Working From Home: Can You Still Be Productive?

“There’s no place like home” rings very true for a lot of people. There is just a level of comfort at home that you can’t find anywhere else.

For me, some comfort is needed to really be efficient and most people probably work better when they are at least moderately comfortable, but is there such a thing as too much? I don’t mean only physical conveniences.

Don’t get me wrong, working from home sounds really great some days. You can multi-task and throw in a load of laundry, do some dishes, or work on something else to break up the day. Sounds good, doesn’t it? You are being really productive!

How much work are you getting done, though? These little side tasks add up. It’s just one of many distractions that can really impede your productivity.

Noise, household tasks, or maybe even other people being home while you are trying to work can make your ability to get things done a real challenge. When considering working at home myself, I have come to the conclusion that it just isn’t for me in most circumstances.

If you are putting in a traditional eight hour work day or 40 hour week at home, how much of that time is actually spent focused on your work? Personally, with a set task (or tasks) that need to be completed, success working at home would come much easier. While you are almost certain to run in to some distractions, having a set task to work on, even if it takes longer than it should, means you’re still being productive.

Let’s say you lose about five minutes an hour being distracted. Even those five minutes can easily add up to a ton of wasted time.

Over the course of a week, losing five minutes an hour adds up to two hours and 20 minutes a week.

Factor in that load of laundry, the 30 minute nap you took, or even just spending a little more time making lunch — we now have HOURS over the course of the week that are just lost time. If you struggle with working at home, there are a few methods of staying focused that help you change your brain from home mode to work mode.

For instance, fight the urge to work in your PJ’s and get dressed like you normally would for work. Also, designate a work space while at home, but change your surroundings every so often if possible to get out of the house, such as working from a café or the library.

Building a to-do list and developing strict work hours (if possible) and sticking to them helps as well. If you have children or a partner at home, you may also want to think about creating a “Do Not Disturb” sign for yourself to let them know that you should be left alone.

Not everyone falls into this category of losing time to distractions and, sure, some people can be very successful while working from home.

Others would be shocked to see how fast the five minutes here and there really add up. Just like every other aspect of life, there are all types of people, and you are all free to make your own decision about working from home.

Some of us (myself included) will stick to keeping our work at work and home at home.

Five Ways Cloud Computing Can Improve Your Business

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Regardless of the size of your business, you can harness the power of the same high-tech tools used by Fortune 500 companies, thanks to cloud-based technology.

According to recent studies of small- to medium-sized businesses, those using cloud computing greatly outperformed those that didn’t. One study showed an average of 26% more growth and 21% more profitability for small- to medium-sized businesses using cloud computing over those that only had their heads in the clouds.

Here are five concrete ways the cloud can help your business:

Reduced costs
Cloud computing eliminates the need for a large IT department. With the data centers located off-site, your business is not responsible for the electricity to run, maintain, or periodically upgrade those servers. The money saved by using cloud computing can then be redirected into growing your business or marketing to new clients. [Read more…]

What Can I Do To Strengthen My Wifi Signal?

A weak WiFi signal in certain areas of your house could limit where you do your work and enjoy your entertainment activities, such as streaming films music or playing online games. This is actually a common issue with a couple of relatively easy fixes that will improve your wireless Internet connection throughout your house.

The first option is to replace the antenna on your router with a taller one. If your router has a built-in antenna, you can likely add an external one and see a marked increase in signal quality. There are two main types of antennae: omnidirectional and directional. An omnidirectional antenna transmits in all directions, while you can point a directional antenna where you need to strengthen the signal without making it easier for others to latch onto your WiFi. The other alternative to improve your wireless signal is to install a range extender, particularly if the area that requires the strongest signal is behind thick walls or is relatively small.

Does Your Company Need An Internet Usage Policy?

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

With the growth and expansion of the Internet, it is important to make sure that your business has a policy in place to protect its assets.

Depending on your business, an Internet Usage Policy (IUP) can be long and drawn out or short and to the point.

An IUP will provide your employees with guidelines on what is acceptable use of the Internet and company network. IUPs not only protect the company, but also the employee.

Employees are informed and aware of what is acceptable when it comes to websites and downloading files or programs from the Internet.

When employees know there will be serious consequences for breaking the IUP, such as suspension or termination of employment, companies tend to notice a decrease in security risks due to employee carelessness.

You will need to make sure your IUP covers not only company equipment and your network, but also employee-owned devices such as smart phones and tablets. You may be surprised at the number of employees that feel they do not have to follow the IUP because they are using their own device to surf or download from the Internet.

Make sure you address proper usage of company-owned mobile devices. Your business may have satellite employees or a traveling sales force. Even when they are away, they need to be aware they are still representatives of the business and must follow the business IUP.

After all, it would not go over well if your sales staff was giving a presentation to a prospective client and suddenly, “adult content” ads popped-up on the screen because one of your employees was careless in their web habits.

The downloading of files and programs is a security risk in itself. Private, internal company documents and correspondence downloaded from your company’s network can become public, causing unrepairable damage.

On the same thought, employees downloading from the Internet open your company’s network up to malware attacks and infections.

There are a lot of hackers that prey upon the absent-minded employee downloading a video or song file by hiding a piece of malware within the download. Once the malware makes it into your network, there’s no telling what damage it can cause.

As for non-work related use of the company network and Internet, make sure your employees know there is no expectation of personal privacy when using the company’s network and Internet connection.

Make it well-known that the network and Internet are in place to be used for work purposes only. Improper use of the network can reduce bandwidth throughout the company network.

This includes all mobile devices owned by the company. This way, your employees know that no matter where they are they still must follow the guidelines of the IUP.

Make sure all of your employees sign the IUP and fully understand what it is they are signing. Make sure you answer any and all questions they may have.

This will help clear up any confusion your employees may have. This way, there can be no excuses as to why the IUP was broken.

Whenever you update the IUP, make sure you have all of your employees sign and understand the new additions and/or changes to the IUP. It may seem like overkill, but you’ll be glad you did if you ever run into any violations of your company’s IUP.

For assistance in creating Internet Usage Policies or if you have any questions, call the experts at Tech Experts: (734) 457-5000.

Is Skype For Business Right For Your Company?

Last month, Microsoft released its vision video preview for Skype for Business, which suggested some major changes to ways we currently conduct business.

The video shows a wrist-worn communication device that allows you to contact colleagues on the fly. It also illustrates how Skype can help people be virtually present in the office while actually working in the field.

Skype-powered technology can integrate data into one space and share it on a big screen to facilitate brainstorming, can instantly translate speech into a number of languages, and even simulate a doctor’s house call – if what is depicted in the preview becomes a reality.

Really, nothing in Microsoft’s Skype for Business preview is all that far-fetched. Skype has already drastically changed how people keep in touch on both business and personal levels.

Presently, you can video chat with anyone, anywhere to conduct interviews or meetings. It’s not that big of a leap to envision using Skype to do these same things in the great outdoors or to integrate it with web searches and data files. The basic technology is already there; the vision video just shows some tweaks and new exciting applications.

The possibilities illustrated in the preview video highlight Microsoft’s mission to develop cross-platform technology that increases productivity.

While Skype for Business may not initially perform as seamlessly as the video leads us to believe – especially when real-time translation has yet to be perfected – there are products already advertised that do similar things.

Microsoft’s Surface Hub combines Skype with an 84-inch touchscreen display, and the HoloLens promises to take holograms and headsets to the next level.

Risks When Employees Use Their Own Mobile Devices

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is an exciting development for increasingly mobile and interconnected employees, but also a new challenge for IT security teams.

Gone are the days where security professionals can lock down a finite set of machines and facilities; instead, they must manage an ever-growing, ever-changing landscape of employees, devices and applications, many of which have access to information that needs to be protected.

According to an article on eWeek, a survey was done on organizations with mobile devices connecting to their networks: only 33 percent have any official BYOD policy governing the use of personal portable devices, 67 percent do not.

The security risks are inherent in BYOD between viruses, hacking, improper security, and more. Flat-out thefts of smartphones, laptops, and tablets are also an issue.

In New York City alone, police data show that Apple products were stolen in a total of 11,447 incidents in the first nine months of 2012. That is an increase of 40 percent compared to the previous year.

Of course, employee education and awareness are important as informed users are more likely to act responsibly and take fewer risks with company data. Unfortunately, employees can be careless and criminals crafty, which is why network security defenses and policies are so critical.

Although implementing a restrictive device policy may feel like the most secure approach for your company, it can easily backfire.

Your craftiest employees are going to find a way to connect their devices to your network no matter what. And employees who do obey your “no iPhones” message will probably resent the policy and experience lower productivity.

Bring Your Own Device conceptToday’s workers expect to have 24/7 access to their information. They want to be able to catch up on emails on the evening train ride home or access information while away from the office.

BYOD lets IT staffs eliminate the hassle and expense of provisioning, distributing, and maintaining hundreds of corporate-owned mobile devices.

But setting up a BYOD program isn’t without its challenges. For starters, when you give employees free rein to bring in their own devices, you put your corporate documents and data at the mercy of the native security on these devices.

When you consider that many of your employees probably have “1234” as the PIN on their iPhones, that’s a pretty sobering thought.

Another major concern is your network. When you allow today’s increasingly powerful smartphones and tablets to request resources from your network, you really put your infrastructure to the test.

Are you ready to serve data instantly to hundreds of increasingly powerful hand-held mobile devices?

What if your mobile employees want to watch training videos, play back webinars, or listen to conference call recordings on their devices – can you deliver this kind of bandwidth?

Like most things, there are upsides and downsides, but a decision should be made on what best suits you, your employees, and your business.

When it comes down to it, BYOD isn’t a completely ridiculous idea. In fact, the benefits of BYOD may be worth the extra security precautions required to implement it.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Remote Employees And Network Connections

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

As businesses begin to downsize their ecological footprint, the need for remote or satellite employees grows. Business leaders and owners are now faced with the daunting question on how to allow remote employees access to their existing network without compromising network security.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the use of VPN.

VPNs allow secure access to business resources by creating encrypted pass-throughs via the Internet. The Internet, combined with present-day VPN technology, allows businesses a low cost and secure means to extend their networks to their remote employees.

The two most common methods in which to set up remote access are IPsec (IP Security) or SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). Both methods work well and both have their advantages depending on the needs and size of your business.

VPNs created using SSL technology provide remote-access connection from almost any Internet-enabled location or device using a web browser interface.

No special client software needs to be preinstalled on either device. This makes SSL VPNs a true “anytime, anywhere” connection to company-managed desktops.

There are two different SSL VPN connections to choose from: clientless and full network access.

Clientless requires no special software. All traffic is transmitted and delivered through a web browser.

There is no need to install or download any unique software to establish the connection. With clientless access, only web-enabled programs and apps are able to be accessed, such as email, network file servers and local intranet sites.

Even with such limited access to network resources, this style of connection is well-suited for most businesses.c868266_m

Additionally, because there is no need for special software to be supported by the IT department, businesses can cut down on managed overhead.

A full network access VPN allows access to almost any program, application, network server, and resource connected to your business network. Unlike clientless access, full network access connection is made through the use of VPN client software. Because the client access software is dynamically downloaded and updated, it requires little or no desktop support.

As with clientless access, you have the ability to customize each connection based on employee access privileges. If your remote employees require the full functionality of installed programs and applications as if they were sitting inside the office building, utilizing a full network VPN connection is the obvious choice.

IPsec based VPNs are the staple of remote-access connection technology. IPsec VPN connections are created by using installed VPN client software on the user’s workstation and connecting device.

Client software allows for greater customizability by modifying the VPN client software. Businesses are able to configure and maintain the appearance and function of the VPN client, which allows for easier implementation for connections with other desktops, kiosks, and other special need cases.

Many businesses find that IPsec connections meet their requirements for the users, but the advantages of self-updating desktop software, accessibility from non-company managed devices, and customizable user access make SSL VPNs a front runner for remote-access connections to your office.

If you have any questions or would like more information about how a VPN can help your company, you can reach Tech Experts at (734) 457-5000.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Most Employees Use Work Computers For Outside Activities

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

GFI Software, a leading software tool provider for companies like Tech Experts, recently released a report that found the personal use of company computers and other devices is leading to major downtime and loss of confidential data in many businesses.

The study of about 1,000 small business employees who used a company-provided desktop or laptop computer found that 39 percent of them said their businesses have suffered a major IT disruption caused by staff members visiting non-work related websites with work-issued hardware, resulting in malware infections and other related issues.

Even more alarming, the study showed nearly 36 percent of staff members said they would not hesitate to take company property, including email archives, confidential documents and other valuable intellectual materials, from their work-owned computer before they returned the device if they were to leave their company.

[Read more…]

Stay Productive (And Sane) While Working From Home

More and more, working from home has become the norm for many people. Whether you’re freelancing or telecommuting from a full-time job, you really can be just as productive, if not more, than a cubicle dweller. Just remember this advice for succeeding on the home front:

• Start your day off right. You may not have to work a rigid 9-to-5 schedule when working at home, but take your job seriously: “Report” to your desk, wherever it is, at an appropriate time ready to work. Some experts recommend showering and dressing as if you’re going to the office to get into the right frame of mind.

• Understand what your organization needs. Working from home means you won’t get as much direct feedback and instruction from your boss throughout the day. Get clear expectations from your manager so you’ll be working on the right tasks and the right schedule. Set short-term and long-range goals that align with your organization’s objectives.

• Establish firm boundaries. Family members and friends should know when you’re working and realize that you can’t be interrupted for trivial reasons. Keep your door closed (if you have one), and let the answering machine pick up the phone if your spouse or child doesn’t get to it. You’ll find out about emergencies soon enough; don’t get distracted by irrelevant chitchat.

• Stay connected with people. Don’t let them forget you back at HQ. Check in frequently with emails and phone calls to let people know you’re on top of things. Visit the office when you can, and maintain your friendships with co-workers. You want to be thought of as a full member of the team, wherever you are.

• Take breaks when you need to. Don’t work yourself to exhaustion trying to prove you’re just as productive at home as you would be in a cubicle. Although you shouldn’t start a home renovation project in the middle of writing a report, there’s nothing wrong with spending a few minutes emptying the dishwasher or putting laundry away to clear your mind and relax a little.

• Evaluate your progress regularly. Keep track of your workload and your goals so you can review how much you’re getting done and whether you need to make any adjustments. As your own supervisor, you’ll need to keep an eye on what you’re accomplishing so you don’t fall behind.

Work/Life Balance: The Issue Of Technology

Technology and easy Internet access can be both a blessing and a curse, giving us remote access to email, smartphones, Skype and other tools.

In theory at least, this gives us the ability to be able to work from home and achieve a better work/life balance, and yet in some cases all it has actually done is increase the number of hours that we spend working.

One way to win back some work/life balance is to negotiate the time spent working from home.

Not only does working from home save a lot of time you would otherwise spend commuting back and forth to work, it also means you save money on both transportation and food, and it gives you more time to develop an exercise routine. There can be problems with working from home, however, such as lack of discipline and motivation as well as overwork.

The solution is to make certain that your work stays within the time period of a normal working day and does not add further hours to that workload.

Some time-management techniques include creating to-do lists, managing your expectations, prioritizing your workload, learning to delegate, and making sure that you have regular meetings and catch-up sessions with colleagues.

It is also important to set boundaries with colleagues to respect your personal time. Set an expectation that you’re “not available” during non-work hours. Switching off your cell phone and not checking emails during non-working hours is also a good idea.