted power and Internet connections, particularly with people working from home. Nothing is more frustrating than losing all of your work right in the middle of a project.

  • Install a battery backup on any mission critical system (AKA anything you’re using for work). This will kick over and maintain power in case of a surge, and keep you running for hours in the event of a longer outage.
  • Ensure that your laptops remain fully charged. The myth that you can overcharge and shortcut long-term battery life is completely false. Most laptops today have lithium ion batteries and have an internal circuit to stop the charging process when full-charged. Charge away!

Deploy an effective network-wide backup solution so that you can restore data whether you lose a single file due to an employee mistake or lose a significant amount of data in the case of a disaster or breach.

Learn more about our disaster recovery services.

Additional Work From Home Resources

8 Practices for Safe Computing When Employees Work at Home

5 Tips for Successfully Working from Home

7 Necessities Before Sending Your Workforce Remote

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.

One of our favorite collaboration tools is Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams is cloud-based team collaboration software that is part of the Office 365 suite. It brings everything together in a shared workspace where you can chat, video/audio conference, share files, and work with business applications.

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. That’s where we come in. Whatever your IT challenges, we bring 280+ years of experience and expertise. Contact us to learn more.

Additional Work From Home Resources

8 Practices for Safe Computing When Employees Work at Home

5 Tips for Successfully Working from Home

7 Necessities Before Sending Your Workforce Remote

8 Practices for Safe Computing When Employees Work at Home

Employees working from home can be casual about their dress, but they shouldn’t be casual about their computing practices. Whether they’re working on their phones, tablets, laptops, or desktop PCs, employees need to take steps to make sure the business they do at home doesn’t endanger their business.

Employers can help employees work safely when they’re working remotely by teaching them to follow these 8 practices:

1. Safe networks

Only secure WiFi connections should be used. When working from home, a home firewall should be turned on to block unapproved connections. When working away from home, employees should avoid free public WiFi and always double-check the name of the correct network. A virtual private network (VPN) is always a good idea.

2. Safe devices

Employees shouldn’t use obsolete hardware and should be sure they’re up to date with operating system security patches. They shouldn’t root or jailbreak mobile devices, as that can disable built-in protections. Antivirus software should be kept up to date, and devices should be paired only with known Bluetooth devices. Every device should be protected by a strong password. In addition to data security, physical security matters too. Employees should use a surge protector to prevent damage to their computer and loss of data.

3. Safe accounts

Employees’ devices at home might be shared with other users. Everyone should have a separate account. Keep passwords private and don’t write them down where snooping children might find them.

4. Safe applications

Because home devices are also used for personal matters and entertainment, you may not be able to limit them to business applications obtained via your company; however, employees shouldn’t download applications from unofficial sites on any machines used for business.

5. Safe data

Any business-related data stored locally should be encrypted. There should be regular backups to an official company data server or cloud location.

6. Safe computing

All the usual safe computing practices apply when working at home. Employees shouldn’t email sensitive information or use unapproved cloud services. Only business email should be used for business matters, and unexpected documents and suspicious links should be left alone.

7. Safe communicating

SMS messages can include phishing links, and employees should be cautious when clicking links, especially in unexpected messages. If employees use a videoconferencing service to keep in touch with friends and family, they should ensure that no company documents are visible.

8. Safe browsing

Employees shouldn’t go to unknown websites, and should avoid clicking on ads or popups unless they know they’re from a trusted source.

Working from home is becoming a key practice to keep businesses functioning during challenging times. By following these safe practices, risks to company data can be minimized. Contact CCS Technology Group for help training employees and ensuring your cybersecurity practices keep your business safe wherever your employees are working.

On-Demand Webinar: Learn More About Managing Remote Employees

For more information, check out our on-demand webinar: 5 Biggest Challenges Working Through COVID-19. We discuss:

  • Safety and Security Working Remote: Hackers are having a heyday right now taking advantage of an already difficult situation. Here’s how you can cope.
  • Bandwidth Challenges: How many things can you expect your network to do?
  • Productivity While Working Remote: We gathered tips and tricks from experienced remote workers that help you settle in to work mode without the commute.
  • Connecting with your team: You can’t gather around the water cooler anymore, but personal connection is still critical.
  • Woes of Video Conferencing: Everyone is trying to adapt to video calls. They can be immensely frustrating or your greatest gift to project management. It’s all in how you use them.

Also, please consider joining us for our upcoming webinar (May 13) where we will discuss a tool to help you manage your remote workforce. Click here to learn more or register.

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

Many businesses and people are struggling as the COVID-19 Pandemic closes restaurants and bars, cancels events, and forces people to practice social-distancing. Technology on our side allows us to maintain productivity and ensure life will continue at a somewhat normal clip. 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.

Learn more: 

2) Virtual Events/Streaming

Events organizers across the country are cancelling, 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 Microsoft Live Event, 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.

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

Learn more in How big tech is taking on COVID-19.

Advancement in technology is transforming how people communicate and collaborate in ways that were previously not possible. Learn more about Microsoft Teams here.

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 to work from home, we compiled this list of tips to be successful away from the office.

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.

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, and keeping your computer up to date. Not sure if there are updates available? You can check in your computer’s control panel. 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, instead regularly switching 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 not actively in use.

Connect Securely

In order to protect your business, don’t just install Microsoft Outlook on your personal computer and proceed to work as usual. Instead, connect through remote access software or VPN. This will allow you in to your traditional 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.

Establish 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.

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 longer (more than three replies back and forth without solving the problem) pick up the phone.

Working from home can be an extremely powerful tool. When done right you can be 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.

Additional Resources

7 Necessities Before Sending Your Workforce Remote

Improving Collaboration with Microsoft Teams

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

7 Necessities Before Sending Your Workforce Remote

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are considering work from home options to facilitate social-distancing and keep their workforce healthy. However, it’s not as simple as sending your employees home, firing up personal laptops and getting back 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 creative or documentation projects through real-time editing, commenting, and versioning. Tools like O365 Microsoft Teams/Sharepoint 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 be accessing your network 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 remote; however, voice-only leaves much to be desired in terms of tone and context. We highly recommend implementing video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams.
  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 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 phone numbers remote to 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 remote 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. Get a head start with the Microsoft Teams Quick Start Program from CCS Technology.

Additional Collaboration Resources

5 Benefits of Better Collaboration for Businesses

Improving Collaboration with Microsoft Teams

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