A SALUTE TO SYSTEM ADMINISTRATORS EVERYWHERE

If you’re a business owner who made it through quarantine thanks to your Managed Service Provider (MSP), there’s no better time to put your hands together for the IT professionals who kept your team in touch for the past few months than July 31st. This date marks the annual holiday known as System Administrator Appreciation Day. And to celebrate, we’re dropping a friendly reminder of all the ways outsourcing your IT to an MSP full of technology experts helps companies save money. 

IMPROVED ADAPTABILITY

If our recent pandemic hasn’t made it abundantly clear, businesses can survive or perish based on their ability to adapt to the unexpected. When your company utilizes an MSP to manage its systems, you can make quick decisions with the confidence that they can be implemented in the shortest amount of time possible. Adjustments that would require hours of training and research are now squarely in the hands of experts who can deliver your needs at the snap of your fingers. 

Need to shift more of your workforce onto the cloud? A team of IT professionals is on deck to jump in and make sure that transition is seamless. Need to move into a new office in a hurry? Your new conference room will be ready to go before you even step through the door. 

In the end, being able to quickly shift directions while having tech-savvy experts assess upfront what the costs are will allow you to better budget these crucial decisions and save your business time and money.

BETTER VENDOR RELATIONSHIPS

Being able to make adjustments and choose your technological systems wisely isn’t just a matter of having the right knowledge. If you’re handling IT on your own, you’ll need to develop relationships with technology vendors, manage the contracts and pricing structures that come with their services, and nurture those relationships, so you’re always up to date. When you add an MSP to the mix, they act as a neutral partner who can manage those relationships with objectivity and make sure you’re only paying for what you use. Inserting an expert eye into this process streamlines your vendor relationships, allows you to control costs, and lets you shift your attention to more pressing matters, once again improving your bottom line.

REDUCED RISK 

Of course, the most glaring risk for any company dealing with technology is getting hacked. Data breaches cost companies $200,000 on average, according to a 2019 report. And using an MSP boosts your security profile immensely by adding a team whose primary focus is making sure your systems are secure and that your employees are aware of the latest risks. But the benefits of an MSP don’t stop there. Nowadays, almost every transfer of data is subject to government legislation. And whether your company needs to manage and document compliance with HIPAA, DFARS, or FINRA, an MSP can guide you through these tricky regulations, so you don’t end up paying hefty fines.

Is your system running smoothly as you transition back to the office? If you’re feeling the need to minimize costs and focus your energy on picking up steam again, now is the perfect time to hand off your IT duties to a team of dedicated technology professionals. Contact Net Works today to find out all the ways we can streamline your systems and save you money!

THE REMOTE WORKER’S BLUES

WHY IS “ZOOM FATIGUE” ZAPPING ALL YOUR ENERGY?

Although many of us initially might have thought we’d never tire of skipping our morning commutes and sipping tea in our home offices, it seems a new form of exhaustion is starting to set in as of late. Known as “Zoom Fatigue,” it’s a special type of tired, requiring no physical exertion to send you into a deflated funk. So, what’s so taxing about merely looking at a screen all day? Several factors may be playing a role.

WHY IT HAPPENS

There are many reasons why mental stress seeps in after sitting through fifteen Skype calls a day. Some of the odd anxiety and exhaustion inducing reasons you might be feeling more tired than usual are:

You See Faces in Your Sleep – Most team meeting apps provide only two ways to view your co-workers: Either a daunting block of mini mouths and eyes or one giant talking head. And, as it turns out, neither of these is particularly easy on the brain. Staring at everyone at once during a meeting is an unnatural shift in perspective that makes your mind work overtime, trying to process all those facial expressions at once. Alternatively, one giant face is off-putting because, well – when are you ever 10 inches away from the tip of Carol from accounting’s nose? The result is subconscious mental stress that arises from feeling like you are either constantly in “performer mode” or always part of a weirdly intimate talk.

Zoom Silence is Deafening – Ever notice your heart skip a beat when no one says anything on a Zoom call? That’s because silence on a video-conferencing app is usually associated with technical difficulties. Essentially, every time someone takes a natural pause during speech, they stress everyone else out. No pressure!

Everything is a “Meeting” Now – Whereas previously you might have popped into someone’s office to give them a quick update on where a project stands or check-in about a small detail you misunderstood, these brief interactions now require more computer time by forcing you to go back and forth on an e-mail thread, engage in a chat, or request a full-blown “meeting.” 

What Do You Wear to A Zoom?  – Working in the office for most of your adult life, you know what work attire looks like. But when you work from home during a pandemic, dressing appropriately requires more brainpower. The anxiety of appearing onscreen in front of everyone and not knowing whether they all will be still in their pajamas or dressed for the Met Gala can leave you hemming and hawing for way too long over your appearance.

HOW TO FIGHT IT 

So how do we combat the exhausting enemy? Here are a few methods to reduce some of the stress:

Check-In – Ask if anyone needs a break. Make sure you’re not scheduling too many calls to close together. Be kind to each other. Just because we’re all at home doesn’t automatically mean we feel at home.

Ask for What You Need – Similarly, if you need to skip a call because your brain is fried, don’t hesitate to ask. If you need everyone to be on mute while you give your presentation to limit distractions, make it known. Your typical social and facial cues may not get the job done in this new setting.

Get Comfortable – If employees need to stare at the floor or want to hold their cat while they work, don’t take it as a sign of inattentiveness or disrespect. When you’re on back-to-back calls and had to homeschool your child for two hours last night, finding personal ways to get in your comfort zone is a must to stay sane and focused.

Reduce Distractions – Cut down on multitasking and isolate yourself from family or friend-related stress while at work, if possible. Close open tabs. Shut your door. Do one thing at a time. Staring at fifteen over-zoomed co-workers dressed in pajamas hugging their cats is hard enough work as it is!

HOW MANAGED IT IS HELPING SOLVE THE CONUNDRUM OF CORONAVIRUS

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created immense uncertainty about what lays ahead, one particular aspect of our future couldn’t be more apparent: The remote workforce is here to stay.  Even as some states move to reopen portions of their economies we all need to be prepared to move back and forth between a traditional office setting and a home office setting as the situation on the ground in our particular communities change over time. It was always a matter of when and not if, but social distancing measures have quickly made cloud computing solutions and mobile workstations essential technologies for every business. And with companies scrambling to implement massive operational changes with very little notice, the advantages of utilizing Managed IT Services have never been clearer.

MANAGED IT HELPS BUSINESS STAY HEALTHY

Currently, by helping companies implement the latest solutions in order to work remotely, Managed Service Providers (MSP) have assisted in slowing the spread of the virus by:

  • Creating completely mobile workforces that can relocate to the safest or most comfortable locations in order to stay in place for the long haul.
  • Allowing any infected employees to easily self-isolate while leaving their work accessible to other team members.
  • Removing the possibility that office buildings will be contamination zones when social distancing rules are eventually eased.

MANAGED IT HELPS BUSINESSES STAY PREPARED

No business could have been able to anticipate the stark shift that was headed their way when the Coronavirus pandemic gripped the global economy. But companies with outsourced IT enjoy the ability to scale quickly and even more crucial, determine what these changes will cost ahead of time. No need to panic if you need to add infrastructure or implement new technologies in a hurry. Simply talk with your service provider, and the process is in motion. And at a time where uncertainty rules the day, this added flexibility is an unbelievable asset.    

MANAGED IT HELPS BUSINESS STAY CURRENT

Business leaders have a lot on their plate. And no one can fault the CEO of a growing business if they’re not an expert on the latest advanced obfuscation techniques hackers are using. But when a company is suddenly forced to reorganize its entire operational workflow, it’s imperative to have a dedicated team of experts making sure you’re using the latest cybersecurity protections and are staying in compliance with relevant regulations like FISMA, HIPAA, or GDPR. In the midst of massive uncertainty, MSPs have enabled leaders to remain focused on the aspects of their business they know best, while still staying informed and up-to-date IT wise.

With businesses starting to open in the next few weeks or months, those companies that have been working with a Managed IT Service Provider will also undoubtedly be healthier, more flexible, and better prepared to face whatever challenges may lay ahead. With a holistic approach to IT services, MSPs like Net Works help businesses maintain a higher standard of IT preparedness than most companies would be able to achieve in-house. If you’re looking for assistance with your IT issues, contact Net Works today. 

CONFRONTING THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING FROM HOME

As the Coronavirus updates roll in and uncertainty mounts about what our new normal will look like, one thing is clear; social distancing means remote work is going to be a big part of every workforce’s foreseeable future. Here are a few tips on how to stay secure, motivated, and sane while shifting your day-to-day duties to a home setting.

CYBERSECURITY

The sudden move to using your personal WiFi means you’ll have to reassess the safety of your home network. No longer is “WiFi Art Thou Romeo” going to be used solely for Netflix movies and humoring your aunt’s incessant cat video e-mails. You must now have professional-level security for your personal setup. Some good practices to consider to ensure you are covered:

Separate Your Accounts/Devices: Keeping your personal and professional activity apart by using separate devices and/or accounts eliminates confusion and streamlines your ability to stay vigilant about security risks.

Create Strong Passwords: Passwords should be long, unique for every account, contain both letters and numbers, and not contain personal information that could be easily attained (i.e., your last name or child’s age).  

Utilize Cybersecurity Tools: A quality VPN can help you encrypt all your online traffic so that it is unreadable if intercepted. Firewalls are built-in to many routers and can be easily enabled to provide added security. Antivirus software can help you detect malware. Two-Step authentication can ensure nobody is getting into your accounts without you noticing. Make sure to implement as many of these defensive measures as possible to up your home security profile.

COLLABORATION 

Several tools (Zoom, Google Drive, Microsoft Teams) have made tasks like sharing documents, scheduling, and collaborating, technologically simple. But making sure everyone is on the same page is not as easy as just setting up a shared folder in Google Drive. From now on, you’ll be participating in long conference calls and texting constantly, so follow these steps to ensure you keep a cohesive mindset among team members:

Assume Ignorance, Not Negligence: Less face-to-face communication means more opportunities for miscommunication. This will present challenges. If someone makes a mistake, assume there’s been a mix-up until proven otherwise.

Set Time Limits: In the office, it’s easy to notice when people are worn out or need to regroup at another time because you can count on social cues like body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions. Avoid overworking each other by creating time limits for communication and respecting personal boundaries.

Ask for What You Need: Often, when moving to a work-from-home situation, newly remote employees instinctively bend over backward to prove they aren’t taking advantage of reduced supervision. While this loyalty is undoubtedly appreciated, you’re doing no one any good if you are worn out from being on calls all day or distracted because you need to run to the bathroom. If you need something to be able to do your job better, don’t be afraid to be assertive.

FOCUS AND WORK/LIFE BALANCE

Now that your home and office are one physical place, there undoubtedly will be a struggle to manage the separation between the two. So, help yourself out by having a morning “commute” routine, keeping regular working hours, and designating a specific workspace so you can physically separate from work when needed and limit distractions while “on the job.” Also, if you end up feeling isolated while working from home, don’t be afraid to lean on your teammates and loved ones as needed. They’ll need your help to manage the transition as well. 

If you need assistance managing or implementing a remote workforce during these trying times, Net Works is well-equipped and available to assist in getting you up and running quickly, efficiently, and safely.

Fun tips to help you while working from home

Now that most of us have spent a week or more working from home we have compiled of list of 6 fun tips to help everyone get through their workday.

  1. Remember your dog always wants to be included in whatever you are doing. Try setting up his bed behind your chair so he can add any of his idea to your meetings.
  2. Make sure your kids are wearing pants before you get on a video call because they will absolutely run behind you when you are on camera.
  3. If you lean slightly toward the camera and lean over your desk, no one can see that the only clean shirt you have can no longer be buttoned all the way down
  4. Hide all of your kids’ Nerf ammo before your all staff conference call so your kids aren’t battling during it.
  5. Always close your chat window when you walk away, because if you don’t your cat will absolutely curl up on your keyboard in your absence and send nonsense to the entire company.
  6. To break up the monotony of never leaving your house, now is a great time to get items of clothing out that you haven’t worn for years.  See if any of your coworkers comment on the tuxedo shirt and bow tie or sequined evening gown you are wearing during your all staff video meeting.

Remember we are all in uncharted territory and we should all try to have some fun with our temporary new normal.

Team Huddles for Work from Home Environments (Helping you maintain business culture in a remote world)

Do you feel like your business is struggling while your workforce is remote?

Tip: Keep your remote workforce moving in the same direction:  A morning huddle can keep your staff accountable during this unprecedented time

You’ve taken the steps to get your workforce set up and working from home, but how do you know if they are being accountable to their daily tasks? How do you keep organization cohesion while your employees are scattered all over the place?

Using a morning huddle is the best way to be sure that everyone remains on the same page.  What is a morning huddle?  It’s a quick daily check in, where everyone in a company or department verbalizes what their upcoming daily tasks/projects are.

How it’s done:

  • All members of the company are logged into a video conference (Zoom, Teams, Go To Meeting, etc.) in the morning before the day gets away from you.  We recommend anywhere between 8:15am to 8:45am.
  • Huddles should not last more than 15-20 minutes.
  • The best way to make this work is to have it be mandatory for everyone, and we mean everyone, in the company.
    • Depending on company size, you may have departmental huddles.  For example, a tech huddle and a sales and operations huddle that occur at the same time within the company.  This usually happens in companies of 20 people or more.
  • Every employee has a huddle sheet (attached) in which they write down their daily activities.  They verbalize out loud to the company what they have on their schedule for today, then they discuss what they accomplished the previous day.  When they verbalize their list from the previous day, they also say whether that activity was “done” or “not done”. 
    • If there are activities that are “not done”, that’s your opportunity to ask why it’s not done and what you can do to help. 
    • Remember, this is a check in huddle and meant to be quick so you can get a pulse of what everyone is doing.  Any deeper conversations come after the huddle is over, as needed.

Why it works:

It helps owners and managers keep their team accountable, focused and on track and during a time where working from home is the norm, not the exception.  Implementing a daily huddle is one step in helping ease the transition, both from a company and overall service standpoint.  Now that you’ve implemented a daily huddle while your workers are remote, it’s something that should be continued when everyone is back in the office full time. 

Life and work will return to normal again, we promise.  Whether that happens in 2 weeks or 2 months from now, Net Works will be there to keep your business moving forward and growing.

ACHIEVING COMPLIANCE WITH KARI’S LAW AND E911

A 2013 tragedy in a Texas hotel room could have been averted if the family member who tried to call for help knew that they needed to dial “9” to get an outside line before reaching 911 on the hotel’s multi-telephone system (MLTS).

This senseless tragedy sparked a petition, to require businesses to make it easier to connect with 911 dispatchers in the case of an emergency. Those valiant efforts led to what is known today as Kari’s Law, which has been enacted in 29 states and whose compliance date is rapidly approaching on February 16th, 2020.

THE EFFECT OF KARI’S LAW ON YOUR BUSINESS

If your business has any type of multi-telephone system (i.e., PBX or key system), you must comply with the law by setting up:

  • Dial 911: All phones must be configured so that anyone dialing can simply press 9-1-1 and reach an emergency dispatch operator without any extra steps in between.
  • Notification at Site: MLTSs must be set up so that once an emergency call is placed, a central on-site or off-site location is notified so administrators can facilitate the entrance of a response team.

In 20 states, Enhanced 911 protocols also require that any VoIP service providers offer E911 services to all their customers. These services ensure that all 911 calls are automatically delivered to a local Public Safety Answer Point complete with a callback number and extensive location information such as a physical address, floor, and room number. This allows first responders to locate the source of the call quickly. 

The wide-reaching effects of Kari’s Law apply not just to hotels or large businesses but any office or building that operates an MLTS. Regardless of whether you distribute, operate, or utilize an MLTS, it’s essential that your company does its due diligence in researching and updating any circuit-switched or VoIP phone systems. Achieving compliance with Kari’s Law could come in the form of hardware replacements or software upgrades that use the latest technology to make sure emergency contact is simple and effective. The potential fallout for non-compliance is not small, with “willful and knowing” non-compliance costing businesses up to $10,000 with possible additional penalties of $500 per day after the initial fine. 

If you need help assessing how to achieve E911 or Kari’s Law compliance, our IT professionals can replace or reprogram your phone systems quickly and with minimal re-training.  Get Net Works on your side, our team of IT experts understand the ins and outs of all types of complex compliance requirements and can keep you up-to-speed and ahead of the game when it comes to avoiding the hefty fines associated with non-compliance. Contact us today to get help. 

Why A Proper Network Assessment Is A Yearly Requirement

If you celebrated the New Year by toasting another 365 days of successful business, we applaud you. But just because everything went according to plan last year doesn’t mean you should let your guard down in the year to come. Whatever resolutions you might have made, it’s essential that you add a network assessment to that list for these three crucial reasons. FOR PROTECTION Cybersecurity threats are continually adapting and evolving. Therefore, your security plan should do the same. Regular network assessments allow you to be sure your system isn’t unprotected against the latest hacking methods or that a minor missed detail doesn’t balloon into a big problem over time. As your business scales, you’ll need to make sure that your IT setups are reassessed to fix any current glaring security holes and create a strategic approach to technology planning going forward. A proper network assessment helps you do just that. By getting a comprehensive scan of all of your ports and vectors, ensuring your encryption and authentication controls are up to par, and developing strategic security solutions that can scale, you can make sure you’re protected today and for the future. FOR EFFICIENCY Keeping your business up and running means many times having to implement new IT solutions on the fly without taking a second look to make sure it’s all working as smoothly as possible. A network assessment gives you an overview of your systems so you can identify underused or overused resources and allocate them better for added efficiency. Pinpointing bottlenecks, maximizing bandwidth, and identifying out of date software or hardware will reduce workforce frustrations and free your team up to tackle more work, day in and day out. If you’re handling this process yourself, consider an open-source network mapping software solution like Nmap. A resource like this one can inventory all your devices and create real-time live diagrams that document the overall design of your system. FOR EDUCATION A network assessment doesn’t just provide precious knowledge about the weaknesses of your network and methods for improved efficiency to you alone; it gives you valuable insights you can share with your whole team. The knowledge gained by your employees will undoubtedly boost their productivity, augment security awareness overall, and improve communication among team members. But it also gives you some newfound knowledge for creating clear, well thought out policies that define proper network usage for your employees. Utilizing the discoveries made during your assessment, you can implement new protocols that maximize productivity while preventing unnecessary cybersecurity risk. If you’re looking to get your year off to the right start by learning more about the ins and outs of your network, consider contacting Net Works. Our professional IT experts can assist you in getting the full picture of how your system is working and all the ways you can fix and improve your processes. So, you can make sure your network is streamlined and secure year-round.

Don’t Fall Victim to Ransomware this Holiday Season

As the holiday shopping season gets into full swing we are bombarded with emails for sales and deals. But shoppers aren’t the only ones looking to cash in by utilizing promotional emails. Nefarious cybercriminals know a surge in cybershoppers means plenty of opportunities for businesses to click on the wrong link and fall victim to a lucrative type of malware that nets them several million dollars a year – ransomware.

 

How Ransomware Works

 

Used by cybercriminals for many years, and becoming more and more sophisticated every day, ransomware attacks aim to lock and encrypt your most sensitive data to then extract a ransom from you in exchange for regaining access.

 

The process starts with a simple phishing attack; a legitimate-looking email with a fake coupon attached, a “spoofed” website for a business that offers services you need, or a phony email from someone you trust directing you to a can’t-miss a deal. No matter the bait, the goal is to infect your system with a specific type of malware that immediately encrypts all your data and then shuts down your access. Once you’re locked out, a ransom is demanded by the hacker and most likely required in a crypto-currency that makes the transaction completely untraceable. Worse yet, paying the ransom provides no guarantee you’ll ever get access to your data again.

 

Preventing Ransomware Attacks

 

So how do you protect yourself from falling prey? Here are a few tips:

 

Back Up and Update Your System: The main precaution to take is ensuring you are consistently and thoroughly backing up your systems. Making sure to take multiple backups both locally and in the cloud means you have leverage in any ransom negotiation and that you can quickly restore access no matter what parts of your system you get locked out of. Updating and installing security patches in web browsers, software, and hardware like printers or routers, also helps repair vulnerabilities in your network and may prevent certain types of attacks.

 

Segment Your Network: If your first lines of defense (firewalls, passwords, intrusion prevention systems) fail, a flat network infrastructure will mean that attackers have access to all your data. A network segmentation, either physical or virtual, limits communication between servers and workstations within the system so that those who gain access won’t be able to move freely through it. By slowing down the attack and limiting its effects, segmenting your system buys you extra time to recognize the breach and protect any parts that are unaffected before the malware can spread.

 

Educate Yourself and Your Team: Ultimately, prevention of phishing and malware attacks comes down to human awareness. Make sure to carefully examine any email with an attachment and make sure it’s from someone you trust. Don’t click on links from unknown sources and don’t provide any sensitive information (passwords or personal info) through email or over the phone if you don’t have to. Never use public WIFI on work devices as they are easy to breach. And in turn, it’s paramount that you make sure your staff does the same. Educate them, set stringent security protocols, and check in with them as often as you can.

 

The Ultimate Protection

 

By far, the most effective way to dissuade cutting-edge malware attacks is to partner with a managed service provider (MSP) that can keep an expert eye on every aspect of your cybersecurity for you. A dedicated MSP can ensure you have a team of qualified professionals working around the clock to assess the flaws in your system and combat the latest trends in cybercrime as they arise.

 

If you’re looking for a powerful ally in the battle against ransomware attacks, consider contacting Net Works. Our cybersecurity professionals stay locked in and focus on thwarting insidious threats like ransomware, so you can worry less and put the focus back on your business.

USERS BEWARE: MICROSOFT 7 END OF LIFE IS NEAR

It’s the end of an era. January 14th, 2020 marks the moment at which Microsoft’s support for Windows 7 will come to a close as Microsoft 7 reaches its End of Life Date. Pledging ten years of product support when the popular operating system was released in October of 2009, Microsoft has fulfilled its commitment and will cease to provide patches, fixes, or technical support to Microsoft 7 users from that date forward. It’s true, businesses who refuse to update their systems will be able to pay a fee for additional support if they choose to stick with Windows 7 but beware ­– risks lie ahead.

 

 

What It Means

 

When products are in a supported state, they enjoy the benefits of essential security updates and patches to keep hackers at bay and make sure the product functions smoothly. In short, the developer (Microsoft) takes the time to make sure the product is keeping up with the times. But when this period ends, that product becomes increasingly vulnerable to bugs, glitches, and emerging cybersecurity threats leaving users with a product that grows more obsolete and unreliable by the day.

 

 

What to Do Next

 

Microsoft strongly recommends upgrading to Microsoft 10. If you’re a current Microsoft 7 user, this move does have some obvious benefits. Firstly, because both operating systems are developed by Microsoft, the migration process is streamlined and straightforward, and in most cases, your files can stay right on your PC as they are. Also, you and your staff won’t have to learn a new operating system as the function and feel will be very similar. If you wish to do so, purchase a Windows 10 update, download the installation file and run it.

 

If you wish to look elsewhere, you can compare and choose from Google Chromebook, Mac products, or a Linux operating system, but be sure that you are making a move to a system that will be supported for many years to come.

 

One Thing to Watch Out For

 

One final consideration before you make the move to upgrade is to double-check that the current applications you are using are supported and will work once you move to Windows 10. If you’ve been delaying making an upgrade with your operating system, you may also have some older applications in daily use that require replacement as well. If you rely on any of these too heavily and fail to make sure that it will be supported once you make the switch, you could be in store for a nasty surprise that damages productivity. Before upgrading systems company-wide, check in with your IT team and test your current applications on Windows 10 to make sure you’re in the clear.

 

Staying up to date and making sure you are adequately supported is a full-time job. Just recently, Microsoft also started up a campaign to inform Microsoft Office 2010 users that the end of free support is only a year away. If you need help managing IT tasks like these, consider utilizing a dedicated MSP like Net Works. Our in-house IT professionals can assist with staying up-to-date on security risks, important updates, and tech trends so you can focus on your business instead of worrying about what Microsoft is up to.