Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Go to Your Room!

Go to Your Room!

We are living in unprecedented times.

The new *Normal* has definitely shaken things up in the business world.  Take all the political posturing out, remove all the hype and fear-mongering, ditch the conspiracy theories..  The fact remains, the business world is changing.  If you are reading this as a business owner, accept the fact.. No..  Embrace the fact..  things are changing.  Change with them, or be doomed to midden heap of mediocrity...  or worse.. failed business.

Sounds harsh, right?  Now, in your best Darth Vader voice, say "Search your feelings, you know it to be true".

So what is this blog all about - as you might see, it is being delivered in a somewhat light tone, filled with candor.. I think..  The point is - with the new movement to a more work-from-home environment becoming more common, how do you maximize that for your business.

Here are a handful of truths:

  • Many administrative tasks can be accomplished from a home office
  • One of the largest burdens on business is the cost of commercial space
  • Engaging the younger workforce means accepting a different perspective on hours of operation
  • Productivity from a work-from home (WFH) begins with equipping them for success 
Let's touch on these, shall we?

Business Administration from Afar:

Many office tasks are not necessarily tied to a physical location.  If you are paper-heavy - meaning rooms full of file cabinets containing documents from decades ago, ask yourself the hard question - is it necessary?  If it is - come up with a way to digitize the information you absolutely need to keep, invest in a document management system for quick recovery based on keyword searches, and shred the paper.  You will end up with more productivity as a result.

If you have frequent meetings that require face-to-face contact - consider any one of the popular web conferencing platforms - accept that you will have to pay for the convenience on a monthly or annual basis, and embrace the technology that makes it possible.  Most importantly, equip the WFH employee with the proper tools to make it work well.

Cost of Commercial Space:

Like most business owners, I cringe each time I sign the check for my monthly lease payment for our offices.  It is a necessary evil.  I ran NetWerks from my home for 12 years before moving into commercial space.  We had outgrown what we had to work with, so the move was necessary (or add on to the house - I opted to get the employees outta Dodge).  But - I miss the fact that my overhead was not as overwhelming a burden as it is with commercial space, utilities, etc.

What you are likely to see as more businesses embrace a WFH posture is that they will be able to downsize their commercial space needs to some extent.  You may even see a resurgence of "Executive Suites" that share phone services, receptionists, conference rooms, copy & print services and desk space for those times when you have to meet with people face to face or just need to get away from the home office for a while.

The Current Generation:

Having been in business for over 30 years, and being the parent of three 20-somethings, I can say pretty comfortably that the current generations have not bought into the concept of long term employment and loyalty to the employer..  And there is a simple reason for that.. those in the 35 and under range have seen their parents get kicked to the curb by employers despite a lifetime of loyalty.  They've seen promises broken and the devastation that it triggers within the family unit. You might say that they have hereditary trust issues.

On top of that, many in the younger generation find themselves currently on the lookout for something more challenging, or something that has purpose or a bigger meaning.  They want to make a difference - have an impact - and when that opportunity dries up with one employer, they move on to the next shiny thing.  The average time of employment for under 35's has been well studied, and is under 5 years.  In a 2016 Rasmussen College study, the average tenure of employment for 24 - 34 year old's was a paltry 2.8 years.

Among their complaints and reasons for job-hopping - professional development opportunities, having their input valued, and flexible work arrangements.

Equipping for Success:

This is the foundation of a successful transition to Work From Home.  If you are not wiling to invest in setting your remote work force up for success, just don't do it.  You will be shooting yourself in the foot.  But - it is not all on the shoulders of the employer.. The employee bears a responsibility to ensure that the WFH environment is conducive to conducting daily business.

Equipping for success starts and ends with..  Policy.  Develop a firm WFH policy that lays out articles of engagement that, if unwilling to comply, results in that employee being relegated to a daily commute to the office.  This policy should contain at the very least:

  • A dedicated workspace separated from the general populace of the household - spare room, basement, converted attic..  it should not be located in a common area
  • The space *should* have a door, preferably with a lock, especially if the individual handles confidential information, or at least a locking cabinet for secure storage of information and the understanding that no confidential material will be left unattended or unsecured
  • High speed internet connectivity - if possible, isolated from the rest of the household network
  • Adequate lighting and a reliable source of power
  • Work related assets not to be used for personal purposes
From the employer's perspective, these should be non-negotiable.  Some have added items such as work attire being expected, set hours of availability, etc.  Tailor the policy to meet your corporate culture.

From a technology perspective, the employer should strongly consider providing the following:

  • Similar technology to that used in-office.  If laptop is used - provide a docking station with dual displays, full sized keyboard and mouse, high quality web-cam and noise cancelling headset/mic.  If your office is equipped with Voice over IP (VoIP) Telephony -include a VoIP desk-set that connects directly in to your office system as an extension.
  • If you do a lot of video conferencing, provide a portable green-screen and consider an acceptable list of backgrounds to use with the video conferencing platform on which you have decided to standardize
  • Standardize on a videoconferencing platform
  • Consider implementing a platform for secure file sharing
  • Consider implementing a centrally managed system for password management
  • Consider updating older applications that leverage cloud based tools to provide a consistent environment regardless of location such as Office 365
Other areas that would be a strong recommendation to ensure a secure WFH environment:

  • High performance firewall or SD-WAN platform to ensure that business traffic does not mingle with personal traffic
  • Create a standardized WFH Package of technology and offer a modest stipend to offset business use of home for added electrical/internet use
  • Consider partnering with an MSP (Managed Service Provider) to do the initial set up and on-boarding of your WFH users, including a network security assessment, managed antivirus/threat detection and remote support options so that your employees are able to work with minimal interruptions

The "New Norm" is upon us..  what we make of it will determine how we fare in the coming months and years.  Learn the lesson that states simply: If you don't lead change, you will be lead by it.  Get ahead of the shift in how business is done, remain agile, and the results will more likely be in your favor.  By embracing a positive work from home posture - one that has been planned in detail - you are likely to see better productivity as a result - possibly better than if you had an office filled with workers.  Most importantly - consider this an investment into the future growth potential of your company.  Spending some capital today may mean the difference in continued growth and a downward spiral.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Ransomware emails: How to identify

Ransomware emails: How to identify and steer clear of them

Ransomware attacks have suddenly become more prevalent. Each year sees more of them. Hospitals, NPOs, shipping giants, etc., have all been victims of ransomware attacks. Your business could be too! Did you know that emails are one of the most common gateways for ransomware to get into your systems? In this blog, we tell you how you can stay safe by following a few tips.

If you think something is amiss, it probably is

Does that email seem unfamiliar? As though you weren’t meant to get it, or it doesn’t quite sound like your colleague wrote it? Perhaps it’s not. Malicious email senders often try to mask actual email IDs with something similar. For example: An email you believe to have come from billing@yourvendor.com might actually be from billing@yourvemdor.com. So take a good look at the email ID if you spot something ‘phishy’.

Attachments and form fills

Does the email contain an attachment that you are being asked to save to your computer? Or an executable file that you are asked to run? Perhaps you are asked to submit your personal details at an authentic looking website. Before you do any of these, check the authenticity of the email and the message. Were you supposed to receive it? Were you expecting an attachment? You might even want to call the sender and confirm if you are unsure.

The message seems to instill fear or a sense of urgency

Often, malicious email messages urge you to take immediate action. You may be asked to log onto your ‘banking website’ ASAP to prevent your bank account from being frozen, or enter your ITR details onto a webpage to avoid being fined by the IRS. Real messages from your bank or the IRS will never force or hurry you to do something.

Other things you can do

Regular data backups

Conduct regular data backups so that in the eventuality of a ransomware attack, you don’t lose your data. Cybercriminals having access to your data is bad enough--it damages your brand and business reputation and can even attract lawsuits from parties whose personal information has been compromised, but, not being able to retrieve all that data in the aftermath of an attack is even worse. Regular backups help you in that regard, plus when you have a pretty recent data backup you are not reduced to the state of helplessness where you HAVE to pay the ransom to retrieve your data.

Install an anti-malware tool

Last, but not least, invest in anti-malware tools that can detect malware attacks and alert you before you fall prey to them. Such tools scan emails, links and attachments and alert you if they are found suspicious.

No matter how big or small a business you are, ransomware attack is a reality and applies to you. It is better to be prepared than having to cough up huge sums of money to free up your data later and even then there’s no guarantee your data will be restored by the cybercriminal.