It’s not uncommon where a situation arises and you will find yourself working from home. To make this work, it is important that you keep a few additional issues in mind so that you can make the most of it. We have put together a few simple best practices that you should keep in mind as you operate remotely.
Automation Concepts & Technologies Blog
Does anyone remember computer punch cards? Does this date us? Either way, since computing punch cards went the way of the dinosaur, there has been some version of the keyboard and mouse as we know them today. These interfacing tools have become so ingrained into our minds that it is frankly difficult to imagine a computer without them... But this begs the question, will there ever be a user interface impressionable enough to replace them?
Innovation takes many forms, whether it’s implementing automated solutions to ensure tasks get done or implementing new ways to get work done by your in-house staff. Collaboration is one of the ways that your business can benefit from innovation, as the right solutions can make a world of difference. We’ll discuss some of the more innovative collaboration solutions that you can implement for your business.
Microsoft OneNote is an extremely useful application in the professional setting, with plenty of features and capabilities to assist in keeping you and your employees organized. These features are actually comprehensive enough that OneNote could feasibly serve as your project management tool. For this week’s tip, we’ll review how.
Business owners know that streaming in the office can be a considerable detriment to productivity, but the type of media that is being streamed can play a large role in whether or not the workplace is enhanced or affected adversely by it. How does your organization approach streaming? Depending on its policies, you might want to change the way that you approach this touchy subject.
First, let’s outline some situations where streaming may be acceptable in the workplace.
Acceptable Uses of Streaming
Not all streaming is bad for your organization’s productivity. In certain cases, it can even be beneficial. For example, some employees work best when they are listening to music. In other cases, they may even need to drown out noise in the office, which can easily be done with their preferred tunes and a set of noise canceling headphones. This keeps everyone happy for the most part, and it’s as simple as allowing employees access to an online application like Spotify and Pandora.
There also might be reason to watch a video during your ordinary workday. If it’s an important news article pertinent to your industry or workplace trends, then perhaps it’s worth taking a look at it. Training videos, webinars, and other similar videos are in a similar boat, allowing you to learn something valuable through the experience. Regardless, it’s likely that you’ll be in a position where you need to stream something, whether you want to or not.
Unacceptable Uses for Streaming
Some employees just have a tendency to stream video at all times, which basically leads to them not getting as much work done. In other words, they are becoming a liability to both their own work ethic and your business’s mission. Streaming can also use up a lot of your bandwidth, which can create slowdown on your network for every other user.
If you have employees who just can’t stay off of streaming services like Youtube, Netflix, and Hulu, you can implement a content filter on a user basis. This can keep them focused on their work throughout the day by banning suspicious or wasteful sites. In fact, social media services and streaming websites can often be infested with malware and other threats, so it might not be a bad idea to consider banning them in the first place for those who are proving problematic.
Does your business need a content filter? Automation Concepts & Technologies can help. To learn more, reach out to us at (508) 622-5100.
Spring seems to be the natural time, after what are commonly dreary winter months, to revitalize and refresh your environment - why shouldn’t your business be included? Not only does it help your operations, a clean environment also has many direct benefits for your employees. Let’s review the effects of keeping your business, and its technology, in order.
Why You Want to Keep Your Technology Clean, Inside and Out
If your business is like most, you rely on technology to help manage things. While your particular operations may use different solutions than one in another industry will, your technology is an essential piece of your business. Therefore, you need to make sure that it can meet two criteria.
First, it needs to remain in proper working order, and secondly, it needs to be organized so that the resources you rely on it for are easy to access and utilize.
In order for these criteria to be met, your office technology needs some attention to both its physical components, and the information those components give you the ability to store, access, and edit. Furthermore, an unkempt technology strategy can have some detrimental effects to your overall productivity and even your general success as a business.
Benefits of Digital Office Organization
First, consider the state of your digital file storage. Is it organized properly, with documents and resources saved in the correct folders, with proper labelling and an intuitive, hierarchical system? If not, it will do you quite a bit of good to take the time and organize these files so that they can be found for reference more easily in the future.
This is because this organization will enable you and your employees to find the things you need more easily, which means you and your employees will therefore be able to find them more quickly. This creates time savings that, while apparently insignificant when considered individually, can add up to be fairly significant after all. Secondly, taking the time to establish a filing system will also give you the opportunity to audit your old materials as you organize them into it. Perhaps some of them are due to be revisited and updated, and others are outdated to the point where they can be archived away or deleted safely. Going through your materials and making this call can easily save you some headaches in the future, and help build beneficial habits for the future.
If part of your clutter problem is due to your reliance on physical files that are stored in bulky filing cabinets around the office, you might consider adopting a digital file storage solution and starting off with this hierarchical system in place. Not only does this make sense from a financial standpoint (fewer paper files means less paper and ink to buy), it is also environmentally responsible and allows you greater control over who in your organization has access to particular files.
Organizing Your Inbox
We’ve all learned the hard way how easy it is for a mess to pile up, and few places make that piling up more visible than your email inbox. While you know that there are certainly important messages mixed and buried in there, there’s also going to be plenty of conversations that you were privy to, but not really involved in, or situations that have long since been resolved and no longer require your attention.
However, while these messages may not currently seem important, there is always a chance that they will be at some point in the future. It is better to take messages like these and, similarly to your business data and files, create a filing system to organize them in a place where they won’t pile up and potentially bury pertinent emails.
Another strategy to consider: If your preferred email solution offers it, is to have messages that meet predetermined criteria automatically sent to a relevant folder. Perhaps emails with a certain word or phrase in the subject line are moved to one folder, while emails from a few particular contacts are sent to another. As a result, you know where you can find these emails later to refer back to them, and it helps keep your inbox from becoming too formidable.
Optimizing Your Desktop and Browser
There are plenty of ways that your computer’s desktop can become a clogged mess, and an equal amount of ways that the same can happen to your browser. Fortunately, the same strategy that applies to your filing system and your email can also apply to the stuff you have cluttering your desktop.
How much of it should actually be stored in the shared company resources? These documents should be the first to take care of, transferring them over to the appropriate file location. Once you’ve done that, you can create another folder hierarchy that cleans up your desktop and organizes the cluttered materials into a logical and navigable system that makes sense to you.
The same goes for the shortcuts and extensions that you have saved in your browser of choice. Try running an audit of your installed extensions and uninstall any that you don’t really use. The same goes for your bookmarks, which can themselves be arranged into a hierarchical system or removed.
Even your computer’s start-up process can be optimized, as we’ve discussed on our blog. Have IT help you audit the programs that your computer runs during start up and remove any that simply don’t matter, if appropriate.
Cleaning Your Computer
Of course, a big part of keeping your technology clean means maintaining your workstations and servers, removing dangerous dust buildup and making them generally look nice.
As you might imagine, it isn’t as though you can just turn on a vacuum and give your computer a once-over. In fact, this is exactly what you shouldn’t do. Your workstation, whether you’re working with a desktop or laptop, is filled with fragile components that can easily be damaged by the static build-up a vacuum produces. Instead, you should use simple tools that will allow you to gently cleanse the exterior as needed, such as a can of compressed air to remove dust from your keyboard. There are specialty wipes available for purchase that are made specifically for electronics that are effective for a quick wipe-down as well. As a precaution, make sure that your device is powered down during the cleaning process, and that it is only powered up when completely dry.
When cleaning your monitor, you should avoid using liquid as much as you can, electing instead to use a microfiber cloth to wipe the screen down very gently.
You may also want to request that IT occasionally crack open your device and do a bit of tidying up on the inside as well, removing the dust that will collect on the inside and trap in heat.
Few things look as overwhelming as cables that are left to just splay everywhere. Not only does this make it easier for dust and debris to collect around your crucial components, it simply looks awful, sloppy, and entirely unimpressive. Some basic cable management can quickly make a mass of cords and wires more discrete and more aesthetically pleasing, while also reducing a safety hazard in the office.
Tidying the Office
Of course, the phrase ‘spring cleaning’ is largely associated with giving your environment a good, refreshing clean, and less about tending to technology needs. This is also a very important activity, as it provides assorted benefits that will be discussed below.
So, in addition to seeing to your technology, go through the office and tidy up as you would any other place of business. Clean the floors, sanitize the bathrooms, and fix up the employee break room (including the fridge). This may also be a good opportunity to consider redecorating and giving your office a refreshed new look to match its newly cleaned state.
Why a Clean Office is Better
At the beginning of this article, it was referenced that there were assorted benefits to having a tidy and organized office. These benefits range from providing a better workplace for your employees to staying compliant with various regulations.
First, a clean workplace means that your employees are able to enjoy greater productivity than they would in one that is filled with clutter and chaos, and morale is higher in a clean workplace than in one that is dusty, grimy, and unattended. Stress has been shown to be reduced, and morale is markedly higher, as is an employee’s ability to focus on their tasks. Additionally, a clean workplace is one with fewer germs, which means that employees will have an easier time staying healthy and coming in to work.
Of course, there are also other people that you have to impress. Any clients or customers that visit your business will have what can be honestly considered a second chance at a first impression every time they visit. A disheveled and unorganized office can quickly put them in a negative mindset that only makes your job harder. Furthermore, there are laws and regulations that require workplaces to be maintained to a certain standard for the benefit of an employee’s health and safety.
Besides, wouldn’t you feel more motivated to spend your day in a nice, clean office, using equipment and solutions that work well, rather than one that’s looks and feels busy and cluttered and is filled with grimy workstations that only slow down your progress?
What You Can Do About It
Of course, once your office is cleaned, you will want to keep it that way. That’s why it is important to establish cleanliness and order as a part of your expectations of office culture, and encourage your employees to consider themselves accountable for their own area. Remind them that they represent the company just as much as the company represents them, and should always present and conduct themselves accordingly.
To help you get to that point, Automation Concepts & Technologies is here to help as well. We can apply our expertise to make many of the activities described above much easier to accomplish, speeding up your spring cleaning and helping you get back to your improved operations that much quicker. Call (508) 622-5100 for more information.
Modern businesses rely pretty heavily on the Internet--so much so that, should the Internet go down, many employees will find themselves at a loss as what to do. However, there’s no need to sacrifice productivity just because your Internet isn’t cooperating. There are plenty of ways to get something done on a day that the Internet calls in sick, which we’ll go over for today’s tip.
With the growing popularity of Cyber Monday sales and explosion of all types of eCommerce, employees are more than likely tempted to shop during work hours. There are a lot of promotions exclusively available to online shoppers that take place during a business’ hour of operations. Many companies allow occasional use of company time for personal use. However, some employees are going to take advantage of this generosity and abuse the privilege.
Online Shopping at Work - By the numbers.
- 53 percent of employees are using time at work to shop online, an increase from last year.
- 49 percent of employees use their personal smart phones or tablets to shop at work, an increase from 42 percent last year.
Here’s a few ideas that might help you address the issue of excessive use of the Internet for personal purposes:
- Develop a solid Internet and email policy that provides employees with clear expectations about the employer's stance on personal time online at work. Follow through with enforcement of the policy when necessary.
- Train your managers and supervisors about how to establish and maintain the expectations and policies of your workplace. Train them to recognize when an employee might be abusing their Internet access at work.
- Designate times and/or durations that your team is allowed to use company Internet for personal purposes. Stress that those who don’t comply with designated time/duration will lose the privilege altogether.
- For those businesses that are looking for a more aggressive approach to handling Internet abuse, consider implementing a web content filter. Web filters give you access control, allowing you to decide which websites your team can access. Filter settings can be deployed company wide, as well as individually for specific user permissions.
Since no two companies are alike, you may have to use trial and error to curb Internet abuse by your staff. Whatever you choose to do, Automation Concepts & Technologies can help. We can design an Internet usage policy that works for your company, or implement content filtering or other solutions to keep your staff on-task and productive. Contact us today at (508) 622-5100.
The holidays are a time when everyone questions whether they will be able to spend their time at home with their families, or be stuck at the office trying to beat a nasty deadline. The increase in mobile technology hasn’t made getting away from work any easier, but it has made it easier to work away from the office. However, this constant access to work resources may enable your work to encroach upon your personal time. How can you achieve a precious work/life balance for your workplace duties?
Back to school is upon us and then it’s a hop, skip, and jump until the holidays arrive. With more companies allowing their employees to work remotely, holiday travel will mean that people are going to be taking their work on the road with them. Preventing credit card and identity theft has been a priority for shoppers during the season for many years. It’s important that the same security considerations be given to technology being used for business while traveling.
When people talk about a business’ efficiency, it’s typically referring to the ability for the organization to bring a product or service to market quickly with a small amount of wasted resources. The prevailing theory is that an efficiently-run business costs less, makes more, and grows faster than one that is inefficient. With the way business is headed--that is, with smaller profit margins than ever before--boosting efficiency has become a core business strategy. In fact, in today’s technology-driven marketplace, there are many that would argue that the efficient business is the only good business.
Today, with nearly every business leaning heavily on some sort of computer-based technology, it becomes important for decision makers and business owners to analyze the performance of their tech, and of their staff. In the past, the eye test worked just fine, but today there are ways to measure the productivity and efficiency of every department of your business. It’s called business intelligence.
Business intelligence (BI) refers to the practices of (as well as the technology used in) analyzing available information to help you make the best decisions for your business. In the past, business intelligence was very much as it is today, finding practices and procedures that create a better business without all the bells and whistles that contemporary BI practices provide. Every business has plenty of people that depend on it, and the better the business is run, the more it can do for those people. So while it’s easy to think of business intelligence in the 21st century as a complex process, it is just the process of doing what every successful business owner has done from the day they put out their shingle.
While BI has been around for some time, modern BI is the practice of using the enormous amount of data your business creates to help you make better decisions. How does this work? Your business has loads of information stored in various places, but most of it is in databases. One stand-alone database may not help you, but if you are able to bring all of your data together in what is called a data warehouse, you can then begin to link the information. Once the information is in this repository, you can begin using state-of-the-art BI software to crawl the data and deliver reports that take this enormous amount of information and provide relatively easy-to-read reports.
The best part about this BI software is that you can customize definitions to get the specificity you are looking for out of these reports. The software will return detailed analysis. So whether you run a retail store, a product manufacturer, or a high-volume restaurant, you will be able to ascertain what the best decisions are going forward. These metrics work for operations, marketing, distribution, and any part of the business that can be represented in numbers.
The small business has begun to use technology in new and interesting ways; and, using it to bridge the gap between their larger competitors. Many times BI analysis can surprise even the most savvy business owner with truths about their company. BI lets business owners build efficiency through analysis, not through conjecture. This targeted and analytical approach is sure to be a huge benefit for any business that finds itself battling operational inefficiency or any number of other deficits they encounter.
Automation Concepts & Technologies wants to provide our clients with the information they need to build a more efficient business. We offer small and medium-sized businesses comprehensive IT support and other proactive IT services that are designed to eliminate downtime and build overall efficiency. Call us at (508) 622-5100 today to see how our professional technicians can help your business be more efficient.
So, you’ve just finished up a huge, potentially career-altering project. Your finger is poised over the mouse, ready to click ‘save,’ when suddenly your entire project disappears. Turns out, a critical issue just killed your network, your progress, and your mood. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to keep this from happening?
The scenario we just described was a classic example of the traditional IT approach in action--a problem occurs, causing progress, profits, and productivity to be lost.
The main problem with this strategy is that it’s reactionary, and gives circumstances control over your business. Besides the day-to-day hassles and shortcomings that this approach brings, there are potential dangers that threaten your entire establishment. What if a disaster struck and destroyed your entire infrastructure, or you were suddenly struck by a crippling malware attack that infected your critical data?
Without preventative, proactive action, there wouldn’t be much you could do to bounce back; and, based on what has happened to other businesses after such events, it isn’t very likely that your business would last.
However, it is very possible to reduce the risk of such events with some planning, forethought, and preparedness. When a system is built, it’s built to behave a certain way. When it behaves differently, that’s a red flag.
We will keep an eye on your network, monitoring your network in order to prevent an all-out disaster. We’ll keep your solutions from going out of date so they will be there when you need them. However, that’s only half of the battle.
Another significant portion of the issue lies in the tendency people have to assume that the worst won’t happen to them, and as a result, they neglect to prepare for potential problems properly, if at all. They find justification in the thought that, out of so many businesses in the world, the chances that someone would target them is unlikely. After all, their small business is worth peanuts compared the value of larger enterprises.
While this is true, other factors have to come into play as well, as different cybercriminals will take different factors into consideration. So yes, while a small business is worth considerably less than a corporation in terms of net value, this also means that the corporation has exponentially more funds to invest into their cyber security, which many claim to do.
So put yourself in the shoes of a cybercriminal: do you go for the high-value target with significant defenses in place and a team of highly-paid lawyers waiting to take you to task should you be caught, or do you go for the thousands upon thousands of Mom and Pop shops with very small values but negligible defenses? The choice is clear.
Making sure your network is secured and tested against threats before there’s an issue is just another way of adopting a universally proactive strategy, as is preparing and maintaining a backup, monitoring solutions, and many other processes that Automation Concepts & Technologies can help you handle. Give us a call at (508) 622-5100 to learn more about our solutions.
With so much focus on how new technology improves productivity, it can be easy to overlook the other ways of enhancing operations. Sometimes, improving productivity can be as simple as rethinking the layout of your office. Or, you may find that your company’s current technologies may be hindering productivity more than they’re helping. The following three suggestions should help make your office a more productive place.
Nowadays, with streaming services like Spotify, Google Play, and Pandora available on a plethora of mobile devices, music lovers have an easy time enjoying tunes everywhere they go, including at the office. While this is all well and good, have you ever stopped to wonder if music is helping your employees, or holding them back?
A business owner is always looking to improve their skills and learn about new ones. It’s natural to want to learn new things, even if you’re already an expert in your own field. The 10,000 hour rule offers a few guidelines to help you learn a new craft, but it’s not as easy as consistent practice. You might be in for a long journey toward “expert status.”
Stress is one of those things that you can’t escape, no matter how hard you try, and it can takes a toll on your workday. Despite this, there are (surprisingly) some redeeming factors to stress to be considered.
Instant messaging is commonplace in today’s society. It used to be primarily for social interaction, but its success was so overwhelming that business professionals have implemented it into their daily communications. Although, despite the advantages that instant messaging can provide, you still have to jump through some hoops in order to bypass what it’s become; an immense annoyance.
Virtualization is changing the way that businesses access information, to the point where many organizations simply choose to store their data infrastructure in the cloud and access it as needed. While this is extremely convenient and helps to keep your in-house wiring to a minimum, it also puts you at the mercy of your business’s Internet connection. You don’t need us to tell you that this is a precarious situation to be in, and the slightest Internet hiccup could cause a world of trouble.
Imagine this scenario; you have your entire IT infrastructure hosted in the cloud, including your mission-critical applications and data. This information is required in order for operations to continue. Now, imagine that your local Internet service provider has suffered a catastrophic outage for your region due to some unforeseeable circumstance. Now, your office is left high and dry with no Internet access.
This presents a problem with no clear resolution, especially if most of your infrastructure is only accessible via the cloud. Unless you also have a backup of your infrastructure stored locally on your in-house network (which isn’t a bad idea), you won’t be able to access any information stored on the Internet.
One simple way to bypass the problems associated with a downed Internet connection is to equip your office with 4G-enabled laptops or smartphones that can act as temporary hotspots. However, if you do this, you better be sure that your phone carrier supports this immense amount of data expenditure. In many cases, it’s better to just let your team work remotely if they’re capable of doing so.
The most reliable choice would be to have any team that can work remotely do so until the problem is resolved. Working remotely during the incident might be a valid opportunity to eliminate downtime associated with your Internet access. As reported by ZDNet, “It's true that businesses are increasingly allowing for remote work and disaster planning is a good argument for it. It may even be worthwhile as an exercise. Require employees to have a plan for working offsite and schedule a day for everyone, or perhaps one department at a time, to do so. You might learn something about productivity while you're at it. 9/11 proved that it's possible your offices may be out of commission for a while. Do you really want to have to make up your plans on the spot when that happens?”
If your business needs help implementing technology to keep your team connected at all times, you can count on Automation Concepts & Technologies to find a solution. We can work out ways to help your employees access information regardless of the circumstances, all so you can keep downtime to a minimum. Furthermore, we can provide your business with the technology solutions required to ensure that your team can work off-site when needed.
For example, a virtual private network (VPN) allows your team to securely access your business's sensitive information from any wireless connection, allowing your team to access mission-critical files even if the in-house wireless network is down.
If you’re concerned about not being able to communicate with your team while they’re off-site, we can make it much easier by helping you implement a unified communications solution that’s designed to work seamlessly, as long as you have an Internet connection. You can communicate in real time with both instant messaging and Voice over Internet Protocol telephony solutions that will make you feel like your team is right next door, even if they aren’t.
For more information about how Automation Concepts & Technologies can help bring your business back from the brink of downtime, give us a call at (508) 622-5100.
Vacations are an important part of maintaining one’s sanity, especially if you’re a business owner. However, unless you have a reliable staff that can handle the management of your business, chances are that you might feel like you can’t get away from the office long enough to relax. While it might seem tempting to disconnect yourself from the office entirely while on vacation, it’s actually better for your business if you don’t.
Working at a desk is a fairly inescapable for the modern office worker. The trouble with sitting at a desk for long intervals is that it causes physical issues, especially if the workspace isn’t properly set up. Fortunately, you don’t have to invest in specialized equipment; it’s fairly simple to establish best practices that will ensure employee comfort and productivity.