Three Ways That Technology Has Transformed Businesses

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

Breakthroughs in technology have torn apart old ways of working, as new alternatives have become impossible to ignore.

Here are three examples of ways that technology has transformed businesses everywhere.

Instant customer service
As new methods of communication have emerged, businesses have been able to significantly increase the quality and availability of the customer service they offer.

Instead of relying on face-to-face meetings or telephone calls to answer customer questions, businesses can now help through immediate online channels like live chat.

This is convenient for many customers, as they can talk at the exact moment they need help. It allows them to get immediate answers to their questions without needing to navigate telephone menus or book an appointment.

[Read more…]

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.

Zoom In: A Look At The Increase Of Virtual Meetings

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

Quarantine as a whole was (and still is) a strange thing to see happen in the United States. With state-by-state protocols varying and dates in which states began to open back up done on a per-state basis, months were lost.

Schools shut down and businesses closed, some permanently. The businesses deemed “essential” stayed open with new restrictions in place.

Travel was restricted domestically and halted internationally. Anyone that could work remotely was reassigned to work from home.

With travel bans and remote work orders in place, Zoom saw huge increases in usage.

Zoom is meeting software, allowing users to do video or audio conferences as a group. There is a very good free tier for users to join unlimited calls, to host calls with up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes, and unlimited one-to-one calls.

Among other similar solutions, Zoom has seen skyrocketing numbers since the pandemic started.

In December 2019, Zoom reported 10 million daily meetings taking place. Fast forward to March 2020, and Zoom hosted 200 million daily meeting. By the end of April 2020, Zoom reached 300 million daily meetings.

Zoom users vary from friends chatting, students collaborating, businesses meeting, conferences, and even the British members of Parliament.

Video conferencing has been used to keep gatherings to a minimum, teach students, conduct business meetings, and more.

While there may be a time that the number of video conferences may drop down, I believe the way we do business and operate as people has changed in some ways that will continue the prevalence of video conferencing.

Many schools across the US closed early late last year due to the pandemic. In Michigan, students in K-12 have a few different options when it comes to how they proceed with their learning now. Students can work remote or virtually.

Remote learning has two options itself, in-person learning with remote or just remote. The in-person learning involves a limited school day and less days in attendance per week. Or a class will be entirely remote.

Virtual school will remain that way all year. This is an existing system in place, and students will remain home doing virtual learning even when restrictions ease. Students may have already been using this system prior to the pandemic.

In both cases, students are typically using Google Classroom and Zoom. Remote learning with Zoom sees students join a conference with an instructor. They may have a lecture or another type of lesson that is done over the video conferencing. Virtual school’s lectures can vary based on the program itself.

When restrictions are lifted in Michigan for schools, those who are doing remote learning with attendance will attend school on a more regular schedule, but will still see some use of Zoom as a way to reduce traffic and students in different classrooms. Those doing just remote learning will stay home after restrictions are lifted and continue to attend video conferences as classes.

There have been many changes this year, and some are for the better. There will probably be a decrease in travel, even as bans are lifted. Some things that had previously been done in-person will now be done through video conferencing. Students will continue to be able to attend school from home. Work-from-home positions may offered by more companies.

Things will continue to return to how they were before the pandemic, but video conferences will continue to thrive.

Do We Have A Connection Here Or What?

Most businesses are heavily reliant on the internet. Everything is cloud-based and streamed. And it’s especially important now we have more people working from home than ever before.

Without the Internet, those Zoom chats wouldn’t work. We’d spend the day with a mobile phone glued to our ear, and probably with chronic neck ache. Ouch.

So how do you cope if one or more of your remote workers has a poor Internet connection? That can quickly become a frustrating experience for everyone.

Your first port of call would be to run a speed test and then shop around. Find out which providers offer the best speed in their area.

And if they need to, switch. You might choose as a business to financially help them with upgrading their home Internet.

If that’s not an option, then we need to get a little more creative. In extreme cases, you can look at alternatives such as satellite Internet, or a Wi-Fi router that uses 4G.

You can also check their Wi-Fi router to see if an upgrade would be beneficial. And there are things called range extenders that boost the Wi-Fi to reach different parts of their home.

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for or could use some advice on helping your staff get more done from home, call us.

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.

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.

How To Set Up And Maintain A Secure, Remote Work Environment To Overcome The COVID19 Pandemic

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

“We are in this together.” We can’t say that enough. It’s not you, and I, but US.

Information technology and communications providers are considered essential services in this unprecedented time, and we take our role seriously. We are here to help, and we ask you (no, implore you) to reach out with any technology-related questions as you work to transition from a central office to a remote employee environment.

As you prepare (or maybe you already have transitioned) for remote work environments, many of which will need to be done by the individual who will be working there, we developed this list of 10 things to keep in mind to secure a remote work environment on the fly.

Invest in antivirus software for all employee devices
Yes, technically it is your employee’s devices and these are usually outside of the typical IT circle. But with these circumstances coming about quickly, there may not have been time to follow your normal procurement cycle to get the specific equipment your employees need to remain productive while working from home. That means they will be working from their own device, and they may or may not be as cognizant of your security measures.

So a good rule of thumb is to work to ensure that all employees utilize antivirus software. Many ISPs (Internet service providers) also offer free antivirus software with their service, and we would encourage you to take full advantage. There are several ways you can handle this and we invite you to give us a call to see what will work best for your organization. [Read more…]

Working From Home? Probably The “New Normal”

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

I hope that you and your family (and pets) are safe and sound and doing as well as can be expected. This is an extraordinary time for all of us, and the very embodiment of the ancient Chinese aphorism “may you live in interesting times.” We surely do.

Our team is mixed between working in the office and working from home, and everyone is doing a great job. We initially saw a huge increase in our ticket volume as our client’s teams prepared to work from home but that’s tapered off in the last week to a pretty normal level of activity.

If you had to wait for help, please accept my personal apology for the inconvenience – while we have plans to handle client disasters, I never anticipated something as far-reaching as the current pandemic.

The “new normal”

If the politicians and experts are to be believed, many of the changes we’ve had to make to slow the spread of this virus are going to be around for quite a while, at least until we have an effective vaccine for COVID-19. From an IT perspective, that means more of your team will probably be working remotely. And that presents a new kind and new level of security exposure for your company. [Read more…]

Working Remotely: Changes Amid The Outbreak

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

It was early March when Microsoft decided to mandate its employees work remotely. Over a month since then, the world has not yet “bounced” back.

It’s still looking like we haven’t seen the worst of things to come. Many industries are closed altogether. Others are running with reduced staff. More people than we can count are out of work and seeking unemployment.

Unless your position called for travel, working remotely wasn’t something many people would consider. However, there is no normal right now, and many people find themselves working from home for the first time.

Not all industries can manage it. There are front liners that have to work. Sure, you can likely do a video appointment with your doctor, but doctors are still seeing patients.

Food service, gas station, and grocery store employees are all critical and in-person jobs that are going to work on a daily basis.

Insurance companies and accounting offices? Their employees are probably very important to a lot of people right now. Their jobs are unlikely to be reliant on a central location.

A computer with web access can be enough to get you through in some situations, and other times, you need access to resources on your corporate network. Different people have different needs. In some cases, people are learning what they need and how to get it as they go.

As someone working in the IT industry, a fair portion of my normal work is done remotely. The only difference is my physical location. I can make calls, remotely assist clients, resolve issues, and carry on like a typical day at the office.

Many are not so lucky. The world doesn’t stop running, and being under quarantine is creating some unique situations. People who have never worked from home suddenly are.

Non-critical business is on hold, but the justice system isn’t on complete shutdown. Different cities and states are still working with its judges to get things done. There are certainly some instances of cities where they have the infrastructure in place to do telecourt appearances. There are others that are trying to put systems in place to be able to operate and hear cases.

While it is likely that some criminal cases will be put on hold, other court matters, like custody cases, can’t always wait indefinitely.

With such uncertainty, some judges are doing Zoom meetings just to make sure that the world does keep moving around us.

Meeting apps like Zoom are being used more and more frequently as people attempt to find ways to host meetings. Skype, Discord, and just about anything else have been used in a pinch to try to make ends meet.

Technology can be daunting, especially when new concepts like virtual meetings or VPNs are introduced.

People trying to use a webcam and mic or remote connection for the first time can get frustrated; it can be hard enough when we’re not facing a global pandemic. Having a technology partner like Tech Experts can ease the transition (and your mind) in these trying times.

There are many things to be learned from this entire situation, though, and many things are sure to change. One thing is for sure: we will all likely be a little more comfortable with the idea of working from home in the future, should we need to.

How Can Small Businesses Amplify Employee Communication?

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

Using email to conduct important business always starts with the best intentions, like saving everyone time. Just think back to the last time you used email to solve a significant business issue or answer detailed questions from an important customer.

But, sometimes, email creates a disaster of miscommunication. Tone, intonation, and emotion get lost in translation. Messages and ideas are misunderstood. Nothing really gets accomplished.

So, what’s your next step when email isn’t working?

Usually, it’s a meeting in person or a quick conference call. Un-fortunately, those communication methods can create a whole new problem. In an increasingly mobile business world where teams, employees, and customers are spread out over multiple remote offices, work-from-home setups, or field operations, it can be nearly impossible to get everyone into the same place at the same time.

Tethering to the mothership: The lasting value of a virtual phone system
Web conferencing has helped mitigate the above problem. However, the fact that many businesses lack the communication and collaborative tools their team’s need — regardless of where they work — is the bigger issue. For example, even with web conferencing, many remote or work-from-home employees still rely on personal cell phones that aren’t connected to the company’s main phone system.

That’s problematic for a couple of key reasons:

• With personal landlines and cell phones, it’s significantly more difficult for remote employees to access antiquated company systems for voicemail, call forwarding, and conferencing.

• Without a true company-owned connection between the corporate office and the employee, the relationship between the two feels more like a contract gig than a full-time job — hurting employee engagement and retention.

Thankfully, there’s a relatively simple way to solve that problem: implementing a new, company-owned communication system that’s flexible, mobile, and collaborative.

One common solution is a VOIP (Voice Over IP) service, which can be based in the cloud or on-site.

The reality is that voice communication is still a far superior — and much more immediate — way for team members to connect with each other. It typically leads to richer, more sincere, and more empathetic communication, which in turn amplifies productivity.

These tools are like a tether to the corporate mothership. They’re a lifeline that allows everyone to feel connected to their colleagues and customers, but in a way that aligns with the mobility and functionality that today’s remote workers need.

Why many businesses are moving to the cloud
Of course, the image of a desktop phone doesn’t exactly convey a sense of mobility. And it certainly doesn’t solve the problem of being able to connect from any location.

That’s where cloud-based phone systems come in.

Cloud-based phone systems allow team members to receive company calls, access corporate voicemail, and set up virtual conferences from a basic Internet connection.

When employees step out of the office, calls can be forwarded and certain features can be accessed from their cell phone.

Traditional phone systems, on the other hand, often hinder remote workers’ communication effectiveness because of their limited mobile capabilities. This often results in lost money, lost productivity, and big headaches. Even worse, businesses often pay more for traditional phone systems in the form of equipment maintenance and outages.

Virtual communication systems create an overall experience that makes people feel like an effective part of the team, wherever they are. No more emotionless email exchanges and no more awkward, disjointed conference calls. At the end of the day, that’s good for your team, your company, and, most importantly, your customers.