Remote Workers: Benefits and Managerial Tips

Remote working is becoming more common in the business world today. This is possible due to advancements in technology; i.e. smartphones, tablets, and the growing number of public places that have WiFi.

Remote working is becoming more common in the business world today. This is possible due to advancements in technology; i.e. smartphones, tablets, and the growing number of public places that have WiFi. There can be many advantages for the employer and the employee. Remote workers are often more productive, and they are less of a drain on the company resources. For instance, you don’t need to have office space and furniture for remote works. And the benefit of adjusting their schedule to fit their life is a major plus for the employee.

Remote Worker Challenges

One worry that lots of employers have when deciding to hire remote workers is, how can they monitor the amount of work they do? How do they know they are truly working and not just playing games on their computer all day?

Employers can resolve this dilemma by setting realistic deadlines for their remote employees and expecting these workers to fulfill them. What should matter for employers is that work is done in timely manner. It should not matter if workers complete their tasks from midnight to four in the morning.

Setting Remote Worker Deadlines

This is most likely the easiest way to monitor your remote workers. Employers may decide that a certain amount of work needs to be turned in by Friday. One other way would be to set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings via phone or video chat. To resolve any feelings of detachment some employers may ask that a remote worker spend one day a week at the office. This can help keep everyone on track and informed.

Off-Site Not a Permanent Condition

Employers should remember, as well, that remote workers don’t have to stay that way. If employers find that their off-site workers are not meeting deadlines or are turning in sub-par work, they can require that these workers return to the office on a full-time basis. Trust remains the key element of a remote working relationship. Organisations must place some trust in their workers that they’ll finish their jobs on time. Workers must show that they are deserving of this trust by hitting their deadlines, turning in quality work, and replying quickly to phone calls or email messages.

Constant Connectivity: When Should You Unplug

Do you remember a time when you took your dog for a walk without texting, or enjoyed a game with your friends without checking your email?

Do you remember a time when you took your dog for a walk without texting, or enjoyed a game with your friends without checking your email? It was called downtime and it was healthy for you. In this age of connectivity it seems like that may be a thing of the past. Today having our devices with us at all times is not unusual, but is it healthy?

It’s tough to deny that life has become easier on account of connectivity. We don’t need to panic about getting lost as our smartphones can guide us. We can easily stay on top of emails, social media interactions, and even Google information regardless of where we are.

But have you ever realized how infrequently we are alone with only our thoughts nowadays? Some social commentators have wondered if this increase in communication will negatively impact the philosophical side of our species. Without the time and space to sit and ponder will we cease to do so?

That’s a huge question, but there is an even more important question that you should contemplate: Is your constant connectivity healthy? When should you unplug from your tablet, smartphone, and iPod?

It’s not healthy to always be working. It’s equally unhealthy to always be searching for the next piece of entertainment, gossip, or tweet from a friend. In other words, the body needs time to rest, to reflect, to think. If you find that you can not go a few minutes without checking your e-mail, sending a text, or Tweeting a friend, perhaps it’s time to unplug.

While being connected helps create relationships online it can harm ones offline. When you’re out withyour friends and family members it may be good practice to unplug. It’s just too easy to text and check your email, forgetting to give the ones around you the attention they deserve.

If you find that you’re seldom without an electronic gadget in your hand, consider unplugging, at least for a short while. You will probably find that working less makes you more effective and less stressed.

Don’t Squelch Creativity in Your Workplace

Do you run a workplace in which employees feel free to express new ideas?

Do you run a workplace in which employees feel free to express new ideas? Do your workers come to you with new plans or ideas about ways to run company meetings more effectively? Have your employees ever introduced ideas for a new marketing plan or suggested topics for the company’s blog?

If not, then you might be operating a workplace in which employee creativity is being squelched. Nowadays an absence of creativity in your company can condemn your firm to second-tier status. It might even steer your company out of business.

Two heads are better then one right? Well what about a whole business? Promoting creativity means you have many individuals thinking of new ways to promote your products and services, boost workflow efficiency, and enhance overall productivity. This can ultimately mean saving the company money.

One of the best ways to inspire fresh thinking is to simply listen to your employees when they present new ideas. Most employees are anxious when approaching their superiors with new concepts, especially when it’s a notion that falls “outside of the box.” So make sure you give them an open forum to discuss their ideas and give them the respect to listen to them. One more way is to ask your employees, if you are struggling to think of a way to improve the company’s blog, or products, send out an email asking for ideas. Not all of your employee’s ideas will wow you, but, so as not to single anyone out, pay attention to them all.

Dismissing an idea before you have heard it or not giving it your full attention will discourage your employees and defeat your purpose. Instead of having a bunch of imaginative thinkers working for you, you may find yourself with a group of people just going through the motions for their paychecks.

To truly stimulate creativity, reward those employees who do come up with strong ideas. This could mean paying a small bonus to those employees whose ideas you use. It could mean praising employees in company newsletters or memos. It could even mean an in-person “thank you.”

Most employees want to be innovative. Most have ideas on how to improve their places of employment. Nevertheless, in too many work environments, creativity just isn’t emphasized. Break this trend, and encourage your staff to really think about their company. The rewards you receive could be immense.

Moving Beyond the Mouse: Connecting with Our Computers in the Future

Mouse-free computing is something we have just begun to taste. We have touchscreens on many devices including tablets, phones, and e-readers. These allow us to access the web; send texts, and emails all without using a mouse

Mouse-free computing is something we have just begun to taste. We have touchscreens on many devices including tablets, phones, and e-readers. These allow us to access the web; send texts, and emails all without using a mouse. Is this the shape of things to come? Can we eventually leave the mouse in the dust and start mastering more advanced ways of communicating with our computers?

Gesture sensing

Gesture sensing is one thing most gamers are familiar with. The PlayStation and Wii both use this technology. By using a wireless remote you are able to control the game using only body movements. This technology hasn’t been perfected or widely applied to computing but think about the possibilities. Perhaps in the future we will boot our computer by putting on a sensor bracelet and each little gesture we make will carry out a task on our computer!

Multi-touch technology

Multi-touch technology is another interactive innovation. This is what is being applied when you tap your smartphone screen to access programs, or swipe your finger across the surface of your tablet to change screens. In the past few years we have seen a great deal of growth in this technology. Do you think this will end up being the primary way we navigate around our computers?

Voice recognition

This technology has been with us for quite a while but has had lots of kinks. As these get resolved, it will continue to gain popularity. This technology allows people to simply speak commands to their computer to complete them. The most common vendor for vocal recognition software is Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Once this technology is refined the possibilities for its utilization in computing are endless.

No matter what happens, though, chances are that we’ll still rely, at least somewhat, on the humble mouse. After all, it has served us well for quite some time.

Data Security and Your Small Business: What You Need To Know

It is easy to fall into the mistaken idea that you already possess enough safeguards in place to protect your small business. You almost certainly stay current with the latest antivirus software, but is that enough

It is easy to fall into the mistaken idea that you already possess enough safeguards in place to protect your small business. You almost certainly stay current with the latest antivirus software, but is that enough? You also probably feel that since you’re not a huge corporation, you don’t have to worry about cyber criminals hacking into your system. But here’s the unfortunate reality: cyber criminals have upped their game and are starting to target small businesses increasingly more. Let’s take a closer look to  give you a better understanding of the level of danger your business may be under.

Small firms: low-hanging fruit

The facts are, hackers have found that small businesses are easier targets, and are increasingly preying upon them. They are able to infiltrate their systems at a much faster rate, and with a better percentage of success as well. This means a cyber criminal can assault multiple targets in the time it would take them to lay siege to a better-guarded system with a higher level of data security. How can it be worth their while to steal from a mom and pop operation? In the present modern world, virtually every business employs digital payment processing methods. When your customers pay using a credit card, this data must run through your system to be verified. This represents a goldmine of data for hackers, as they can lift this information without being discovered. With your customers’ credit card numbers, addresses and names, they are able to make bogus charges on their accounts.

How hackers gain access to your data

How can they get this delicate data? Though you might be protected by software designed to firewall your systems, hackers still have several points of entry. Email attachments are a major offender, and openingjust one piece of malware can leave you exposed. Believe it or not, in the first quarter of this year alone, industry experts have found over six million unique malware programs. Attackers don’t have to be sophisticated to be harmful: when trying to breach your data security, some hackers have a low-tech strategy instead. They could contact your employees directly, and posing as a network administrator, ask for their password to boost security. This is known as “phishing.” While you may believe your employees know better than to be seduced by such an evident tact, it takes merely one lapse in judgment to leave your systems open to attack.

The buck stops with you

If you feel that maintaining data security is not vital, consider that should your systems be breached, your clients will likely hold you personally responsible for any stolen information or property. These kind of events cost companies thousands of dollars each year and can damage a company’s name so badly  that they have to close their doors permanently.

An ounce of prevention…

Taking extra precautions when it comes to your business’ data security is a very wise move. Continue to update your programs and passwords on a regular basis. Teach your employees good security practices like setting up strong passwords and instructing them to never give out login information or open suspicious emails. Hiring an outside consultant is another great way to ensure your clients’ information. These measures not only give you peace of mind, they tell your clients that you care about keeping them safe.

Improve Your Company Culture: Part 2

Our last blog centered around company culture as well as the effect it could have on your brand. Your company’s culture, positive or negative, shows up in your brands reputation.

Our last blog centered around company culture as well as the effect it could have on your brand. Your company’s culture, positive or negative, shows up in your brands reputation. We talked about methods to measure the cultural health of your organization, but exactly how do you give your company a cultural transformation?

The first step is to ask yourself a couple of questions to get an idea of the “feel” you would like your company to have:

  • What attributes do you value that you want to show up in your company’s culture? Respect, acceptance, creativity, fun, etc.?
  • What are the major values or focus of your company? How can you make that prominent in the culture?
  • How is information shared with employees? Are they left in the dark a lot?
  • Do you reward employees and in what ways? 
  • Does everyone feel heard in the company? Do people feel free to express their ideas and give their opinions?

These may lead to more questions. To get answers try brainstorming with your colleagues. Here are a few suggestions to get the process started:

Suggestion/Thought box – This is an good way to allow people to share thoughts and opinions about the current events within the company. The employee could choose to make the suggestion anonymous or not, and any suggestions or concerns could be addressed in monthly company meetings.

Empower employees – Let your staff make decisions. Treat the employees as peers; allow them to have a say and listen to their ideas. Also be a transparent leader. Don’t just tell your employees when things are great, but also inform them tactfully when things aren’t going so well.

Flexible hours – Trusting your employees to get their work done is key. Don’t constantly hang over or micro-manage them. Trusting your employees to get their jobs done gives you less anxiety, as well as result in the general company culture more respectful.

Dress code – Long gone are the days of the suit and tie on a daily basis (at least in many fields), so let employees express themselves with their clothing. This can make them feel free and accepted. Another approach is to have themed clothing days. Examples of this are: wig day, silly t-shirt day, hat day, etc. Let employees make recommendations for themes. A little silly goes a long way.

Celebrate – Your business is the sum of everybody in it. Celebrate your team with group activities.  For example, cater lunch for everybody, have a movie or game day, or just throw a party. This can lead to more cohesion within your team and encourage collaboration.

Below is a variety of things that real companies do to add some fun to their culture:

  • Spontaneous Nerf gun wars
  • Painting inspirational quotes on the walls
  • Hitting a loud gong when there is a success to let the whole company know
  • Foosball tournaments
  • Lunchtime Yoga
  • Lunchtime Crafting Club
  • Monday Mad Libs, whoever wishes to contribute, does, and then the completed Mad Lib is emailed to the company

Is the Promise of the Paperless Office yet Another Jet Pack?

The promise of a paperless office has been around for years. Unfortunately, most offices must still use paper on a regular basis. Is the paperless office just a pipe dream that we will not attain?  In a nutshell, no.

The promise of a paperless office has been around for years. Unfortunately, most offices must still use paper on a regular basis. Is the paperless office just a pipe dream that we will not attain?  In a nutshell, no. We’re constantly moving toward paperless offices, but it’s just taking us a lot longer than we had expected.

The advantages of paper

There’s a reason why paper hasn’t yet vanished from most offices: It’s useful. Employees at even the greenest of offices—those workspaces most dedicated to lowering the amount of paper they consume—have uses for paper. Paper is portable. Employees can easily scrawl notes on it. They can fold it up and slip it into their wallets or shirt pockets. Many employees prefer proofreading important documents in hard-copy form. There’s something about proofreading a document on the computer screen that causes some employees to miss important errors or typos.

Less paper than ever

Paper is starting to become less and less important.  Many of our past paper processes are now able to be performed on a computer. Team communication is dealt with via email. Even instant messaging has taken the place of paper notes to coworkers. Smartphones and tablets have taken over the need for a physical calendar/schedule system. If you take a look back at how far business has come in the past decade, it’s pretty clear that paper, while not fully obsolete, is no longer king.

The future

It’s obvious that offices of the future will rely on less paper than even we do now, but will paper ever really go the way of the milkman? Maybe. Some people still prefer having their milk delivered from a local dairy but most are content to pick it up from the store when they need it.

Paper will most likely go the same route and it will be a personal preference as to how much paper is consumed in the office. As many of our business processes rely on digital solutions, there will always be a select few who prefer good old-fashioned pen and paper.

Get More Out of Your New iPhone With These Quick Tips

We all know what an iPhone can do. We are able to use this handy device to connect to the Web and view the latest movies and tv shows. We can use it to update our Facebook pages and send out tweets.

We all know what an iPhone can do. We are able to use this handy device to connect to the Web and view the latest movies and tv shows. We can use it to update our Facebook pages and send out tweets. We can play music, make phone calls, and find directions to the closest Italian restaurant by using the iPhone. However, you may be amazed at what else your iPhone enables you to do. Fortunately, there are plenty of smartphone experts out there willing to share their top iPhone tricks with you.

Saving Time

Say you need to type a quick email or report and you’d rather not rely on the fairly small on-screen keyboard that makes it very easy to type an “F” when you intended to hit the “D.” The editors at Macworld, in a recent online feature, have a suggestion: If you’re browsing in Safari—before tapping on the address bar, an action that immediately brings up your on-screen keyboard—rotate your iPhone to a horizontal position. When you tap the address bar now, your on-screen keyboard will also appear in horizontal mode. It will be larger, making it simpler for those of us with sluggish fingers to tap out those emails without filling them with typos. The editors at Macworld also offer a timesaving tip for making phone calls. If you’re browsing in Safari and you happen upon the phone number of that hotel at which you need to make a reservation, just tap the onscreen number. Your iPhone will automatically dial it for you.

More Efficient Typing

This tip will help you type faster: When you tap the space bar twice at the end of a sentence, your phone will add a period and automatically capitalize the next word you type. If you’re a individual who uses a great deal of special characters, it’s simple to access the menu by touching and holding a letter on your screen until the special character options pop up. Then simply select the character you need and insert it.

Quick Printing, Personalized Entertainment

You can print messages and documents quickly from your iPhone if you own an AirPrint-enabled printer. To print an email message, simply tap the Reply icon and then select “Print.” This will instantly send your email to your printer. If you want to print a full Web page, tap the “Action” icon and, again, select “Print.”

Your iPhone can play your music, but did you know you can make a individualized music playlist on the run? Open the iPod application, tap the “Playlists” icon and chose the “Add Playlist” option. After renaming your playlist, just navigate to the song you want to add and select it.

Phishing Scams: Tips On How to Save Yourself From Becoming Prey

Phishing scams remain one of the most lucrative crimes for online cyber criminals.

Phishing scams remain one of the most lucrative crimes for online cyber criminals. News reports of sensitive data from large corporations like Sony being jeopardized are increasing at a worrying rate. But contrary to popular belief, these phishing scams are just as hazardous for small business owners.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), received over 300,000 complaints in 2010 from both individuals and small businesses that have been victims of online phishing scams and other Internet related crimes.

To give you a better understanding as to why your small business is of great worth to a cyber criminal, let’s take a look at what phishing is exactly. 

What is phishing?

Phishing is a serious problem, but the term can be a bit unclear. It is the act of illegally trying to acquire private information such as passwords, credit card account numbers, banking account information, usernames, or social security numbers.  Phishing is accomplished by creating fake logos, email addresses, authentic looking official websites, and phone numbers.  Victims are then under the illusion that it is official business and are compelled to give out their private information, which in turn can be used to steal their identity.  Small businesses often suffer from phishing, as the goal is to gain access to their customer’s private information such as credit card account numbers.

Examples of small business phishing scams

There are many models of small business phishing scams.  For example, fake emails have been sent to thousands of smaller businesses that are highly authentic looking from the IRS and even including the IRS logo.  These emails explain that they must fill out tax forms or W-4 forms and return these forms by fax.  Many business owners trust this information was sent by the IRS and fear that they will be audited if they do not do what the email said was expected of them.

The IRS states on it’s website at IRS.gov, that it will not initiate any contact by email and that you should never click any links on an email sent to you asking you to send anything to the IRS.

Your company email can be a target

Another way these thieves gain information is by targeting a specific individual within a business by sending him or her some kind of fake communication that looks completely reliable but ends up releasing a virus or malware. This virus then infects the entire network, giving thieves access to private company data. 

Phone phishing

Beware that there are also “Phone phishing scams”, in which someone claiming to be from a bank, for instance, might ask you to call and verify your account.

How to protect your business against phishing

Visiting the Anti-Phishing Work Group will give you wise advice to shield your business against phishing scams and gives you useful information on how to avoid becoming a victim. Some of their advice follows, such as:

  • Make sure your employees are aware of what phishing scams are, and are cautious when reading and responding to suspicious emails.  Always err on the side of caution.  Instead of clicking a link, open another browser window and go to the official website.
  • Never give out company financial information such as bank routing numbers to an inquiry made via email.  Your bank does not need you to confirm your account information…they already have that. An email like that even if it has your bank’s logo is a fake. Make it a habit to check your accounts regularly for suspicious charges and withdrawals.
  • Make sure every computer used has up-to-date virus and malware protection.  Schedule regular full system scans.  Never download “anti-virus” software from an unknown entity. It’s better to stick with trusted brands.

It is nearly impossible for law enforcement to stop phishing, so the best method of defense is the education of your employees for identifying, dealing with, and staying up to date with phishing scam trends.

 

The IT Department: Not Coded Breakers

Without question, there’ll be an occasion when you’ll need help from your IT service provider. Be aware that they are responsible for aiding many people with a wide variety of challenging problems.  In order to receive the best possible response to your request, be sure you include as much important information when you initially ask for help

Without question, there’ll be an occasion when you’ll need help from your IT service provider. Be aware that they are responsible for aiding many people with a wide variety of challenging problems.  In order to receive the best possible response to your request, be sure you include as much important information when you initially ask for help. You can’t assume they will understand your problem if you don’t supply them with all the details. By following these few steps, you can be assured that the whole experience goes smoothly and efficiently.

Write an Informative Email Subject Line
Often, the IT department will get inundated with requests ranging from those that require immediate response – “my computer is smoking and smells like burning plastic” – to those that can handle a one to two hour delay in response – “I want to send this 150 MB file but it just won’t upload to my email.” Using a detailed subject line will let them know the basics up front and help them prioritize the request appropriately.  For example, the subject line “Installed ___ got error _____” will help them immediately know what your issue is all about.  In other words, do not write “Computer problems!!!!!!!!!!” This is not helpful as it provides no real description of the problem.

Details, Details, Details
In the body of your email, be sure to include as much information as possible, i.e. what OS you are running, what actions you took, and what error messages you see. Error messages may not mean anything to people outside of the IT world, but they can offer a lot of insight into what’s happening with your machine. Also, don’t be vague and say, “followed recommended procedure,” as the person receiving your email may not know what that is.  Instead, explain the exact steps you took.

Be Frank
You are a busy person and so is your IT support team.  Even though it is necessary to explain details, don’t write a book about your annoyance.  Provide the required information in a detailed but succinct manner.  Offering too many unimportant details increases the time it takes to provide you an answer to your problem.

In the end, you are all busy people and your IT services provider wants to help you quickly and efficiently. Help them do so by following the tips above!