Does Your Team Need An At Home VoIP Upgrade?

As work from home (WFH) rolls into another year, don’t forget to look at the phones your team use.

You don’t just have to default to them using their mobile. There’s a huge amount of choice available.

For example, you could easily let them access your business’s usual VoIP phone network from their home. So, people can still direct dial them on the same number.

There are huge benefits to this. Apart from helping them to compartmentalize work calls and personal calls, the sound quality of calls on VoIP can be significantly better than on a cell phone.

In terms of the equipment needed for this, that can be tailored to each person’s personal preferences. Some will want a traditional handset. That’s easily done. Others will prefer a headset. And some may just want the VoIP software on their laptop and not have a “proper” phone at all.

All these options (and more) are easy, and allow you to give each member of your team the setup that suits them.

Hardware Shortages Continue Amid Pandemic

When the pandemic hit and lockdowns were enforced, many people moved to working from home, including students.

Businesses and schools had to adapt to their new circumstances and embrace remote functionality to continue on.

So what does this have to do with a hardware shortage?

Many students were supplied Chromebooks by the school, and if they didn’t already have enough, schools suddenly needed devices for their student body.

And that’s on top of folks needing laptops to work from home. Everybody who didn’t already have a laptop suddenly needed one.

This demand continues to be a problem for manufacturers. Companies like HP and Dell, two of the three largest PC manufacturers (Lenovo being the third), have been reporting issues with PC parts.

When the pandemic first hit, there was a shortage of many components, but RAM stood out as one of the shortest supplies. Recently, CPUs and boards have had issues.

It’s difficult to adequately meet demand when your product is missing essential parts – but that demand is persistent and isn’t just going to go away while we’re still working and learning remotely. Much like the craze we’ve been seeing for recent video game consoles, devices are selling fast when they are available.

HP reports that its PC sales are up 7% annually overall with a 25% increase in notebook sales and a 31% decline in desktops. This is a good indicator that people are prioritizing being able to work anywhere, whether that’s the office or between different rooms at home.

HP also reported that their Chromebook sales more than doubled this year. The PCs and Chromebooks are flying off the shelf.

Dell reports 14% consumer revenue growth and 5% commercial. The commercial increase is directly related to government orders, as well as schools; those large orders for notebooks or Chromebooks pushed Dell’s commercial sales.

Dell also reported double-digit growth in major categories because of the need to work from home. They had four different models that exceeded the double-digit growth reported.
With all of the increase in sales, it is understandable that there is a shortage. It wasn’t only Dell and HP experiencing the shortage either.

High-end gaming PCs are becoming hard and harder to equip as the high-end equipment is also harder and harder to come by.

Companies like NVidia are struggling to keep GDDR6, the RAM used in video cards, readily available.

Nvidia also has a new desktop PC, which has been unavailable too. Along with AMD’s new RX6000, these items are not only out-of-stock, but are commanding a premium on the resale market.

Those who CAN get them are profiting off the demand (again, much like the people buying up and reselling PS5s and Xbox consoles).

Even Apple is having supply issues. It was reported that supplies are still low for Macbooks.

We’re seeing the pandemic’s impact in areas most people wouldn’t consider and watching it happen to companies we would expect to be invulnerable.

Things will eventually even out and stabilize, but until then, we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, just like everything else during this pandemic.

Pandemic Continues To Affect Business Models (Even Microsoft’s)

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

The global pandemic continues on, and here in the United States, we are once again seeing numbers surge after a few months on the decline.

With the holiday season approaching, many are changing and cancelling their usual plans. Many employees are still working from home when possible. Everyone – from tech giants to a small mom-and-pop business on the corner – have been affected in some way.

So, with a reduced workforce, what does that mean for a company like Microsoft? For starters, they are pushing back end-of-support dates. One of which is Windows 10 1803, which had its support extended by six months.

This is partly due to the impact the pandemic has had on Microsoft, but beyond that, it is because many businesses cannot operate normally right now. This is obviously problematic on many levels. The last thing a business owner or company needs is to push out updates without the proper support in place.

Productivity may be down in some cases as people adjust to workflow changes and remote working, but many have become more comfortable with their new normal. They have hit their stride, if they missed a step at all, and Microsoft has opted not to disrupt that.

If a giant like Microsoft is adjusting their business models and plans, the impact is sure to reach the little guys. Although a majority of businesses rely on technology and computers in some capacity, not everyone has the capability or the support needed to move to a completely remote business model, even temporarily.

For a managed service provider like Tech Experts, managing clients remotely has been our primary focus for years. There will always be times that even we need to physically be somewhere to perform certain tasks, but in a pandemic, even for us, that number has decreased.

Some industries are more reliant on physical presence to be effective, which completely shakes up their operations.

In Monroe, schools have now switched to all online classes. Most students were already primarily remote, and due to surging cases, they have now switch to online.

I sat in on parent teacher conferences last week. During the conferences, I spoke to different teachers, and I gained some perspective on how the pandemic has affected their classes and their interactions with students.

More than one teacher specifically mentioned how, even on Zoom, it feels like they are teaching to an empty room or a black screen. Participation is down, but usually, school work comes in without issue.

Remote capabilities are in place, but it’s a very different experience than sitting in classrooms with peers.

Whether you’re an IT pro, doctor, lawyer, insurance agent, teacher, or student, your days this year surely look a lot different than they have in the past. We’re getting by as well as we can under the circumstances, trying to make things work with what we have.

Even with a vaccine on the way, things may never be exactly the same again. Work-from-home positions may become more popular or widely offered. Traveling for meetings will be less likely as many companies have gotten used to teleconferencing. Some students may flourish in online school and cause the industry to expand.

Changes aren’t always easy, but hopefully, the things that can be improved will be. No matter how it has affected you, the pandemic will not be missed.

Three Ways To Avoid Work From Home Burnout

The lines between work and non-work have blurred for so many people. For those who are still working from home (WFH), they may now be in their sixth consecutive month where there’s little balance between what they do professionally and personally.

Because when the work is sitting there in your personal space, it’s far too easy to work early or late – or both. Accidentally spotting that “urgent” email just before you’re about to go to bed really is incredibly damaging.

Added pressures of childcare have made this worse. Some parents feel that working all hours is the only way they can make up for the perceived reduced quality in their work.

The stress of constantly working (or constantly thinking about work) is dangerous. Our bodies and minds simply aren’t designed to be “on” all the time.

This is bad for our mental health. Which can easily have a negative effect on our physical health too. As IT specialists, we’ve been working remotely for years. Here are our top 3 suggestions to avoid WFH burnout.

1) Have physical ways to transition from personal you to work you, and back again. The easiest way to do this is with a dedicated workspace that’s strictly only used for work.

Even a specific seat at a table can be dedicated to work, even if you sit in other seats to do other things, like eat or play games. Some people dress for work each day, so they can change their clothes to mark the end of the working day.

2) Set strict work hours and stick to them. 9 to 5 might be impossible, but you can still have set work times, even if they’re scattered throughout the day. Make sure your family knows when you’re working. This is where having a set physical space can really help. In your non-work hours, make sure you only do non-work things. And do not check your email!

3) Prioritize what really matters: The other downside of sitting surrounded by work all the time is that there’s always something else that can be done. There’s no point working on minor tasks at 11pm at night, because the chances are, you’re not actually achieving anything meaningful. Assume you have 3-4 hours of truly productive time each day. And make sure you get and stay organized to achieve the most important things in this time.

Emerging: A New Version Of Business In 2020

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

Signs of hope are emerging across the globe as economies slowly begin to reopen, but the sad reality is there will never be a return to the “old normal.”

Re-opening phases will look different for each industry and business type. B2C will have different challenges in reopening than B2B. Different regions have been affected in different ways and some more than others.

There is no cookie cutter model to reopening
McKinsey and Company has developed the CEO’s guide to reopening (https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-restart) based on research they have done across the globe, specifically in Europe and Asia. One of the biggest differentiators will be if you are B2B or B2C.
[Read more…]

Remote Workforce Or Not – You Can Securely Protect And Back Up Your Corporate Information

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

One of the most common objections heard when talking with businesses about moving towards a remote work strategy is the supposed security risks posed by not having all data contained within the physical confines of the office building.

While this has widely been debunked, the myth still remains. But the tide may be moving in the other direction now that many businesses were forced to move to an entirely remote workforce during the COVID-19 shutdown.

CNBC has reported that 85% of businesses are now operating 50% of their workforce remotely, and with tech giants Twitter and Facebook both reporting plans to move towards a continued remote strategy, the reality is that remote work in a larger capacity is going to become the norm instead of the exception.

Now is the time to prepare for the “new normal” that will become our reality.

Sadly, along with the threat of COVID-19, cyberattacks have grown as attackers realize that home networks are not as secure as corporate networks. However, security and back up firm Acronis shares 5 things that you can do to protect your business data moving forward with a remote work strategy.

Five “must do’s” according to Acronis
Acronis is a leading cloud backup and security provider and one that we recommend widely to all of our customers. They list 5 “must do’s” as you set up your remote workforce, and as always, we are here to help you put these processes in place.

Must-Do #1: VPN – or Virtual Private Network
You have most likely heard of this technology as it has been around for a while. But if not, a VPN will encrypt all data while in transit to protect it from cyberattackers.

Must-Do #2: Keep an eye out for phishing
Hackers are known for taking advantage of highly stressful events and we have seen an increase of COVID-19 themed phishing attempts and we expect this number to continue to rise as businesses reopen.

The best and most reliable way to prevent a phishing attack from affecting your business is through effective employee training. As another protective measure, you can install URL filtering software on your employees laptop or home computer to further reduce the risks of falling victim.

Acronis says, however, that you should always ask yourself if you were really expecting that email before opening or clicking any links contained in the message.

Must-Do #3: Anti-Malware
Virus and malware protection has always been a standard recommendation, but with the wide net that is cast with remote work, it has become even more important that every endpoint that touches your corporate data has this protection installed on it.

Must-Do #4: Patch, patch, and patch
Regardless of your operating system, whether it be Microsoft or Apple, you need to ensure that you are operating under the most recent operating system. Many attacks occur by taking advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities.

Must-Do #5: Keep your password, and your workspace, to yourself
Just because the office location is at home does not automatically mean people can’t access sensitive information when you step away. Limit access to your computer even when you are at home and do not tell anyone your passwords.

Prepare for the future now
There is no question that the future we anticipated at the close of 2019 is different than the one that will ultimately surface.

By making the assumption that remote work will continue to be the norm instead of a return to the standard office environment will help your business be agile and meet challenges head-on.

The Latest Small Business Security SNAFU? Zoom

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

With everyone now working from home and finding new ways to collaborate and get things done, Zoom has become one of the most popular video conferencing applications, reporting growth of 378% over just one year ago.

As its popularity has grown, so has the allure for hackers. The FBI in Boston reported that two online high school classes had been interrupted by individuals who began yelling obscenities and the address of the teacher to another which displayed swastika tattoos. So how does this happen?

To start, most recurring meetings use the same meeting IDs. Someone, in an effort to make sure other attendees were aware of the event, would share it in an unsecured way, such as on Facebook or other social media.

Hackers can pick up this information, and even after the event was over, they could use the same information to gain access to the next meeting. Fortune Magazine has reported that dark web dedicated forums have popped up on popular sites like Reddit, and all a hacker would need to do on Facebook is search for “zoom.us” to find any public post containing the targeted words.

So what is a business to do to secure their meetings and avoid the potential sharing of sensitive corporate information during this time of extensive virtual meetings? First, and foremost, set your meeting to private. This means that there is a password required for each participant to enter. Although Zoom has now changed this setting to be the default setting, some users are still opting to make the meeting public for the sake of convenience.

As inconvenient as it is to have invitees enter a password to get into their meeting, it’s even more inconvenient to have sensitive corporate information released. Also… and this might seem to be stating the obvious but do not share your meeting invite over social media.

No matter our security settings on social media profiles, it’s best to assume that nothing you say on there will stay private. Another way to ensure the security of your zoom meeting is to use the feature of the waiting room. This means that each invitee who logs in will first be placed into a room where the meeting host then has to approve their entry and allowing the host to assess each attendee before they enter the room.

Also, never use your personal ID. Each zoom user has a personal virtual meeting room assigned when they create an account. Defaulting to using your assigned virtual meeting room can make it easier for hackers to enter in from old meeting announcements.

You know the phrase, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Yeah. When it comes to Zoom (and any virtual meeting for that matter) assume what happens in Zoom does not stay in Zoom. If the information that is going to be shared is of such critical nature, you should find another medium where you have no chance of being overheard.

Covid-19’s Effects On The Tech We Use Every Day

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

As we all know, most of the world was basically shut down earlier this year. There was no planning or infrastructure in place to help ease the burden of entire populations staying home. Consequently, the domino effect hit hard.

People rushed out to stock up on essentials like toilet paper and sanitizer. Overbuying then created a new issue as supply chains struggled to keep up with demand. Shipping times overall started to slow.

Amazon, whose Prime subscription service is famous for its 1-2 day shipping time, prioritized essential items for their guaranteed delivery. From personal experience, I had an Amazon item that did not ship for two weeks after ordering. This was solely due to the de-prioritization of nonessential goods.

The United States Post Office has had severe delays as well, specifically in their larger Metropolitan areas, and have been buried under a Christmas season-like load with a much smaller workforce.

Manufacturing as a whole took an almost immediate hit. Most manufacturing facilities have a large number of employees in an enclosed area. This presented a huge risk for the spread of the disease, causing automobile manufacturers, food processing plants, and computer manufacturers to send their employees home and shut their doors.

Why does manufacturing being put on hold matter so much? Once again, it’s due to the struggle to meet demands.

While many industries did put a hold on their business, many others made a quick transition to remote work. Many companies, both big and small, scrambled to obtain laptops for their employees to allow them to work from home.

While companies worked out remote solutions for their employees, schools had also closed down all over the country.

Some schools had existing devices for their students, such as Chromebooks, but many schools did not. To continue the learning process during the pandemic, more computers were needed for students to do their work. All of these new needs for computers – primarily from online retailers – created a huge surge in PC sales, but also created a real issue. Inventory was running out all over the United States and a computer shortage began.

With no manufacturing, there was no inventory being created, including PC parts. This affected the entire sector and the shortage is on-going.

All faces of technology – from the big guys like Amazon to smaller companies – have felt the effects of the pandemic. They have also done their part to help.

Auto plants changed their lines over from making cars to making respirators. Amazon put a high priority on essential items and medical supplies. Many other industries and businesses have shifted their production to meet immediate needs such as masks.

There is some silver lining in all of this. Seeing companies band together for the good of people without thinking of profit has been reassuring. The phrase “unprecedented times” has been used more times than we can count, but now that we have that precedent, let’s hope we can learn from it.

Should I Go, Or Should I Wait? Re-opening Tips

Stay at home orders are being lifted, businesses are beginning to reopen. Our world is being turned on its head again, and normal will never be the same again.

As we begin to reopen our doors and essentially relaunch our businesses, here are some things to think about to get you started.

Be very careful about what and where you make cost cuts
Uncertainty naturally causes us to restrict, and this is by no means bad. You may have to make cuts in order to get things back on their feet. But Inc Magazine contributor, Graham Winfrey, cautions to you make those cuts wisely.

In his interview with Manny Cosme, the CEO and President of a CFO and Bookkeeping business, he was advised to make projections before you make cuts. Cosme said that businesses need to think about growing their way out of the crisis.

He said, “Every cut that you make is going to cut your ability to generate revenue or keep your business going, which is not something you want to be doing right now.” So think very carefully about what, and even if, you are going to make any cuts as you reopen.

Look closely at your business model
No matter how much we wish we could just go back to the way things were, we have all experienced significant changes over the last few weeks. Nothing feels better than returning to some sort of normalcy.

But one thing we have learned over this global health crisis is the ability of the entrepreneur and the business owner to pivot and meet their consumers’ needs where they are. Changing your business model in light of the pandemic just might be what saves your business.

Graham Winfrey suggests you ask yourself 3 questions:

● What should your business model be when you come out of this?
● Is your current business model viable? If so, how can you hang on until it’s viable again?
● Are there ways you can pivot all of your expertise into a better revenue stream?

Along with his panelist in the article on Inc, Cosme believes that it comes down to changing one or more of the following within your business model:

● What you sell
● Whom you sell it to
● How you deliver it

Evaluate local support options
Throughout this crisis, many federal and local supports have been extended to small business and their employees. Graham suggests that you look to your local chamber of commerce to see what local support programs may have been crafted to help you as you reopen your doors.

Create policies to ensure the safety of both your employees and customers
After you have completed the above steps, now you should create your communication plan for letting your customers know you will be open for business.

George Brandt in his article in Forbes suggests you approach it in three steps: Emotional, rational, and inspirational.

Be authentic
George suggests that you connect with your audience in an authentic, relatable and compassionate way.

Empathize with your consumer that you know this was difficult for them as well as for you. George quotes PrimeGenesis’ saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Lay out the facts
With calm composure, polite and authoritative, lay out the hard facts of the current situation. For them and for you.

George defines the facts as “things that any rational person would agree are true no matter what bias or perspective they bring to the situation – objective, scientific truths as opposed to subjective, personal, cultural or political truths, opinions or conclusions.”

Think ahead and paint an optimistic view
George recommends that you ground all your communication with Mayfield and Mayfield’s meaning-making and direction-giving language, meaning providing purpose and value: be – do – say.

The New Normal COVID-19 Office Security

With continued WFH policies and multiplied COVID-19 scams and threats, the importance of good cyber security stands out. Indeed, with a workforce that is highly dependent on digital services for the foreseeable future, the new normal COVID-19 office security is necessarily stronger, more vigilant, and more dispersed.

Yet, a lot of questions remain unanswered. For example, will behavioral surveillance be part of the new normal? As organizations plan to implement contact tracing, privacy advocates voice their concerns.

Given the uncertainty, we expect to see these non-intrusive measures with clearly defined benefits coming to the new normal.

Thermal cameras for passive temperature checking
The advantages of temperature detection for a business COVID-19 strategy include early discovery and reporting leading to early isolation and treatment.

Advanced temperature detection technology is not a substitute for medical grade FDA approved thermometers. The advantage of an advanced thermal camera system is that it can pick out personnel with abnormal body temperatures in heavy traffic areas to be assessed later by a professional with medically approved equipment.

These systems use an HD video camera and thermal camera side by side looking at the same field of view. The resulting video and metadata output, when combined with advanced artificial intelligence, gives sensible temperature data on multiple objects simultaneously.

Some systems employ facial detection technology paired with a face database and a high temperature detection alarm. They can identify up to 16 targets with a temperature accuracy of .54° F and come with an easy to use interface.

In-office security cameras
Also likely to become more common, in-office security cameras provide a video record of events. They function as a tool to answer concerns about what happened if a COVID-19 behavioral complaint surfaces. The societal resistance to surveillance will likely be counter-balanced by the desire to maintain a safe work environment.

Plexiglas barriers
Plexiglas® extruded acrylic sheets promote both worker and consumer safety to help control the spread of the virus.

Sneeze guards made from Plexiglas make sense. So, it is logical to see their use extended in the office to create barriers between closely seated workers. We’ll see them in other areas to promote social distancing.

Health questions
The CDC recently issued guidance recommending that employers actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Interpreting this guidance, the EEOC confirmed that the rules of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act continue to apply but do not prevent employers from following guidelines from the CDC and other public health authorities regarding COVID-19.

Per the EEOC’s guidance, employers may ask employees who report feeling ill at work, or who call in sick, questions about their symptoms to determine if they may have COVID-19. In addition, they may require employees to stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms, screen applicants for symptoms of COVID-19, delay the start date or withdraw the offer of an applicant with symptoms.

Thus, employers may find it necessary to ask employees about their symptoms. They might require notification of high body temperatures, and request disclosure of recent proximity to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. In doing so, they must be mindful to do it consistently and avoid discriminatory use of the results.

To simplify the process and avoid collecting unnecessary information, employers may simply ask employees to stay home if they show certain symptoms, rather than asking them about the specific symptoms they have.

Work from home security
The WFH new normal creates multiple security challenges that must be addressed. From simple provisioning issues like shredders for employees handling sensitive documents to updated incident response plans, new circumstances demand new security responses.

For example, the company’s business continuity plan should be updated to address new fail-over and backup procedures. Also, the difficulty of securing and verifying credentials in a remote environment will encourage the use of multifactor authentication.

In addition, with less physical oversight of employees, organizations may need to focus more on user activity. Access logs and user behavior analysis come to mind. Increased threats require increased employee education. And, employees also need to know how to report security risks or threats through all the currently used communication channels (in addition to email).