Technology Advisor Blog

Videoconferencing from Home - What you need to know

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/8/20 10:58 AM

Videoconference

Many workers are taking business meetings from their living rooms or kitchens these days due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Non-essential businesses were ordered to close, and encouraged to continue operations remotely when possible.  Many small businesses have gotten very creative to find new ways to operate and survive the crisis.   
 
Traditional telephone conversations and email enable workers to conduct business remotely, but only with limited collaboration. Video communication, on the other hand, makes it possible for you to talk directly with the people who matter most without missing all of those non-verbal cues that mean so much. With videoconferencing, you can enjoy the benefits of face-to-face interaction, no matter how far away you may be.  Beyond the productivity enhancements, video also helps satisfy the social interaction many workers start to crave when working from home.

Here's what you need to know about video conferencing:

What you need: 

There are may popular business tools for remote meetings such as Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and more.  At Ekaru we use GoToMeeting because it's integrated with our phone system, but there are many other choices.  The person who hosts the meeting will need the application, and the other participants can join without purchasing anything.  You'll also need a camera and microphone (or headset).  Most modern laptops have a camera and microphone built in already.  All participants also have the option to dial into a phone number as well.  If you have a desktop computer, you can get an inexpensive webcam with built-in microphone.  These are very easy to install.  

Dress Appropriately:
It's usually appropriate to dress a bit more comfortably when working from home, but don't over do it.  It may be fun to joke about working in your PJs, but it doesn't signal a professional work ethic.  Maintain your company's culture and dress code, and tailor your appearance for the person you're working with.  A check in call with co-workers is pretty different from a sales presentation to a prospective customer.
 
Get over your fear of being on camera:
Video calls work best when everyone gets on.  If you're not used to being on video calls, it can be intimidating to be on camera, but the calls work much better when there's full participation.  You'll have the opportunity to preview your video before sharing.  Also, learn how to quickly mute your video should you ever need to.  It's ok to be awkward on your first few calls.  Give it some time and you'll be more comfortable.
 
Lighting:
Experiment a bit with lighting to look your best.  You'll always be able to preview what you look like before connecting, and continue to view while you're on the call.  Watch for too much saturation with direct sunlight, and too little lighting which just looks depressing.  You'll want good lighting to be able to see facial expressions.
 
Arrange an appropriate background:
If you have space in your home for a home office, that certainly makes it a lot easier to find a place to join a video call.  But if you don't have the space, and have to juggle multiple people working from home, its ok to use another location - maybe a kitchen table or sofa.  If you work from a bedroom, adjust your camera to keep the bed out of view.  Also, make sure the background isn't too distracting and put away personal items that may be embarrassing.  During the current crisis, its ok if your background looks like a home, and sometimes the personal touch leads to some new connections like meeting a pet.  Try to set up in a area where other family members won't be caught by surprise on camera.  It's a good idea to let others know in advance that you'll be on a video call.
 
Make introductions:
Anyone joining the call should introduce themselves.  In the event that some people can't connect by video, its important that they announce themselves when joining the call.  A good rule of thumb is to follow the etiquette you'd follow if you're all in the same room.  It would be pretty awkward for someone to sneak in to a conference room, hide in the corner, and secretly listen to a meeting.  That's the equivalent of joining a call and not introducing yourself.
 
Limit your distractions:
Remember you're on camera, and its just as rude to be checking your phone or email while someone else is talking as it would be in an in-person meeting.  I like to make sure my own video is always showing on my screen so I always remember I'm on camera.  It's very disrespectful to not give the person talking your full attention.
 
Know how to mute (fast!) and end the meeting:
A good rule of thumb is all users should be on mute except when they're speaking.  This will cut down on background noise.  I've been on calls when a participant picked up a call phone call and started talking to another person, oblivious to the fact that everyone else on the call could hear.  (Note that the host can mute a participate if needed).  If an emergency comes up, get familiar with both the audio AND video mute button.  Also, at the end of the meeting, be sure to fully exit.  This is especially important for the host!  You won't want to be sharing your video and desktop for the rest of the day!
 
Security:
Zoom usage has spiked twenty-fold in the past weeks, and many security concerns have been in the news, including a warning from the FBI. If you use Zoom, use unique meeting codes, a password to protect the meeting, and don't record the meeting.  We also recommend covering your camera when not in use.
 
We're all wired to adapt.  For those of us who have jobs that can continue remotely, this is a blessing, and make the most of it.  Get creative and try to be your best every day.  

Tags: small business, Managed Services, remote work

Supporting Local Small Businesses During COVID-19

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/6/20 11:37 AM

Checklist - Ekaru

Over the past two weeks, Ekaru engineers have closed over 1,000 tickets as we helped local businesses transition to work from home and remain as productive as possible. 

Information Technology is classified as an "essential service" and Ekaru remains fully available to support our community, while following social distancing protocols.  Please refer to the list of Covid 19 Essential Services that are exempted from the Massachusetts emergency order. 

Ekaru is fully configured to work through situations like this.  We have previously established a disaster recovery plan and leveraged technology to maintain full functionality to work remotely.  We are also fully committed to mitigating the risk of exposure to and transmission of the virus.  

Please call for urgent support issues, and email for non-urgent issues.  Most support calls that we would have gone on site for will now be handled remotely, and for urgent issues that require an onsite visit, we'll follow protocols from the CDC.

Here are some of the things our engineers have been working on:

  • Helping our clients with transitioning to work at home, including access via LogMeIn, VPN, or access to VoIP phone systems, as well as online tools such as remote meeting / conferencing tools.
  • Helping advise our clients on ways to reduce the risk of accessing corporate information from likely very insecure home systems not protected by approved security antivirus, without up to date security patches for operating systems, and possibly infected with malware.
  • Educating our clients on, and protecting them from, the new Corona virus scams, fake websites, and phishing emails by malware creators to take advantage of the current situation. So, in addition to human virus issues, there are cyber-virus infections related the COVID-19.  One staffer opening a map of Coronavirus cases from a phishing email or a healthcare worker’s cracked password could give cybercriminals the ability to deploy ransomware to shut down critical systems right when we need them the most.  
  • We are also mostly all working at home ourselves and trying to do as much as possible remotely to avoid having to do onsite visits, but still keeping systems up and running.

We're here to help.  If you have any questions, please let us know.   Every situation is unique and we're here to support you. 

Here are some links to additional resources:

Videos:

3/27/2020 - Video - How to Spot a Phishing eMail

3/27/2020 - Video - How to Launch a Video Call

Blogs:

4/3/2020:  VoIP Telephony - e911 and Staying Connected During the COVID-19 Crisis

4/3/2020:  How to Get the IT Management Services You Need During the COVID Outbreak 

4/2/2020:  Three Tips to for Working Remotely to Help Your Team Stay Productive

3/27/2020:  COVID-19 Remote Work Tips

Together we can all work through this crisis.  

 

 

 

Tags: Managed Services, remote work

VoIP Telephony - e911 and Staying Connected in the Covid-19 Crisis

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/3/20 3:37 PM

VoIP Phone - Ekaru IT ServicesVoIP (Voice over IP) telephony ensures effective communication and business continuity in times of crisis, as many of our clients have seen over the past few weeks.  Unlike traditional phone systems that are tied to an office location, VoIP phones can be used anywhere. 

Over the past few weeks we've helped clients all over the Boston area and surrounding suburbs to set up productive work from home environments.  The handset can simply be moved from the office to home, or users can use a smart phone app or desktop app to make and receive office calls.  Outbound calls have the business caller ID (even from a smart phone) ensuring a professional presentation, and you'll never miss an inbound call or voicemail.

In this way, VoIP phones can provide an enhanced experience compared to traditional phone lines, but they differ in some important ways.

Unlike the old copper phone lines, a VoIP phone won't work during a power outage or Internet outage.  Very importantly this includes 911 service.  During the outage the system will still be able receive voicemails, or even process simultaneous rings to cellular service, but you would not be able to make outbound calls with your handset.

Another important distinction is that the Enhanced 911 functionality, which includes automatic forwarding of location and call back information in the event of a disruption of a 911 call, would not function properly if the "address" for the phone is still the physical office.  For this reason, if you need to call 911, it is important to stay on the line and provide your address and callback information.

When using your business line from home, if these limitations are of concern, we recommend that you maintain an alternative method to reach 911. 

Note also that you can register additional phone numbers for your system - Direct Inward Dial or "DID" - to associate to users who may permanently be in a home office, and separate addresses can be associated with these numbers.   In that case the Caller ID would be set to the separate phone number, and that can be registered with E911. Also, if you were to move your entire office, the new address would be registered with E911.  

If you need help with any questions about phone systems or setting up a productive remote work environment, call Ekaru at 978-692-4200.

Tags: Managed Services, business continuity, VoiP,

How to Get the IT Management Services You Need During the COVID Outbreak

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/3/20 12:18 PM

IT management services

With the large majority of still-open businesses now working remotely, you may be experiencing a sudden need for IT support that you no longer have easy access to. Getting the IT management services and support you need when working in an office is one thing, but getting it when your entire team is spread across any number of locations is a far more complicated matter.

But that doesn’t mean the help you and your team need is beyond reach! The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically affecting the way we all do business. If you’re struggling to find the enterprise IT services and support your team needs to keep itself going, Ekaru can help to extend your reach. 

Here’s how we can provide the IT management services you need during these unprecedented circumstances.

On-Demand IT Support When You Need It

Small to medium-sized businesses are in an especially tough place right now. Not only are they having to quickly adjust to the lifestyle of a remote workforce, but they may also be struggling to equip themselves with the tools and services that were previously only located in the office.  Many companies didn’t have a fully built-out remote function in place at the time of this sudden outbreak.

This is where Ekaru is best positioned to help. Our team of engineers and experts can offer 24/7 and on-demand IT support for all of your remote workforce’s needs. 

Have you run into a tech emergency (like a network that’s suddenly shut down) and need help with damage control to keep operations running? Or maybe one of your employees has run into a roadblock, and you don’t know how to help them through it? With Ekaru, a technology advisor is only a phone call away.

Reliable (and Remote) IT Management Services

Working remotely can introduce a wide variety of challenges. The pace of a remote workforce will take immediate adjustments. You rely on technology for everything as part of a remote team, so if something goes wrong, it can feel like you’re on your own—it’s not like you can ask your co-worker the next desk over for help.

This is why it’s so valuable to have remote IT management services you can rely on. If your laptop isn’t running the company’s preferred software for reasons you can’t pinpoint, then you can call your Ekaru technology advisor and they’ll help you troubleshoot a solution. 

The need for remote technology support is stronger than ever, and you don’t want to spend time on the phone, waiting for someone to pick up; you’ve got enough to do already. When you work with Ekaru, our 24/7 help desk is always going to be there for you when you need us. 

You can also set up scheduled appointments with your Ekaru technology advisor. This will help you rest easy knowing that there’s a reserved time for you to work with us to maintain the status quo, assess how things are going, and preemptively address any issues that could be coming down the pipeline.

The COVID outbreak is changing a lot of things. If your remote workforce is struggling to deal with the transition (and the many technological roadblocks that can rear their ugly head), then get in touch with us today! We’d love to help you get the IT management services, support, and guidance you need to keep your company running at full steam.

Tags: Managed Services, computer support, remote work

Get S.M.A.R.T and save your data BEFORE you lose it!

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 3/20/13 10:00 AM


Hard DriveOne of the things we strongly advise our clients to get on board with is proactive monitoring of all their systems with our managed services.   With this service, we monitor all systems for a long list of parameters including Antivirus software updates, Security Patch updates, system performance and when capable, S.M.A.R.T monitoring of hard drives.  

S.M.A.R.T definition from Wikipedia:  

"S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology; often written as SMART) is a monitoring system for computer hard disk drives to detect and report on various indicators of reliability, in the hope of anticipating failures.  When a failure is anticipated by S.M.A.R.T., the user may choose to replace the drive to avoid unexpected outage and data loss."

Recently, Brian rescued a client's system when he received a SMART alert that the hard drive was showing signs of failure.  Rather than waiting for the drive to fail, and potentially risking the client's data, we went ahead and initiated the the process to replace the drive.  The system was still under warranty with Dell, but the problem was that the drive hadn't failed yet, so initially they wouldn't proceed with the warranty replacement, and Brian replaced the drive.

Brian didn't give up, though, and wrote to Dell:

Dell Support,

In regards to hard drive replacement policy, Waiting till the hard drive FAILS is NOT a good policy for Helping customers.  In our case we use remote monitoring and management software that is extremely reliable and efficient at reporting errors, and when is a SMART Error you need to take notice.

We have provided our services and resources to take care of YOUR Customer and ours By acknowledging that an ERROR from SMART needs attention and should never be taken lightly we purchased an identical replacement drive, was able to quickly and efficiently save the customers data and get them back up and running with no loss. 

Any customer regardless of how many computers they purchase, from 1 to 10,000 are equal.

Waiting for the hard drive to fail is like closing the Barn doors after the horses have run off, it's too late.

I have been a PC/Server tech for over 20 years and  I know how hard it is to repair an intermittent problem But when reliable monitoring tells you there's a problem, there is a problem.  Computers  know 2 things. 1's & 0's.

And as you know if one of them is out of place.. problems happen.  People can hide what their problems are, computers can't.  Preventing a Problem from happens before it happens is GOOD for Business for Both of us.

I hope you would consider replacing the hard drive, I see the Man. Date is either 6/2012 or 8/2012 and the SMART reporting started to show a problem on 01/28/2013 04:25 AM.

I have the Hard drive ready to ship.

Brian Brackett

Help Desk Tech

Ekaru

Dell eventually stepped up and honored a parts replacement of the hard drive and shipped back a drive.  Being proactive saved the aggravation of a failed system and potential data loss.  Even with an almost brand-new system, a hard drive can fail (in fact, if you think about a disk spinning at 7200 RPM, it's a miracle that any hard drive can work!).  Hard drives are the most common failure point in PCs, and proactive monitoring is definitely advised.

 

Tags: hard drive, S.M.A.R.T, Monitoring, Managed Services

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