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Office-perks

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.

Remote-Working

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.

cookie

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

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.

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.
Cyber-Security

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.

 

Productive-Video-Conferencing

Tips for productive video conferencing

As more and more people are working from home because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there will still be times when a company boss or manager needs to be in touch with their team.

Similarly, it can be important for keeping in touch with customers and clients.

However, such meetings can descend into chaos without some “rules of engagement”.

Firstly, preparation is essential. It can be helpful before the proposed meeting to email a clear agenda of the points to be discussed with some notes as to the main issues and to set a date for the conference that gives people time to prepare.

You should also tell people in advance which video conferencing platform will be used – usually Skype or Zoom, both of which are free to use, although there is a 40-minute time limit on the Zoom free option, but there are plenty of others.

Secondly, if several people are involved, there should be a chairman, to co-ordinate the discussion and to ensure everyone gets their turn to speak.  It is much more difficult to pick up visual and social clues in a video conference.

The chairman should ensure that everything is set up correctly, such as headphones and microphone and participants should message the chairman if they are having any technical issues.

Participants should focus on the call and do their best to eliminate distractions and background noise. Muting the line when you’re not speaking can be critical on video calls, particularly as most tools for group video conferencing prioritise the visual feed of the person speaking.

Video conferencing is a very useful alternative to having to physically travel to attend meetings and as such is more environmentally friendly as well as helping to keep business overheads under control, but it does require people to observe courtesy and disciplined behaviour to work at its best.

Improve work productivity

How to improve your work productivity

How to improve your work productivity

Finding enough hours in the day to get everything done can be a challenge for SME owners.

There are endless stories and articles about famous entrepreneurs who get up at 5am, perhaps start their day with a yoga or gym session or employ any number of variations on the starting the day theme that they argue makes them productive.

But what works well for one individual may not be appropriate for another. Some people need eight hours of sleep while others are happy with just four or five hours.

Some people are more effective and productive at some point in the morning, for others it may be in the middle of the afternoon.

The secret to being more productive at work, according to researchers, is to start the day with a plan, and to target your most productive part of the day to prioritise urgent, difficult or important tasks.

According to Christopher Barnes, associate professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “people take a few hours from when they wake up to reach peak mental acuity”.

So, if you know where that point comes for you, you should incorporate it into your plan for the day. Perhaps start the day with simple admin tasks, prioritising the in-tray, checking the e-mail and dealing with internal memos until you are at your most alert.

You can also set time limits for these routine tasks to ensure you are not swamped by non-essentials.

It is also important in planning to limit the number of goals you may want to set for the day.

Productivity coach Jeff Sanders recommends setting no more than one or two main goals per day. He also argues that your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day, so suggests ““The best way to start is that intentional practice of saying, I’m not going to let the day distract me. I’m going to have my goals, my priorities” and that this helps stop you from becoming distracted by other things as the day progresses.

Windows-7-End-of-Support

End of Support for Windows 7

End of Support for Windows 7 – what to do

In an ideal world when Microsoft ends its support for a piece of software, users should upgrade to a new version.

But for SMEs this can be a headache, especially if their current PC or laptop does not have the capacity to cope smoothly with Windows 10, which is much more space hungry than Windows 7.

Plus, if you buy a new machine there is the problem of transferring crucial documents and other data, especially if it is material that is being used all the time.

Obviously, it is important to have back-ups of data, preferably in more than one location such as in cloud storage and on an external hard drive.

It may be possible to increase the capacity of existing machines by having a SSD (Solid State Drive) installed to replace the current Hard Drive.

But if cash flow or time issues mean you either can’t spare the machine or replace it there are some ways to stay at least reasonably safe in the short term. It will still run.

However, without the regular Windows 7 security updates, cyber experts advise your machine will be more vulnerable to hackers.

They advise that you do not use internet banking or send emails on Windows 7 machines and try to use other, more secure devices.

Businesses with large numbers of computers can, however, buy Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESS), which will be available for Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Enterprise at £19 per device for the first year, doubling each year thereafter until the end date of 2023.

The ESS is not available to smaller businesses with only a few devices, however, so while you may be able to take the risk of continuing to use existing Windows 7 devices for a while ultimately upgrading is the only solution.