Telecommuting: Should Small Business Embrace this Growing Trend?

December 11, 2017 –

It’s becoming more and more common to bump into people who telecommute to perform their jobs.  It may be full time or just a few days a week, but it’s a growing trend in Denver and Boulder.  In fact, the latest data lists Boulder, CO as the #1 telecommuting metro in the nation overall.  And in the large-metro category, Denver is ranked #2 (Austin, TX hold the #1 spot).*

But telecommuting and providing work-from-home options are more typically provided by larger organizations.  Large companies provide telecommuting options for their employees 12% of the time, with small business only providing these options 5% of the time. But this trend may be shifting.  Midsized businesses (those with 100-500 employees) offer it 7% of the time, but have seen the largest growth in this area since 2010.

Is telecommuting right for your business?

Small businesses are the least likely to provide telecommuting options for their employees.  And in some cases, the reasons are obvious.  Small businesses with retail front ends need their employees to operate the storefront.  Construction companies and small manufacturers need employees for their physical labor.  But for many other small businesses, and for certain roles, there may not be a reason for the employee to physically be in the office.  So why are small businesses less likely to allow remote workers?  One of the reasons may lie in the technology.  Historically the technology required to enable remote work has been complicated, expensive, and challenging to implement.  But the latest solutions are removing those roadblocks, allowing more and more small and midsized businesses to explore telecommuting as an option.

Telecommuting Pros and Cons

For small businesses, there are a lot of pros and cons to consider before embracing the shift to telecommuting.

The Pros:

Pro #1: Lower Costs – telecommuting can significantly lower the overhead costs for your small business.  Not only will workers save on gas money, you can lower your real estate costs, facility management costs, office supplies and more.  And while some savings are small (nobody broke the bank due to coffee), they can add up.

Pro #2: Employee Satisfaction & Recruiting Edge – providing flexible telecommuting arrangements can make a huge difference for employees.  No need to deal with a long commute, no need to dress up, and no need to pack a lunch.  Plus many people report they love the peace and quiet when working from home.  And while the low unemployment rate has been great for the economy, it’s a challenge for small businesses.  If you are one of the early adopters of telecommuting, this can be a big edge in retaining and attracting better employees.

Pro #4: Increased Productivity – the big fear about telecommuting a few years back centered around productivity.  How can I make sure my employees aren’t wasting time on Facebook?  Studies have shown that in fact remote workers are more productive due to the heightened ability to concentrate, less wasted time (commuting, going out to lunch, socializing), and a shift in measuring employees to outcomes rather than showing up to the office on time.

The Cons:

Con #1: Fear of Lost Productivity – although studies indicate productivity often improves overall, it’s not right for every employee.  Some individuals need the group around them performing the same job to stay on task throughout the day.

Con #2: Cultural Change – employers worry that the shift to remote work will negatively impact the culture of the office.  Some remote employees can become feeling isolated and lonely.  The office can be a great place to socialize and form relationships, and without that connection some elements of company culture can shift.

Con #3: Collaboration Challenges – Creative work environments work well when employees can engage and bounce ideas off one another.  Sharing and building upon previous ideas is a cornerstone of brain storming and creative solution development. With telecommuting, team members won’t be able to collaborate in the same physical space.

While these cons may seem insurmountable, new technology solutions can go a long way in mitigating these challenges.  And now, those technologies are affordable for small businesses, too.  We will likely see more and more small businesses explore telecommuting options as the adoption of these solutions becomes more widespread.

Next week we’ll be exploring how new technologies can be used to implement a telecommuting option for your employees.

Until then, if you have any question about telecommuting please Contact Us or give us a call at 303-410-2845.

– The Xlingshot Team

* Global Workplace Analytics and Flexjobs, “The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce.” https://www.flexjobs.com/2017-State-of-Telecommuting-US/

Implementing BYOD for Small and Midsized Businesses

,

November 30, 2017 –

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has become more and more popular with small and midsized businesses.  When employees supply their own mobile devices and laptops it can be a great benefit for your business in terms of cost savings.  Plus, employees get to have the device of their own choosing. (For more on the pros and cons of BYOD, see our blog post from last week).

When implementing BYOD, one of the cons we highlighted last week is security issues.  To reduce the risks (and the costs) we recommend small and mid-sized businesses take an approach that includes the following areas:

Create a BYOD Policy

Before implementing BYOD, it’s important to set up the policies you will put in place for your organization.  A BYOD policy will address questions including:

  • allowed device types,
  • what information/areas/applications employees will be able to access via the device,
  • permitted and disallowed apps,
  • and what personal data will be collected from the device by the business.

A strong BYOD approach also requires employees to sign an acknowledgement that they have read and understand the policy.  This acknowledgement will outline the acceptable uses including guidelines for personal use on company time, website access rules, security policies, use of cameras while onsite (particularly for secure/confidential areas of the facility), allowed applications, and zero tolerance policies for texting while driving.

Set up BYOD Security Measures

There’s a wide array of solutions available to support proper security on employee-owned devices.  Whether you’re using a fully automated solution or addressing security issues manually, you need to be sure you have the following areas covered:

  • Track and Register devices connected to the network and accessing applications (including email)
  • Set up devices to be wipe-enabled, so if they are lost or stolen the corporate data can be remotely removed.
  • Require passwords and auto-lock standards to improve on-device security
  • Install VPN technology on the device
  • Require encryption software on the device
  • Separate the personal data from the corporate data using Enterprise Mobile Management solution. IT personnel can selectively mange (and wipe if required) the corporate data, leaving the personal data and applications untouched.

Train Your Users

While proper employee training is important in order to achieve peak performance from your team, it is a mission critical requirement if you’re going to successfully implement BYOD at your small or mid-sized business.  The training employee must educate your team on:

  • How to security access and manage corporate data accessed via the device
  • What applications are approved to use versus those which are restricted due to security or other company policy requirements
  • Guidance on the use of public WiFi networks
  • How to set up security on the device including password policies, auto-lock features, and more

Ongoing Monitoring and Management of Devices

After implementing BYOD, you must continually monitor and check that employees are complying with policies and the latest security measures are kept up-to-date and still active on the device.  There are a variety of software solutions that can help to automate the BYOD process for businesses.  At a basic level, there are solutions which will monitor, management and secure the employee’s mobile device.  These solutions also track usage, ensure the latest operating system files are installed, and confirm encryption software is operating correctly.  More advanced solutions expand out into managing all types of endpoint devices including desktops, IoT devices, and mobile devices all from the same software platform.

Regardless of the software used, or how far you want to go with BYOD, it’s important to tread carefully.  This isn’t an area of your business where you want to just “give it ago”, open up the network and see how it goes.  The IT leadership team should carefully plan the approach, enact the policy, secure employee agreements, and manage and monitor the environment to ensure ongoing compliance with the BYOD approach.

For more insights on how to implement BYOD successfully in your business, please feel free to Contact Us.

  • The Xlingshot Team

Top 5 Small Biz Tech Trends for 2018

,

November 20, 2017 –

In October Microsoft surveyed over 1300 small business owners to gain insight into the trends we’ll be seeing in 2018. And there were a couple of surprises. Here we’ll share our take on the results, and showcase what we believe are the top 5 most important tech trends to be aware of as we turn the corner into next year.

#5 – Keeping up with Technology is a Top Concern

Top tech challenge for small biz in 2018 is staying ahead of technology change, with nearly have of the established business owners surveyed picking this as the top concern.  And there’s no arguing that technology is rapidly changing the business landscape.  But in some ways, new technology innovation is leveling the playing field for small businesses as they go up against their larger competitors.

#4 – In-person Contact Still Dominates

The most dominant communication form is still in-person contact, with email and text messaging further down on the list.  Fifty-one percent of small business owners indicated that in-person communication is still their “go-to” form.  This one felt like a bit of a surprise, but for a small business, having personal and engaging direct communication with your customers could be a unique differentiator in the market and is often a key part of the value proposition. From a tech trends perspective, in our own experience we’re also seeing more and more small businesses beginning to rely on text messaging for communicating to their employees, suppliers and customers.

#3 – Younger Businesses Rely Heavily on Mobile Devices

Managing your work from a mobile device is a trend that continues to rise.  Younger businesses (those in business for less than one year) are more likely to have employees working primarily from mobile devices compared to their established counterparts.  Approximately 2/3 of those businesses indicated that at least some of their employees are using mobile devices as their main technology for their job.  In general, the respondents were very mobile.  Rather than the traditional office, they are working from multiple locations and from home.

#2 – Small Businesses Are Underprepared and Concerned about Cybersecurity Threats

Small business owners feel underprepared for cybersecurity threats, with half of respondents indicating they’re concerned about a data breach.  And they have every right to be concerned.  43% of cyber-attacks happen to small businesses. And attacks are on the rise.  For more information on how to protect your business, check out our Threat Management page.

#1 – Too Many Small Businesses are Doing Nothing to Protect Themselves

As we write this tech trends article for 2018, this is the one which came as a surprise to us. And it’s also the most important. When we begin working with a new client one of the first things we put in place is a robust plan for Data Security.  Yet according to the Microsoft survey, many small businesses, a whopping 25%, say they are doing nothing to protect themselves from cyber security threats.  Why is this so concerning? As we mentioned, 43% of attacks happen to small businesses.  And for those experiencing a major data breach, 60% go out of business within six months.*

For those who are taking action, 70 percent have indicated that they would prefer to partner with experts in the area of cyber security rather than trying to go it alone.  For those companies, 30% are using encryption software, which can help protect the data on your machines if they are lost or stolen.  Almost 40% have their employees using some form of anti-virus software on their machines.

For more information on how to improve your data security please visit the data security section of our website.  You can also download the “Data Security: Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Business” whitepaper.

* http://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/23/small-companies-cyber-attack-out-of-business/

Is it Time for a Password Manager?

,

October 16, 2017 –

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the importance of changing and managing your passwords.  We also provided some tips on creating complex and unique passwords that are continuously updated.  (If you missed the post check it out).   For those of you who read the article and thought “I’m not sure I want to deal with that” there may be another way…the Password Manager.  There are multiple options out there for password management software.  Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Password Manager?

A password manager is an application you install on your computer and mobile devices designed to make password management quick and easy.  The core concept is you create one Master Password to access the software, and it will create and store unique passwords for all the various websites you visit.  Some versions can even automatically fill in your login and password credentials for you.  Most products also include a password generator, which will create very strong, complicated passwords that you don’t need to remember.

Will Password Managers work on my mobile devices?

Most fee-based password managers will sync across all of your devices including Windows and Mac computers as well as mobile phones running iOS or Android.

How can I get a Password Manager?

There are several password managers on the market today.  Some are free and others charge a fee. Prices range from about $12 to $40 and up, depending on the features you want.  Popular choices include LastPass, LogMeOnce, and Sticky Password.  If you’re looking for a free option, LastPass is popular (the free version doesn’t include syncing across multiple devices).  You might also check out LogMeOnce (visit their product comparison page page to see the difference between the free and paid versions).

If you try a new password manager feel free to come back and leave a comment sharing your experiences.

For more information on how to improve your data security please visit the data security section of our website.  You can also download the “Data Security: Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Business” whitepaper.

– The Xlingshot Team

Ready to Ditch Your Sticky Notes? Get Started with Outlook Tasks

October 9, 2017 –

One of the best ways to boost your productivity is improving your desktop organization. And in this case, we mean your physical desktop organization. It’s time to ditch the post-it notes and scraps of paper and capture your to-do items in a simple task list. Many of us are using the robust Microsoft Outlook platform but few are using it to its full potential. A great way to get more from the program (beyond email and calendars) is by using Outlook Tasks.

Getting Started with Microsoft Outlook Tasks

Outlook Tasks have been around for years, but you’re not alone if you’ve never tried it…. it’s amazing how few people use this valuable functionality. There are entire books devoted to the subject of how to use Microsoft Outlook Tasks to be more productive, but to get started you just need this simple guide.

Step 1: Enter in a new task

To get started, grab a few of those post it notes (or that random to-do list floating in your head) and begin creating a new task.

  1. Create a new task:
    • Option 1 (quick method): While Outlook is open, press “Ctrl + Shift + K” to create a new task. This is our favorite method because you can quickly create a new task when you think of something you need to do. Over time this becomes instinct rather than reaching for a pen and paper.
    • Option 2: Depending on your version of Outlook, Select “Home” in Outlook and in the top ribbon click on “New Items”. Select “Task” from the drop-down list or go into the Tasks section of Outlook and select the “New Task” from the top ribbon.
  2. Fill in the Task Information:
    • Enter in the subject. Make this action-oriented about a specific thing you need to do.  For example “email payroll department about upcoming check run” or “call plumber to fix master bathroom”.
    • In the area for “Start date” put in the actual date you will start working on the activity. This will help later when you display tasks in your calendar view.
    • Optionally feel free to add status, reminders, etc. if you’d like.
    • If you would like to assign a category, please read the “Want to Take it to the Next Level” section below. If not, feel free to skip this for now. You can organize and add categories later if desired.
    • Select “Save and Close”.

Step 2: Displaying & Reviewing your Outlook Tasks

You can obviously review your full list of tasks in the Task section of outlook, but what is really powerful is that tasks also show up in the calendar on the day and week views. These views can be customized according to your preferences.

  1. Open your Calendar view in Outlook
  2. Select “View” from the top menu and go to the Arrangement section. Select either the “Day”, “Work Week”, or “Week” icon as you prefer. You can toggle between these as often as you like.
  3. In the “Layout” section, select the “Daily Task List” icon and be sure it is set to “normal”. At the bottom of the drop-down list select “Arrange by” and select “By Start Date”. Be sure “Show Completed Tasks” is checked.

Task Menu Screen

 

This will create a section at the bottom of the calendar view which includes your “to do” list for each day. Now at a glance you can see what you need to work on each day. You can even block the appropriate time required on your calendar to work on a task. You can also see when you’ve perhaps over-committed and adjust your task Start Date accordingly.

Step 3: Complete Your Task

What a sweet feeling it is to check something off your list! To mark a task as completed, open the task and change the status to “Completed” by using the drop-down box. Or if you prefer, right from the list you can right click and select “Mark Complete”.

The task will still show up on your calendar for that day, with a strike-through to indicate you’ve crossed it off your list. If you don’t complete the task on time, it will automatically roll over to the next day for you, so there’s no need to worry about “lost” tasks as time moves on.

Want to take it to the Next Level?

If you want to become more advanced, you can explore the use of categories for your task list, so you can group tasks into similar areas such as “personal” or maybe several smaller tasks that relate to a bigger project. The options are endless and depend upon your own organizational preferences, but this is a great way to organize your overall list of tasks.

When you are in a task, select “Categorize” from the top ribbon. Outlook comes loaded with some default categories, but you can add new ones by selecting “All Categories” from the bottom of the list. That will open a new window where you can add, rename, delete, and create color schemes for your categories. Think about how you like to group tasks and create a category for each group. In your Tasks section of Outlook you can sort your full task list by category which can be a useful way of organizing your list.

For more information on getting the most from Microsoft Outlook and improving your productivity call us at 303-410-2845, email us at info@xlingshot.com, or use the Contact Us page.

Happy organizing!

– The Xlingshot Team

How SMBs Can Utilize the Cloud to Build Their Business

, ,

February 13, 2017 –

There has been a lot of talk lately about the cloud and its ability to put small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and startups on a level playing field with large global enterprises. Can this be substantiated or is it a load of trendy hype to push SMBs to cloud-based solutions?  We’ve compiled this breakdown of how the cloud can be used to boost profitability.

The Convenience Factor

It once took smaller companies and startups weeks to launch and configure their own IT infrastructure. Doing so also required a ton of overhead costs. Today’s cloud technology provides the benefits of this very same infrastructure but on an as needed and on-demand basis. SMBs can build a technology infrastructure for themselves online in less than a minute.

For example, a smaller agency that provides apps for its clients, can turn to a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud provider. A PaaS provides companies an environment that enables them to more easily host and deploy apps.  They do this by shielding developers from the hassles that come with the set up, configuration, and management of things like servers and databases.

Without having to worry about things on the infrastructure side, the company and its application developers can focus on creating innovative apps that will generate business revenue. Once their server is online and available, they can launch instantly with a 1-click deployment of their application.

Mission Critical Agility & Scalability

In the tech industry, everyone must channel his or her inner Maverick and Goose* because there is a need… a need for speed. Speed is everything and agility is mission critical. The cloud’s rapid provisioning of computer resources can offer additional storage space in mere minutes rather than weeks.

Having that kind of agility bodes particularly well for the scalability needs of SMBs. As business grows and the need to store more data increases, the cloud is flexible enough to resize your infrastructure on the fly and grow with you.

The cost of cloud-based solutions is much more beneficial to SMBs than the cost of traditional shared or dedicated hosting plans. This eliminates the high overhead that comes with buying dedicated hardware and hiring staff to run the servers.

Cloud technology has empowered SMBs by eliminating any need to make the same kind of costly upfront investments that large enterprise are able to incur. There is no longer a need for SMBs to spend thousands of dollars building out a massive infrastructure to support their big data applications. Better yet, backing up that big data is also inexpensive compared to traditional hosting solutions.

* Top Gun, 1986, in case you were wondering

Visit our Cloud Computing section for more information on how cloud-based solutions can help your business.

Contact Us at Xlingshot.com