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Are you considering a Hybrid Workplace?

by Nicki Dowsett in Anti-virus software, Audit Reviews, Back up solutions, broadband, cybercrime, Data Loss Prevention, Disaster Planning, Disaster Recovery, General, Hardware, Helpdesk, Hosted phone, IT Support, IT Systems, Microsoft, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, MPR, networking, Password Security, Ransomware, Remote working, Risk management, rural broadand, SaaS Protection, Software, Tech-as-a-service, Wireless networks

We are aware that many of our customers are investigating a Hybrid Office for the future. Finding a balance between flexible home/office-based staff, those that prefer to be at home permanently and others that prefer to be in the office permanently. Media articles are suggesting that 43 out of the top 50 companies in the UK, do not plan to bring staff back full time.

Last year when everyone made the mass exodus to home working, there was a clear focus on getting everyone on-line and the business continuing. The return to the office is not necessarily as simple as everyone just turning up to work at their desk.  After almost 15 months away from the office some people may find adjusting to the office trickier than others. Individual working styles may have changed.  After working in an environment with little distraction to suddenly being in an office with colleagues on the phone or just generally catching up, may mean that they feel they prefer to be at home for some of the week.  From own conversations with industry colleagues and customers, here are some area’s that we believe you should be considering for your staff and business even if you are not considering a hybrid office.

Cyber Security

Internet Connections and Firewalls

Remote workers will require internet connections to be able to connect to the office network whether it is cloud based apps or a Voip phone system. The most important consideration is the router secured and has the password been changed since it left the factory? The standard routers issued by home broadband have basic security settings and it is unlikely that your employee has ever changed the router name or password. This puts your data at risk, as you have no control over this set up.

Another area to consider is that many home broadband connections state in the small print that they should not be used for business purposes. Although this has been overlooked during the lockdown, now is the time to consider is your employee at risk from using their BT, Virgin or Sky broadband connection. Finally is the connection reliable? Have they suffered, but put up with, outages until now? Or is their chosen home office space receiving a good signal, do they need a booster installed?

Installing a dedicated business internet connection to your employees homes gives you the control to secure the router and firewalls that connect your employee to your business network and data.

Back up Solutions

While cloud-based applications like Microsoft 365 are safe when left alone, they can’t protect you from yourself (or your employees). This is why the #1 cause of data loss in the cloud is human error.

Every day, users trigger data loss/corruption in cloud applications due to:

  • Accidental (and intentional!) deletion
  • Overwriting important data
  • Downloading malware/ransomware viruses
  • And more!

More and more businesses are using SaaS (Software as a service) such as Microsoft Business 365 or Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) and it is often assumed that your data is backed up automatically and that these providers will hold all your data, BUT this is not the case.

For example Microsoft state in their Service Level Agreement the following:

“Microsoft is not liable for data loss due to application outages, it is also not liable for data loss due to deprovisioned user accounts.
We recommend that you regularly backup your Content and Data that you store on the services or store using Third-Party Apps and Services.”

Recent reports show that it could cost your business upwards of £1million in ransom, fines, legal fees, loss of revenue and IT Support to get your business back up and running if you suffer a data loss due to vulnerabilities in your network.   From as little as £2 per seat per month, MPR IT Solutions can support your business against Data Loss see our news article here.

Ransomware and Phishing Scams

Ransomware and Phishing scams are increasing and it is becoming more prolific. This is affecting all industry sectors whether your employees are at home or in the office. Employees using their own hardware are unlikely to have the same level of anti-virus or malware software to protect your data against phishing scams and ransomware. As it is a personal computer you do not have the control over this as you would with a business device. Implementing Security Awareness Testing across your business can identify individuals that require further training on how to spot a scam. For only £2 per seat per month you can help to protect your business by ensuring your staff are more aware of the potential risks on email scams. See our blog articles on Network Security and Is my Network Vulnerable? for further information.

Hybrid Office Workspace and Risks

Suitable environment

Personally I have worked remotely for 7 years. I am therefore well situated to understand the needs long term, as opposed to the last year. I have friends sharing the dining room table with their partner, or know of people that have been using a lap tray to balance their laptop and phone whilst sat on the sofa. These don’t work short or long term. If you partner is in Sales and on the phone constantly and you are in an admin role there are going to be clashes. You can’t both be holding a MS Teams or Zoom meeting at the same time, it is unprofessional and distracting.

Your office is likely to have LED lighting to create a bright environment, and these are on all day long. At home your staff are working in natural daylight and this can cause strain on their eyes when looking at their screen all day. Is their home in a busy street? If so, it can be distracting to hear vehicles or pedestrians going passed constantly. These are all areas to consider along with lone working risk assessments. It is your duty of care as an employer to ensure that your staff when working remotely are safe, cables and power leads across the room are a trip hazard and even though it is their own home you can still be liable if proper provisions and risk assessments are not offered.

Hybrid Office Equipment

Is there a clear separation of home and work space? Is your employee expecting to be able to work from the kitchen or dining room table or do they have a desk? Not every home is large enough for a full office desk, however there are many home office desks available on the market to suit most needs. Having a dedicated work space, allows for your employee to define work and home time.

As a business, if you decide that you want staff to work from home, you need to consider that they have the same equipment and furniture available to them as they would in the office. Desk space, chair, printer and office stationary. Often overlooked are ergonomic items such as wrist or feet rests to allow them to sit comfortably and without risk of long term injury such as back pain or RSI. Be prepared that if staff are working part remote, part office based you will have to pay and provide these items for both home and office, the same as you would if they were in the office full time.

Computer Hardware

Are your staff working on business computers or personal computers? Last year the focus was just to get everyone on-line, many businesses invested in laptops for staff, others sent staff home with their desktop computer. However, for some it was simply a case that staff would use personal computers (Bring Your Own Device – BYOD) as no one expected it would be this long. Linking back to cyber security, it is important to consider the security of the hardware as well as the lifecycle. If your staff are using aged or personal hardware you should consider upgrading or purchasing business hardware to secure your network and ensure employees are able to work remotely long term.

Alternatively, if staff are going to be working in a hybrid office routine, what are your plans for hardware? Whilst cloud platforms are great for being able to connect anywhere, if your employee only has a desk PC, they are not going to be able to transport it back and forth.

VOIP Phones

Hosted telephone systems ensure a professional first impression for your customers, no matter the location of your employees or the size of your business.  With a hosted phone system, staying connected to your customers by telephone is seamless for remote working or the return to the office – it is very simple to switch between the two. Bringing the ultimate in flexibility, with a minimal initial capital outlay, along with an easy to manage monthly subscription. A hosted telephone system will allow your employees to connect whether it be a hybrid office or at home with customers and colleagues. Flexibility comes with the option of using a softphone on your laptop or PC, a physical handset or an app on your mobile.

Employee Status

Re-integration to work place

Expecting your employees to return to a hybrid office or any office, as if the last 15 months hasn’t happened, is not an option. Everyone will have had different experiences and you need to accept that it wont be smooth and there will be friction. For someone that may have been in the office for the majority of the lockdown, they will be used to working in the office, however they are now used to almost silence. For someone that has not set foot in the office for 15 months, it will be daunting. Surrounded by people after being isolated at home with limited interaction to suddenly be around colleagues can be stressful.

Each individual needs to be considered separately. You cannot assume that everyone is the same. Some may have lost family or friends, some may have been in hospital themselves, whilst others may have thankfully escaped any such experience. Some may live alone and have had extremely limited interaction with the outside world due to restrictions. The return to the office will have an affect on mental health in some shape or form. For those returning from furlough it will be a huge step to get back into a routine, whilst others that have worked all through may resent those that were furloughed.

Mental Health

Going forward, employees that want a flexible working approach will benefit mentally by being able to have a better home/work life balance. For those that are parents will value the opportunity to be more available to their family without a long commute or staying late in the office. With the option to work from home they might stop to take a half hour break to play with younger children. This doesn’t mean they won’t be making the extra effort to get the tasks completed. After all, for the last 15 months much of it has involved home schooling and they still got it done then, nothing will change on that front.

Staff returning to the office will also need to be accommodated. Suddenly being tied to a desk 8 or 9 hours a day will require regular breaks as they settle back in. They will be used to not being observed for every move they make and it really does make for a better environment overall when staff are trusted. In the past many business were concerned that out of sight meant out of mind and that working remote should never be an option. However, these last 15 months have proved that it can be done in most cases.

Communication, Collaboration, Concentration

I found that the last 15 months brought me closer to the team. I have worked at MPR IT for 7 years, all of it remotely and being based in Berkshire my visits to the office are not regular. Initially, when we all started to work remotely and had weekly social gatherings on MS Teams, I suddenly got the opportunity to get to know some of my colleagues better. I would have regular quick teams calls to ask colleagues questions where as before I would probably have dropped them an email. Using teams we were able to throw ideas around quickly and easily in a chat or quick call.

Now that they are all back to the office, I still feel that sense of connection, however I do miss out on the ‘corridor conversations’ as some might call them. Where one person will mention something and it then becomes a discussion. They are great and do keep me up to date with any decision made and ask for my opinion, and with a small team this is easy to overcome. For those businesses that are considering a Hybrid office environment, you will need to ensure that employees do not feel left out by being at home, as opposed to the office and continue to hold regular sessions as a whole team.

How can we help?

Contact our team on 0800 030 20 30 option 1 or email us at sales@mpr-it.co.uk to find out how MPR IT Solutions can support your business with technical solutions for a Hybrid Workplace. Whether just one member of staff will be remote or the whole team, we can identify vulnerabilities in the network, support you in upgrading hardware alongside day to day managed IT Support.

  

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Rural Broadband in 2017

by Nicki Dowsett in broadband, cabinets, Engineers, fibre optics, networking, point to point wirless, rural broadand

Government pledge to improve rural broadband

The government has made a pledge that by the end of 2020 every home and business in the UK will have the right to demand a minimum of 10mgb broadband.  It has also promised that by the end of this year (2017) 90% of the UK will have a mobile signal.  Some rural parts are still cut off from the internet and mobile signal in 2017.  I was shocked when I discovered that 1.4million homes and business in the UK still receive nowhere near this level of service.  Are you one of the people that, in some parts of the country are still subjected to dial up connection?  I vaguely remember the sound when connecting to the internet of high pitch squealing & it sends shivers down my spine. Living in an urban area I can safely say that I get super fast broadband at 70mgb, & 4G service on my mobile.

Broadband in our daily life

As a mother, and someone that works fro home my life would be so much different without fast broadband.  For example I would not be able to work from home to suit my childcare needs.  Or be able to help my son do his homework.   I often try to explain to my 5yr old that he doesn’t know how good he has it.  When I was child we had 4 channels and if we were good, we got a trip to the video shop at the weekend. We didn’t have the option to flick through the latest films or TV shows  available to download.  So many people still don’t have this luxury, that I and many others take for granted.

Urban V Rural Life

If you are reading this and think well that can’t possibly be the case, you will be surprised as I was.  One of our directors lives only 10 miles from Ashford, Kent.  He has fibre broadband in his house, for all the good that means.  Due to the distance from the local cabinet he gets 2mgb speed.  He doesn’t have the option to stream TV content simply because his broadband is not quick enough, and struggles with checking emails or working from home.

With more and more people looking for a different lifestyle and commuting to work in towns and cities this is becoming more of an issue. We all know that many are already struggling with the issues on train travel in the South East.   Many of these commuters quite often don’t have the option to work from home on the days when the trains aren’t running.  So whilst the idea of working in a city and living in the country was for a better work/home balance this isn’t always the case.

It’s not just homeowners in rural areas that are suffering

Small businesses are also struggling, unable to compete against larger corporations.  In this day and age you should be able to run a business from anywhere in the country no matter your skills or trade.  Many people run businesses from home offices or  a unit on a farm, whether it’s making furniture or running a virtual office assistant, broadband speed is paramount – customers want to look at websites and make contact by email, not pick up a phone. It’s just the way people expect to communicate today.

It is also affecting the younger generation as well.  I am really impressed with the ICT set up in my son’s school.  It’s surprising how much the internet can play a part in the school day.  If he was at a school in a rural area would he get the same benefits as a town school?  It’s very possible that some schools in rural areas have very limited connection.  So if we look at the future this lack of broadband in rural areas is also affecting our future workforce, as technology is everywhere in the workplace.

Working with Rural businesses

Here at MPR IT this is something we take extremely seriously, and hope that it doesn’t take another 3 almost 4 years for the government pledge to be completed.   Many of our customers are based in rural areas, and we have worked with a number to improve their broadband speed and connectivity to help their business. With our experienced and qualified engineers in fibre optic cabling and point to point wireless, MPR IT will ensure that we can evaluate the best possible solution for you.  See our case studies on point to point wireless and fibre optic cabling for more information on work we have carried out.  If you are suffering slow connection, don’t sit and wait for the government pledge by 2020 contact us to see how we can help you now & discuss your options to improve your business & home connections.

BBC’s Countryfile

BBC’s Countryfile recently included a report on how many parts of the country that do not have broadband.  A farmer trying to complete his tax returns or get the latest farming news from the Government was struggling with 42kb speed and as the phone lines where he lived were not always reliable even this couldn’t be relied on.  Meaning that after a frustrating 45 mins he still could not check emails for the camping side of his business.  This meant that he missed out on potential bookings and enquiries for people to pay and stay at his farm in the summer months.  I looked into this further and found another clip also by Countryfile from 2013 highlighting the same issues.  In the earlier clip it showed very similar stories and how peoples live were affected.  With rural high street banks and post offices closing, it is expected that people will use the internet for these services, when in fact these are the areas that don’t have the broadband to support these services. Nothing has changed much in the intervening years.

Both episodes, it highlighted how people living in these rural areas were trying to overcome the issues. In one a cop-operative of farmers were digging trenches in their own fields to have cables laid and cabinets installed to connect their properties and businesses, in the other it showed how the installation of point to point wireless portals could be installed on the side of a property to collect the radio waves from a radio mast 6 miles away.  In principal this is the best option without the need to lay cables and install cabinets, however there can be environmental factors which can affect your choice of how to improve your internet connection.

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