Avoid Staff Burnout!

Arguably a business’ employees are its greatest asset.

This has been recognised recently by companies like Bumble, Hootsuite, and Mozilla who have reportedly shut down for a week to give their staff a break.

The argument is that ensuring everybody has a week off at the same time means they won’t be returning to a flood of emails and work to catch up on as they would if only some were given time off while others continued working.

The last 18 months have been a stressful time for everyone with employees struggling to maintain productivity in the face of lockdowns, staff shortages, supply chain issues, remote working to name just a few.

Given that the availability of staff is predicted to be a continuing problem post-Brexit, therefore, it makes sense for employers to take care of those they have, to value them and to show it.

Protecting their physical and mental health and helping them to have a healthy work-life balance could make the difference between losing staff and keeping them.

There are other suggestions for ensuring staff are healthy and able to perform in this article.


How important has remote working become to you?

There have been reports that some people who started to work remotely from home during pandemic lockdowns want to continue to do so rather than return to the tedious commute to the office.

Some people are even saying that they would rather lose their jobs than be forced to return to the office.

They cite the improvement in work-life balance that had resulted from not having to commute and the flexibility and more time they have had with their families or on their hobbies.

Several large organisations, such as Facebook, J P Morgan and Google have already either delayed returns to office-based working or given employees the option of remaining remotely.

Others are offering what is called a hybrid solution, where people can spend some of their time working remotely and may only be required to come into the office for certain meetings or for a couple of days each week.

One UK-based recruitment and job search organisation has reported a 40% increase in searches for roles that offer remote options.

It may be that the current difficulties employers are having in recruiting suitably qualified people means that quitting a job where the employer is refusing to allow remote working is less risky than it might otherwise be.

Would you be prepared to leave your job if your employer cancelled all remote working?


The evolution of office perks

During the pandemic, many businesses had to get used to their employees working from home.

As restrictions have loosened, however, the hybrid and work from home models look set to remain.

This means that the “traditional” perks from free meals to break-out spaces to yoga classes offered within the office may no longer make sense.

While the more mainstream benefits such as generous pension packages or healthcare may remain, there is likely to be a radical evolution in the non-office-based perks.

Some businesses have started to offer contributions towards home offices, mobile phones or broadband while others have started to introduce mental and physical wellbeing perks remotely.

Some, including Google and Revolut, have introduced extra days off as “reset days”.

They are recognising that it is a lot harder for people in the business to switch off when they’re working from home because they can’t disconnect.


In an era of remote working is it time to revise our working practices?

It has been clear for some time that many people forced to work remotely because of the pandemic have found that they prefer this and are reluctant to return to the office.

Employers, too, have realised that it not only reduces overheads but that it does not lead to a reduction in productivity.

But many people even working remotely have stuck to the traditional 9-5 pattern and now researchers at the leading business research and advisory company, Gartner, have looked at this way of working and are concluding that it is causing significant damage to employees, particularly causing an increase in fatigue.

They argue that “In today’s context, office-centric work is a square peg and the remote environment is a round hole.”

The formalised working day based on office hours, they argue, was established in the 1920s and is “unsuitable for the remote environment where we do not have concrete signals to start or end our workday”.

It also questions the need for meetings as the best way to collaborate, much of it no longer necessary, it argues, in an age of email, instant messaging and shared drives.

The researchers’ findings are to some extent supported by another piece of research reported by Wired which described various experiments based on the Scandinavian model.

While productivity improved among those businesses that tried a shorter, five-hour day, there were some downsides, generally in the area of losing something on the relationship level, in team culture and loyalty.


Google Changes To Cookies And The Implications For Advertising

From 2022 Google has announced that it will be ditching third-party cookies from its Chrome browser.

The move will make it harder for advertisers to track the online activity of people browsing different websites.

But according to Wired “Critics and regulators argue the move risks putting smaller advertising firms out of business and could harm websites that rely on adverts to make money.”

“They’re going to get rid of the infrastructure that allows individualised tracking and profiling on the web,” says Bennett Cyphers, a technologist at civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They’re going to replace it with something that still allows targeted advertising – just doing it a different way.”

While the move may mean that site visitors will see fewer annoying repeat ads, for example for products they may have checked weeks earlier, it is also argued that the move puts even more power in Google’s hands.

Google’s plan is to target ads against people’s general interests using an AI system called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). It will use your browsing history to identify interests and put you in certain groups.

While this may mean less personal data being sent to third-party trackers, it also has implications for advertisers, who may turn to other platforms, like Facebook.

The UK’s CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) has also suggested that as a result “online publishers, such as news websites that rely on advertising, could see short-term revenue from ads decrease by 70 per cent”.

But the danger is that Google’s move may concentrate power in fewer, and bigger, hands.

See more here: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-chrome-cookies-third-party-ads

Working from home

What about the environment when business gets back to normal?

The Covid pandemic and various lockdowns have precipitated an economic downturn from which it will take some time for businesses to recover.

However, it is a perfect opportunity for businesses to incorporate more energy efficient ways of doing things.

This may well also save them both time and money.

It is already clear that many businesses have realised they can function perfectly well with most of their staff working from home.  This has been predicted to continue and will result in savings on overheads such as office rent, energy bills and at the same time a reduced carbon footprint as fewer people need to commute to work each day.

Of course, they will need to invest more in IT to ensure their remote-working staff are able to operate in a secure IT environment, perhaps with access to an intranet and with clear training, guidance and protocols on confidentiality, levels of authority to access to different parts of the business and so on.

It may also be that the new “normal” will see an upsurge in the use of AI for routine processes that do not need to be carried out by humans, and a level of investment in training to ensure that people are competent to manage any new AI installed.


Ransomware is becoming big business during the pandemic

Ransomware is becoming big business during the pandemic
New variations on the ransomware extortion technique have been emerging, targeting both large businesses and SMEs.
The latest is Egregor Ransomware.

It is a variant of Ransom. Sekhmet and not only does it demand a payment to unlock the systems it has attacked, but then it fails to decrypt, instead providing recommendations for securing the network that has been attacked.

It is thought to gain access via a remote Trojan and then search for system weaknesses.
Businesses need to protect themselves by:

1. Patching and updating their systems’ software and checking for and addressing any potential vulnerabilities.
2. Carrying out regular security audits of current IT infrastructure and security products.
3. Ensuring they have a comprehensive data backup plan, including secure offsite backup.
4. Using a third party mail security filter that can detect, block, and analyse malicious emails.
5. Ensuring Multifactor Authentication on all users to stop an intruder (even with a correct password).
6. Ensuring all employees are trained in cybersecurity best practices, especially regarding common access techniques such as email and compromised websites.


Is it time to review your cyber security measures?

As the year comes to an end is it time to review your cyber security measures?

With no sign that people will be returning to office-based working any time soon, businesses will continue to rely heavily on their remote workers.

Indeed, many have realised that they can function perfectly well without having all their employees present in massive central city locations.

But they will need to rely on robust cyber security to protect businesses from scams such as phishing, ransomware, spoofing and social engineering.

Unfortunately, scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and relying on “social engineering” camouflage to get people to drop their guard.

While the threats are not new, they have become more prevalent with the move to remote working so businesses need to install more robust measures to help their workers.

According to Wired, “Over the last decade alone, the ability to breach corporate systems and then sell stolen databases to a developed market has grown considerably.”

Time to review your business security?  This article may help.

And finally, we wish you all a happy, peaceful and safe Christmas and a hopefully less stressful 2021.

GDPR and remote working

GDPR and remote working

GDPR and remote working

Many businesses have been operating during the Coronavirus lockdown by asking their employees to work remotely from home.

It may be that if this has been successful and there is no need for them to be present in their former offices every day, that this way of working will become the new norm.

However, there are implications under the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) that require databases containing clients’ and customers’ personal details to be kept secure.

Remote workers are advised to:

  1. Ensure that security software installed at a device level is up to date. This includes not only company databases but also encryption, firewalls and web filtering.
  2. Install the latest anti-virus and anti-malware software.
  3. Keep mobiles and laptops safe, preferably locked away when not in use and never left in a vehicle that is unattended.
  4. Ensure that family members, especially children, do not use work-supplied devices.
  5. Install password protection, if it has not already been done.
  6. Ensure removable devices such as USBs are malware free and kept securely locked away when not in use.
  7. Lock away any personal data in a storage unit when not in use.
  8. Wherever possible avoid downloading sensitive data to a laptop, instead access it only via the company’s intranet when needed.

Call to report scam emails

According to the Governments GCHQ Cyber Crime security centre, there has been a significant rise in phishing scams since the onset of the pandemic lockdown and it is asking members of the public to report them here: report@phishing.gov.uk

As more and more people are using tech alternatives to keep in touch with family and to work remotely the organisation has removed more than 2000 such online scams in the last month.

They include:

  • 471 fake online shops selling fraudulent coronavirus-related items
  • 555 malware distribution sites set up to cause significant damage to visitors
  • 200 phishing sites seeking personal information such as passwords and credit card details
  • 832 advance-fee frauds where a large sum of money is promised in return for a set-up payment

They also report a number of fake job solicitations and warn that users of videoconferencing software such as Zoom should beware of attacks by pranksters muscling on conversations.

Zoom has introduced new measures, including meeting urls, passwords and waiting rooms to help combat this.