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Tip of the Week: How to Spot Various Forms of Phishing

Tip of the Week: How to Spot Various Forms of Phishing

It doesn’t take much to get us to start ranting about the dangers of phishing, and it’s a topic that we won’t stop talking about for some time. Unfortunately, phishing comes in enough forms that it isn’t always so simple to spot. For this week’s tip, we just wanted to run through the different formats phishing can take, focusing on how to identify each type.

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Tip of the Week: Setting Your Out-of-Office Message in Outlook

Tip of the Week: Setting Your Out-of-Office Message in Outlook

The holidays are fast approaching and that means people are going to miss work for one reason or another. If you can get away from the office for a little bit, you’ll want to set up an out-of-office message to ensure that others know you will get back to them when you get back to the office. Here’s how you can set up an autoresponder for an out-of-office message in Microsoft Outlook.

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Security Doesn’t Always Have to Be a Grind

Security Doesn’t Always Have to Be a Grind

At first glance, cybersecurity might seem incredibly complicated and difficult to understand, but even a baseline understanding of some of the principles of cybersecurity can go a long way toward protecting your business. Let’s discuss some of the common-sense ways you can keep your business secure, even if you don’t have an internal IT department to ask for help from.

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Tips to Help You Determine How Much Bandwidth You Need

Tips to Help You Determine How Much Bandwidth You Need

For small businesses, having a fast, reliable Internet connection is needed to run all the digital tools that your staff has come to depend on. If you don’t have the bandwidth in place, you can deal with bottlenecks that can ruin communications, stall productivity, and cause operational issues of all types. Today, we’ll take a look at how to determine the amount of bandwidth you need to support your business’ computing infrastructure.

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Clearing the Ethical Hurdles of Employee Monitoring

Monitoring Employees Without Their Knowledge

We figured it would be most appropriate to discuss the no-go option first, which would be to start monitoring your employees without their knowledge or consent. As you would imagine, this is the shadier side of the monitoring spectrum, and is actually illegal in most cases. Unless you have reason to believe an employee is actively acting out and are investigating them, you are not allowed to use monitoring software to keep an eye on your team without telling them.

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Should You Use Wired or Wireless Connections?

Why a Hardwired Connection?

Security

The fact is that a direct connection is inherently more secure than one that is broadcast over the airwaves, as these have the potential to be snagged in transit much more easily. Therefore, if security is paramount, a wired connection is the better option by default. That said, there are ways to secure your wireless connection, utilizing a VPN.

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Tip of the Week: Minding Your Manners in the Office Again

Mobile Device Use

When working from home, the reasonable threshold for mobile device use is significantly different. Theoretically, you could talk to someone on speakerphone with the phone across the room (although you shouldn’t). However, there are other people with you in the office that you could potentially distract.

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How to Set the Tone for Workplace Collaboration

Let’s review what true collaboration is, and how you can lead your company towards more collaborative behaviors in your day-to-day undertakings.

Teamwork and Collaboration Aren’t the Same Thing

First, it is important that we define the difference between these two seemingly synonymous terms. While it is possible to work as a team without collaborating, collaboration requires some element of teamwork to be present.

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Managing Your Business and Remote Workforce During the COVID-19 Pandemic

First of all, it’s important not to panic. Many organizations have been offering work-from-home perks for years. Not only is it entirely possible to keep business running, but many businesses see a boost in productivity. A two-year Stanford study shows that in general, remote workers are as productive, if not more so, than those confined to an office.

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How to Encourage Collaboration in Your Place of Work

Have Them Socialize Outside of the Office

Let’s look at how kids behave for a moment… if told to partner up, they—almost automatically—gravitate toward their friends, the people they are comfortable spending time with. Your employees will do the same, both in and out of the office.

Collaboration greatly relies on some level of trust and familiarity, which is most effectively developed outside of the professional environment. Encourage your staff to socialize outside of work hours, or even treat them on occasion, on one condition: no shop talk. While your employees may not all be fast friends afterwards, they’ll understand one another much better and be able to work more effectively.

Tell Them What You Want

Speaking of efficacy, make sure your team understands what you expect from them in terms of results. This goes double when collaborative work is involved. A clear understanding of a task makes it easier to determine how to accomplish it, and how their combined efforts can best serve their purpose.

Walk the Walk

If you really want your team to work collaboratively, make the first move and involve yourself in the process. “Rank” or “position” should have no bearing on how able someone is to participate in a collaborative process, and there is no telling who could be struck with inspiration. Actively seek input from your team and demonstrate how you want your employees to work together.

Use Your Resources Wisely

While there’s a time for either, there is a difference between combining your resources to accomplish a given task and having your employees collaborate. The former is great if a lot of a single task needs to be finished quickly, but if a complicated process needs to be completed, it helps more to give the task to a group of people who have different proficiencies. This way, you have a better chance of the necessary skills being present in the group.

Acknowledge Accomplishments

A team that doesn’t feel appreciated is a team that won’t accomplish much. Why would they, if it doesn’t seem to matter whether they excel, or put out a thoroughly mediocre performance? This is especially the case if a single member’s performance is publicly singled out, as though they did all the work.

To encourage your team to perform well as a group, make sure that the entire group receives some recognition of their combined efforts.

Make Collaboration the Easy Option

Regardless of how motivated your team may be to collaborate with one another, it just isn’t going to happen if they don’t have the opportunity or means to effectively do so. While this may have been a more reasonable obstacle in the past, today’s available technology invalidates any excuse your team may have… mostly due to the Internet serving as the greatest collaborative tool the world has ever seen. The easier the collaborative process is, whether you lean on an Internet-based application or an internal resource or both to simplify things, the more likely it is for your employees to work with each other.

We’re Here to Help.

Coleman Technologies is ready and willing to deliver the solutions you need to promote collaboration among your staff. Give us a call at (604) 513-9428 to hear more about your options.

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Tip of the Week: Four Fundamental Small Business Tech Tips

1. Adopt Technology Solutions

Regardless of your industry, who your business serves, or even where you operate, there are some universal changes that technology has brought to how the average small-to-medium-sized business functions. Methods of collaboration have shifted to digital formats, “coming to work” is no longer a prerequisite to working, and the filing cabinet has been rendered woefully obsolete by other, better options. Cloud solutions are a major contributor to this. I want you to take a moment and consider something: why were any of these changes made in the first place?

It is for the same reason that the assembly line process was adopted, or why we cook our food before eating it: it provides greater benefits than the old way. It is the same with business technology, and you will see this as a common theme throughout these tips. Don’t disqualify yourself from competing by removing your ability to do so.

2. Don’t Shortchange Email

Email is now the gold standard for business communications, for numerous reasons. While a small business might find it redundant to email an announcement, doing so can prove useful to their operations. For instance, let’s say Mary manages a small office with four or five employees. She could easily just announce an important message to the room, but what if James was at the dentist that day, or Rob had excused himself to the bathroom just before? What if Ellen had just connected for an important phone call?

Email provides an easy way for you to communicate with others in your workplace that ensures everyone gets the message, without disrupting operations too much.

3. Go Mobile

While we’re on the subject, let’s consider Ellen for a moment. In the past, making a phone call would tie her to her desk, so any distractions in the office would be an unavoidable issue. Nowadays, there are many ways that Ellen could hypothetically remove herself from the situation while still fulfilling her responsibilities. For instance, a Voice over Internet Protocol solution could allow her to make and take calls from anywhere she could establish a connection, so she could presumably find a quieter area to work without sacrificing her ability to do so.

Other solutions also offer some form of mobility, assuming they are backed up with enough security. For instance, if James was unable to get to the office after his dental appointment, he could still work on his assigned tasks from home with the right cloud-based solutions.  Again, this helps eliminate his reliance upon getting to the office in order to produce.

4. Don’t Underestimate the Cloud

We’ve already touched upon how the cloud has shifted businesses, primarily focusing on how useful it is for hosting and storing data. However, this isn’t the only thing the cloud can do. Cloud technology enables today’s businesses to make use of tools that would ordinarily be out of reach. Yes, its storage capabilities can help make data more accessible to team members who need it, but it can also assist you in preserving your data in case of some disaster, give you access to computing resources that you couldn’t procure yourself, and provide you flexible access to your business applications.

5. Improve Your Security

A small business’ size once protected it from cybercrime, but nowadays, all businesses are fair game. In order to remain secure against these attacks, the right defenses need to be put in place. Things like firewalls, spam blockers, antivirus, and assorted other solutions help to reduce these risks. Additionally, any employee could potentially let in a significant threat, so all need to be educated on how to spot them, and the proper procedures to dealing with them.

Coleman Technologies is here to assist you in implementing these modern IT essentials, as well as maintaining them for you through our remote monitoring and access capabilities. To learn more about how else we can help your growing business, give us a call at (604) 513-9428.

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Coronavirus: A Threat to Your Staff, Cyberthreat to Your Operations

How to Minimize General Exposure in the Office

Based on what is currently known about the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have some recommendations as to how to keep the potential impact of coronavirus to a minimum:

  • Encourage employees who are ill to stay home. This will help to minimize the spread of infection within your business. Make sure that your employees are aware of this policy by reiterating it verbally, and by posting notices around the office encouraging them to stay home if under the weather.

    Emphasize hygiene and etiquette. Properly stifling coughs and sneezes and keeping hands clean are surprisingly effective ways to keep your workplace healthier. Rather than using their hands to catch a cough or sneeze, your employees should use a tissue or--if unable to do so--use the upper part of their sleeve.

    The CDC recommends that tissues and alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be made readily available. Make sure your employees are washing their hands with soap and water for the recommended 20 seconds.

  • Engage in keeping the workplace clean. There is a chance that coronavirus (and other illnesses) could be spread via infected surfaces. Make sure that all surfaces that are touched frequently, like desks, workstations, and doorknobs, are kept sanitized. Provide your employees with disposable wipes so they can proactively disinfect these surfaces before use.

If you find that one of your employees is confirmed to have been infected with coronavirus, make sure that you inform their coworkers of their possible exposure while still maintaining the confidentiality that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires. These employees and those who are living with a sick family member should assess their risk of exposure using the CDC’s guidelines.

Coronavirus as a Cyberthreat

Unfortunately, coronavirus will also require you to also keep an eye on your network security, particularly if you operate within the healthcare industry. Hackers and cybercriminals have taken advantage of the widespread concern that the disease has caused. For example:

  • Scammers have phished healthcare providers with updates that appear to have come from the World Health Organization or hospitals local to their area, but actually introduce keyloggers into their systems.
  • Those involved in the medical supply chain have been targeted with emails referencing the coronavirus that install malware to steal information.
  • Ransomware has been introduced into consumer systems by promising recipients of an email information about COVID-19’s spread.

While the current climate may not make it easy, these emails and other threat vectors can be overcome through the same best practices that foil other cyberthreats. In addition to comprehensive digital protections, training your employees to spot these threats will be crucial.

Of course, you should also maintain a comprehensive backup in case you need to recover from a successful attack.

How to Maintain Productivity with Your Team at Home

With today’s technology, sending an employee home sick doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be sacrificing that employee’s productivity. We now have many ways that your team can work effectively from home, still contributing to your organizational agenda without exposing their coworkers to their illness.

Equipping Your Employees

Remote access solutions, paired with virtual private networking technology, can allow your employees to securely continue their work from home, safely accessing the applications and data their tasks require through an encrypted connection. As collaboration will certainly be necessary, you will want to be sure that your employees are also equipped with the communication tools that facilitate this collaboration as well.

Network Protections

You will also want to thoroughly secure your network infrastructure to help prevent threats like phishing attacks and other methods from being successful… as well as preparing for a potential breach or emergency with data backups and disaster recovery policies and procedures (including contact information for your employees) to help mitigate a worst-case scenario.

Employee Awareness

Finally, make sure your employees are on the lookout for any suspicious activity that could be a cybercriminal’s attempt at using the coronavirus as a means to an end. Not only should your employees know how to spot these attempts; they should also know the proper procedures for reporting and handling them.

Is the coronavirus scary? At this point, it is safe to say that it is, but does it have to interrupt your business operations entirely? Not if you are properly prepared.

For more assistance in preparing your business for any kind of disaster, reach out to the professionals at Coleman Technologies by calling (604) 513-9428.

 

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, better known as coronavirus, is a respiratory illness that first appeared in Wuhan, China, and was reported in the United States on January 21st, 2020.

As of March 3rd, 12 states have reported 60 total cases of coronavirus and six confirmed deaths, with no vaccines or specific antiviral treatments for the illness. Symptoms of the virus include fever, shortness of breath, and a cough, while those with complications from the virus can experience pneumonia in both lungs, failure of multiple organs, and death. 

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What to Include in a BYOD Policy

Here, we’ll go over a few topics that your BYOD rules need to address.

Password Practices and Other Security

It’s hardly a secret that some people utilize lax passwords - especially on their personal devices, where there isn’t an IT department establishing policies to help ensure password strength. According to Pew Research Center, 28 percent of smartphone owners don’t use a screen lock. Obviously, this isn’t something that can be allowed in the business setting.

So, if your employees are going to use their personal devices to access business resources, you need to have a policy that their devices are set to lock after a certain period of inactivity, and require some form of authentication to unlock. Furthermore, the device should further lock down if an incorrect authentication code is input so many times.

Your policy should also include any required security solutions you plan to utilize as part of your mobile monitoring and management toolset. All devices should have antivirus installed, along with mobile device management and unified endpoint management solutions.

Provisioning and Network Security

Provisioning a personal device that is going to be used for company work helps to ensure a few things. Not only does it help to make sure that productivity applications are configured properly, it also helps to boost your security. Furthermore, your network needs to allow your employees’ devices to access the business network - not just a guest network you have set up. Of course, there should be procedures and safeguards in place to ensure that this is done securely.

Tracking, Remote Access, and Data Wiping

Accidents happen, and devices can be lost - and sometimes, stolen. Furthermore, any device that is attached to a company network and has accessed illegal content could possibly leave the company liable - especially if this content was accessed via the company network. Your IT team should have the capability to monitor what websites and content each device included in a BYOD strategy has accessed, as well as to remotely access these devices to help ensure their security should they wind up missing. It also helps if they can implement updates to work solutions and security measures.

If worse comes to worse, it is beneficial to be able to delete all of a device’s data remotely - that way, even if it is stolen, your data won’t be at risk for as long. This also comes in handy if an employee is ever to leave your employ and you want to make sure they no longer have your data (or access to it).

BYOD can offer significant benefits to any organization. To learn more about putting a policy in place at your business, give Coleman Technologies a call at (604) 513-9428.

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Tip of the Week: Helpful Outlook Tips

Consolidate Your Email with the Clean Up Tool

Businesses will often use email to communicate between groups of people, which is a really useful practice for keeping people apprised and in-the-know of what’s going on. However, these messages can quickly become repetitive, incoherent messes--especially in chains made up of larger groups--as participants reply to them, duplicating the thread within itself. Outlook includes a utility known as the Clean Up tool to fix these problems in your email conversations, and even in entire email folders.

By finding the Clean Up icon in the ribbon at the top of your Outlook window, you can access a drop-down menu. This menu offers to Clean Up Conversation, Clean Up Folder, or Clean Up Folder & Subfolders. Once you’ve confirmed your choice, you can access Clean Up settings, which allow you more granular control over how the tool sorts through your existing conversations.

Schedule Out a Message with Future Delivery

Sometimes you’ll have an opportune moment to send an email, but it isn’t the right time for this email to be received. For instance, if you want to share something with your employees to keep in mind throughout the next day, it doesn’t make sense to distribute it at the end of the day before for it to be forgotten. Outlook allows you to use your opportunity to your full advantage with Future Delivery.

Once you’ve written an email, click on Options, and then Delay Delivery. This opens a Properties box for that specific message, including Delivery Options that include a checkbox labeled “Do not deliver before.” Selecting this option and specifying a time and date will prevent your recipient from receiving your message before that point. Once you’re satisfied, close the Properties box and send the message just like any other.

Taking Advantage of Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are used to simplify access to commonly-used functions in many computer programs and applications, and Outlook is no exception. For instance, Outlook features shortcuts for a wide range of its functionality - covering the basics (like composing a new message by pressing Ctrl+Shift+M), organizational tools (like moving a message with Ctrl+Shift+V) or annotating your messages (like adding flags to important ones with Ctrl+Shift+G).

This is really just the start of Outlook’s capabilities to help your operations. Subscribe to our blog to find out whenever we post other tips or IT blogs.

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Tip of the Week: Tips to Help Manage Your IT Inventory Better

First, let’s delve into what ITAM actually covers.

Understanding ITAM

Consider all of the internal resources that your business uses, with the exception of your living, breathing employees. Everything that’s left can be considered an asset. ITAM narrows this down further into specifically the assets that pertain to your comprehensive IT infrastructure. This includes:

  • Hardware (like workstations, servers, printers, etc.)
  • Software (antivirus, productivity titles, etc.)
  • Any Peripherals (Keyboards, computer mice, other devices)

With these assets identified, ITAM assists you in tracking their purpose, how they interact, and other crucial details. This means, as you’ve likely realized, ITAM covers a considerable breadth of your resources, which makes it important that you keep it organized.

How ITAM Helps

A well-organized ITAM can help you save time and hassle by streamlining your processes, simply by keeping the data you need in a manageable and accessible record. As a result, you can make a variety of processes easier through improved data. This data can also help inform you of potential issues, or of the minimum requirements you have to meet to implement change.

Making the Most of ITAM

As promised, here are a few ways that you can optimize your use of IT asset management practices.

  • Make it a proactive process. Managing your technology assets needs to be something that you start before you are required to do so, and that isn’t abandoned after reaching a certain milestone. This will help keep you prepared for a wider range of circumstances.

  • Leverage automation. While Excel used to be an invaluable tool for asset management purposes, there are better options now that don’t require you to contend with spreadsheets that extend into the thousands of rows. Not only are automated solutions easier to manage, they come with a valuable set of added features to make your work life that much easier.

  • Track your assets. This one especially applies to your software. There is often a difference between what an agreement says can be deployed, and what can be deployed practically. Keeping your agreements and receipts helps you pass audits by proving compliance.

Coleman Technologies can assist you with your IT assets. To learn more, reach out to us at (604) 513-9428.

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Employee Burnout Can, and Should, Be Avoided

Burn out? 

Oh, no! That certainly wouldn’t be a good thing… but how can you prevent such a thing from happening in the workplace, when you really can’t tell if workplace stress has worn them down, or if it was a more personal issue? You can’t keep things from influencing their personal lives, after all. 

Maybe they just need to get more sleep, or something.

Besides, what if you just happen to work in an industry that creates more stress upon its workers by nature of the work? It isn’t as though you can help that, either.

Sure, that’s fair.

You can’t be expected to be in control of your employees’ personal lives… but you should be in control of their professional environment.

What Leads to Employee Burnout?

While general stress can contribute to burnout, certain job factors and features can create “special” kinds of stress that contribute specifically to burnout tendencies. Let’s consider these factors briefly.

Non-Stop High Stress

Look, I’m not saying that a business should be a stress-free area. That just isn’t realistic.

However, businesses typically experience busy, stressful times and once those times are over, there is usually a period of time that employees get the chance to recover. Bookending stress with these low-stress times (and adequately compensating your team for their stress) can make employees feel better - but keeping them in a constant pressure-cooker certainly won’t.

Unclear and Unreasonable Tasks

How frustrating would a puzzle be without a picture on the box to reference?

Each and every time an employee is given an unclear task, they feel that same frustration. They’re just trying to do their job, but they can’t if it is unclear what that job is. It only gets worse if the tasks that they are assigned literally (yes, in the literal sense) can’t be done.

The more stress and frustration that builds up with tasks like these, the more likely burnout becomes.

Huge Consequences for Failure…

Some workplaces have higher stakes than others. For instance, you have those who work for child services, whose work frequently takes them into risky and heartbreaking situations.

People in positions like that have a much more stressful job than, say, a fortune cookie writer or the greeter at a superstore. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that high-stakes workplaces frequently see higher rates of burnout.

...With No Recognition for Success

How would you feel if your considerable efforts were, day-in and day-out, overlooked? If you went above and beyond in everything you did, and not one word was said to you?

Chances are, you’d probably feel unappreciated, demoralized, and unmotivated. Workplaces like this can have a severe morale problem. 

Welcome to burnout.

Communication is Neither Efficient nor Effective

Without proper communication, any of the other problems your business is experiencing will only get much, much worse. Unclear and incomplete statements will make issues more complicated, especially if you are trying to deal with an employee’s issue.

As a result, demoralization and burnout become very real risks.

Lacking Leadership

Finally, if a strong, fair, and supportive leader isn’t present in the business, employees could be accelerated on their way to burnout by the lack of guidance the missing leader should be providing. Employees may feel like they aren’t getting something out of their employment - be it recognition, support, or job security - and swiftly lose the drive to perform well.

Clearly, there is no shortage of ways for an employee to reach the point of burnout… but how can you tell when one really has?

The Symptoms of Burnout

There are quite a few signs that can indicate if an employee is truly burning out, or if one is simply having an “off” day. I’m pretty confident that we’ve all felt and exhibited some of these signs - maybe even all of them - at one point at least.

How many of these symptoms have you seen among your employees?

  • They feel distant from their work, cynical about what they do and who they do it with.
  • They may be suffering from a variety of symptoms, including headaches, sour stomach, and intestinal issues.
  • They have slipped in their tasks at work, but their home life is unaffected.
  • They may keep themselves emotionally distant from their coworkers.
  • They may lack creativity, and will have trouble concentrating.
  • They are low energy, feel drained, and feel that they can’t cope.
  • They are visibly frustrated and stressed.

Again, we’ve all had an “off” day, where these kinds of things are almost to be expected. It’s just a part of life.

It is when these symptoms have become chronic, stretching out beyond hours or days to weeks, that your employees may be suffering from burnout. Thanks to these symptoms, burned-out employees may appear depressed, and are actually at a higher risk of developing depression later on.

Why This Really Matters to You

So, why should you care?

Well, basic human decency aside, burnout can have some significant impacts upon your business itself. For instance, sick leave is much more commonly taken among employees who are burned-out, and they are also far more motivated to find another job.

If they are successful in the latter, you will need to spend the significant costs associated with hiring a new employee to replace them.

You also need to consider the “typical” state of your employees. They might actually be some of your top performers, simply struggling through a hard time. What impact on their productivity will your business be able to just absorb?

A burned-out employee in the wrong position can exacerbate the problem, too, as a burned-out manager can easily create a burned-out team… killing productivity and morale on a wider scale. 

You also need to consider the optics that burnout can produce - what business or potential employee would want anything to do with a business that has what is really a very visible issue?

(I certainly wouldn’t.)

Bringing basic human decency back into consideration, this condition can actually do a number on a human being. Not only can the influence of burnout impact an employee’s personal life and relationships, it makes them slightly more likely to visit the emergency room.

What You Can Do to Help a Burned-Out Employee

Keeping these warning signs in mind can help you to better spot when one of your employees is clearly going through a rough patch. While you may not see it as your job as their boss, it is your job as a fellow human being to offer them some support.

The easiest way to start this process? An honest conversation.

Discuss It with the Employee

Have an informal sit-down with this employee and just talk to them about it. Express your sincere worry for them as a person and offer your support with whatever they have been going through.

This support itself could help greatly, and if it is another personal issue, some personal time may be all it takes to help.

Redistribute the Workload

Even the most competent employee you have could potentially bite off more than they could chew. Whether they overstuff their schedules, offer to help with anything they can, or both… before long, this employee is going to fall behind schedule. 

You should go through that schedule with them, organizing it and trimming some of the fat to make sure it is humanly possible to accomplish, redistributing some tasks if need be, if not pausing them.

If your business has any collaboration tools, they can certainly come in handy here.

Teamwork makes the dream work, as some say, so if you can leverage your collaboration platform to help the task-redistribution process, it just makes sense to. You can make use of your platform as you manage your team, assigning them certain responsibilities and sharing the weight of their tasks between multiple resources, not just the one. 

Email is a great collaboration tool, but many employees can find the amount of emails they receive overwhelming, which (among other things) makes them less productive. You can help them out by introducing them to the different tools that email solutions can offer, like filters and rules to help organize incoming messages, and snoozing, to give them some uninterrupted time. 

Switch It Up

If you had an employee that was particularly good at Task A, it only makes sense that you would want them covering Task A as much as possible, right? 

However, designating that employee to Task A will likely make that employee pretty sick of Task A before long… and all the employees who always get Task B, or Task C will likely feel a similar way. Try rotating the responsibilities of your team on occasion, taking their preferences and goals into consideration.

Preventing Burnout in the First Place

As we’ve alluded to here, there are many warning signs of impending burnout issues, and we’ve barely scratched the surface here. Doing everything you can to keep burnout from happening at all is a reasonable strategy. 

Fix your company culture to focus on self-care. Try bringing in external experts to keep your employees happy and healthy, whether that’s a yoga instructor or accounting services. Remember that your employees have lives outside the workplace to live, and encourage them to enjoy them. 

These, and/or many, many other behaviors will help keep your employees engaged, motivated, and happy.

One great way to keep burnout from taking hold is to allow your employees to work how (and when and where) they work best. Remote working solutions can allow you to give your employees the freedom to shape their work habits around their lives.

While this may sound like a way to let employees slack off on work time, many employers have found the effects to productivity more than worth it… and employees have certainly shown their appreciation for the flexibility.

At the end of the day, your employees are going to feel a certain way - you can only try and help them feel more positively about their workplace by giving them better technology, more initiative, and an ear to turn to when needed.

We can help where the technology is concerned.

For solutions to help your employees be more productive, more communicative, and more successful, reach out to Coleman Technologies at (604) 513-9428.

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Tip of the Week: Are Workplace Wellness Programs Effective? It Depends

Study after study has been performed over the years about the impact of workplace wellness programs, producing various results. Some have indicated health improvements and cost savings, while others haven’t. However, the studies that were performed in the past had a high rate of issues. Whether there was no comparison group, or the chance of personal bias influencing signups, these studies simply didn’t provide reliable data.

Now, however, researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard have conducted a large-scale study that meets the requirements that such a study is usually beholden to.

The BJ’s Wholesale Club Experiment

This experiment began by selecting 20 of the big-box retailer’s outlet centers to offer an employee wellness program. 140 additional BJ’s locations did not offer any such program. Across the 160 clubs involved, there were almost 33,000 workers employed.

Participants filled out a health risk questionnaire, took health classes, and had basic medical tests performed. After 18 months, their progress was evaluated...and that’s where things got interesting.

Despite the workers who were participating in this program reporting healthier behaviors than they once exhibited, almost all other factors were left unchanged. Blood sugar levels, job performance and attendance, and employer health care spending all were unaffected.

Why This Might Be

There’s a good chance that the results of this study were skewed by the incentives offered to participants. Participants were given gift cards for attending wellness courses, for a total incentive of about $250. According to founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, Jim Pshock, this may just not have been enough. According to Pshock, any amount less than $400 is only going to be enough to incentivize people to do what they were already going to do anyways. As Pshock put it: “It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about.”

Another study, published in 2018 by the University of Illinois, essentially debunked the idea of the workplace wellness program, concluding that it neither reduced costs or impacted behaviors - although this study also found that participants of wellness programs were those who were already healthy and motivated. This potentially suggests that the true benefit of these programs isn’t to make their existing workforce healthier, but to attract and retain healthier employees.

There are other potential contributing factors as well. A recent survey indicated that 84 percent of employees saw their wellness programs as “one-size-fits-all,” a concept that doesn’t really work will all of the various factors that contribute to health. Eighty percent of respondents to that same survey claimed that more personalization would contribute to their participation in wellness programs.

Why You Want to Adopt a Workplace Wellness Initiative

Admittedly, we’ve provided a mixed defense for these kinds of activities, but it cannot be denied that anything you can do to promote the health of your employees will only benefit your business - healthy employees tend not to call in sick, after all.

There are other benefits to these programs as well:

  • Reduced Stress - The stress management benefits of healthier behaviors have been well documented. By adopting these healthier behaviors, you and your staff can reduce the stress that comes from the office and approach the source issues more effectively.

  • Community Building - As the boss, you want your entire team to work as, well, a team. Unfortunately, if certain departments don’t work together much, this kind of relationship can be hard to develop. However, many activities that would fall under a workplace wellness initiative can help cross departmental lines, drawing your team closer together.

  • Better Moods - Wellness programs allow employees to try out new activities, which can not only add to their wellbeing, but can also keep them engaged and productive. Plus, studies have indicated that employees who participate in these programs were generally happier with their work situation.

What have you done to cultivate a more health-conscious workplace? Share your strategies in the comments!

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Tip of the Week: How to Use Instant Messaging Professionally

Why Effective Communications are So Critical

There are a few reasons that you want your business’ internal communications to be clear and effective.

Fewer Errors

Miscommunication is rarely a good thing, but in the business setting, it has the potential to be crippling to your operations. If the correct information isn’t shared at the right time, with the right people, productivity will suffer. On the other hand, proper communications can help minimize, or even avoid, many potential workplace errors.

Increased Accountability

When an organization keeps its communications open across the board, it is prone to see an associated increase in companywide accountability. From owner to intern, being responsible for (and being held responsible for) certain milestones in a process keeps each member of a team on-task and motivated.

Improved Teamwork

Naturally, when members of a team communicate properly, they are better able to work cooperatively. As a result, problems often become easier to solve, as ideas may more easily flow and develop. Additionally, potential issues between departments are more easily resolved, preventing interpersonal concerns from affecting the work.

Efficient Problem-Solving

The ability to communicate clearly enables a team to better pool their talents to much more efficiently overcome any issues that may arise. Whether a problem is strategic or technical, having the capability to swiftly solve it will only benefit a business’ operations.

Instant Messaging in the Workplace

Naturally, all of the above outcomes can (and often do) result from the use of an instant messaging application… as long as it’s the right one.

You need to make sure that your chosen solution is intended for business purposes, which means you need to use an enterprise-grade instant messaging application. In addition, you also need to be sure that you and your staff are properly leveraging your solution. Try to encourage the following practices and behaviors in your staff to ensure that your instant messaging solution doesn’t turn into an instant messaging problem:

  • Keep it in check. You don’t want a solution that is meant to be a productivity booster to actually harm it. There’s a very real difference between your staff properly leveraging instant messaging capabilities, and aimlessly chatting all day. Encourage your staff to keep their conversations pertinent to the workplace and the task at hand (at least as much as possible).
  • Remain professional. Again, conversations on your instant message solution should be far and away focused on workplace matters. It is important that your staff knows this, and resists using the solution to share jokes, GIFs, or memes excessively. Moderation is key.
  • Don’t rely too much on it. Not all conversations are appropriate for an instant messaging platform, especially those that contain sensitive or overly complicated details. Some conversations are better shared in person, or in an email, where lengthier messages can be sent.

Have you ever utilized instant messaging in the workplace? Share your experience with us in the comments!

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Tip of the Week: For Maximum Productivity, Try Sprinting

Don’t worry… we don’t expect you to try and work while you’re running as fast as you can. What we mean by “sprinting” is that you commit to focused, intensive work for a period of time, followed by a shorter period of rest.

The Science Behind Sprinting

The human body has certain capabilities, and is subject to certain limits. The way we are designed, we are meant to spend our time either spending or accumulating energy. These cycles are known as ultradian rhythms. Using our brains counts against this energy.

As a result, our focus is limited to somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. Research indicates that, in order to perform well again after that, you need to take a 20-to-30 minute break so your brain can recover.

A sprinting methodology fits this pattern to a ‘T.’ By narrowing your focus to a single one of your tasks and blocking out distractions, you are better able to commit yourself to your goal. Once you hit the end of your sprint, you spend your recovery time refocusing yourself and preparing for your next foray into intense productivity.

Various authors and researchers have provided anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of this approach:

  • While writing The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, Tony Schwartz used 90-minute blocks of time to break up his day, only writing for a daily total of four and a half hours. Six months later, his book was finished.
  • In 1993, performance researcher Anders Ericsson discovered via a study that the most skilled young violinists all followed a similar practice schedule: three 90-minute sessions of morning practice, with breaks in between.
  • In his book, Schwartz tells the story of how Leonardo Da Vinci would put down his paints while working on The Last Supper and daydream for hours at a time. When he was questioned about it, Da Vinci is said to have replied, “The greatest geniuses accomplish more when they work less.”

Why and How to Leverage Sprinting

One of sprinting’s biggest benefits is something that many people are very familiar with: the feeling of being in “the zone.” It’s that time when you are fully committed to your task at hand, and are enjoying yourself as you apply yourself. Psychologists refer to this as “flow.”

One psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has committed his career to studying flow. As he said in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he wrote:

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.”

To make flow happen, sprinting once again fits quite well. Incorporating these patterns into your daily routine will help you to work more productively and ultimately, be more successful in your work.

What methods have you used to boost your productivity? Share some in the comments!

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Three Ways to Be More Productive

1. Prioritization

One of the keys to productive work is to work smarter, not harder. By identifying what is most pressing to accomplish or otherwise needs to happen first, you can inherently increase your productivity.

Ignore Inspiration

For instance, one of the biggest causes of procrastination is taking in a project in its entirety. Seeing the entire scope of an undertaking can be intimidating, which often makes people feel as though they need to be “inspired” before they will be able to accomplish anything.

This is untrue, but can be a difficult impulse to resist. If you catch yourself falling back on this excuse, try focusing specifically on a certain aspect or piece of your greater responsibility. Once this portion is completed, you’ll most likely be motivated to continue. In essence, don’t wait to be inspired… inspire yourself through what you accomplish.

Leverage Prioritization Strategies

Another common cause of procrastination is indecision as to what aspect of a project to tackle first. Again, identifying the most important or pressing activity makes it much easier to make this decision, and there are a few ways that you can do so.

One way is to leverage something called the Eisenhower Matrix. It can be used to sort tasks based on their urgency and importance, advising you on how a task should be approached - if it should be done now, planned for, delegated to someone else, or eliminated. This tool can help you avoid spending time on activities that ultimately don’t matter as much as others, optimizing how you spend the time you have. The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, is another means of spending your time more intelligently. By identifying the most important 20 percent of their tasks and minimizing the remaining 80 percent, many people use this principle to spend the most time on their most impactful activities.

Save Distractions for Later

We’ve all experienced that moment where, in the middle of one task, we suddenly have an idea for another. While this new task may be valuable or important, it can also hurt your operations by interrupting the one you’re engaged in at the moment… but again, this thought also needs to be addressed. Many people resolve this dilemma by creating a distraction list. Rather than suspending what they are working on, these people simply take a moment to jot down this idea for further consideration after their task is done. This means that they aren’t jumping between unfinished tasks each time a new idea pops up.

2. Preparation

Once you have your tasks organized properly, you need to ensure that you have properly made preparations to attend to them. Some of these preparations may sound counter-intuitive, but are no less crucial to your efforts.

Make Sure You’re in Order

If you aren’t ready to be productive, you aren’t going to be no matter what you try. Therefore, you need to be taking care of yourself, as well as your technology. You need to be healthy and rested to reach your potential, which means that self-care is a must. This also means that you should be strategic in how you approach your responsibilities. If you know that you tend to have a period of low energy in the late morning, it’s probably beneficial to avoid scheduling intensive tasks for that time. In addition, you need to be sure that you’re up-to-date on how things are done. The more knowledgeable you are, the more efficiently you’ll be able to make decisions, and the faster processes will move along.

Expect to Be Interrupted

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, as they say. This means that you should anticipate other things to interfere with your established work schedule. What if another task pops up, or a task takes longer than anticipated? Taking these kinds of challenges into account will allow you to figure out a solution preemptively, or at least a plan that allows you to adjust and adapt.

Learn from Everything

We’ve all been taught the value of learning from our mistakes - examining situations in which things went wrong, identifying why, and avoiding those circumstances in the future. However, this is only half of what you should do to optimize your productivity. You also need to identify why your successes were successful.

Once you have completed a project or process, take some time to examine it. What about it worked well, and how could that be made better? Was every aspect necessary, or could some of it be eliminated or streamlined? Doing so will allow you to further optimize your procedure to be even more productive the next time.

3. Cheating!

In fairness, these strategies aren’t “cheating” so much as they are methods of working smarter. This way, you can make sure that your tasks are accomplished without expending more resources than they need - including your energy.

Subdivide Your Tasks

Remember the prioritization strategies we discussed above? This is a similar activity, in that you take a larger concept and divvy it up into each step that needs to be completed. Instead of putting them into a matrix or focusing on a specific set of them, the idea here is to simply make your tasks appear more achievable.

Let’s say you have to plan a work event. This alone is a significant responsibility, and can be overwhelming to approach as a whole - where to start? However, you can make your process much more comprehensible by going about it piece-by-piece, effectively expanding your task into a complete to-do list. While this does give you more tasks, they will be much easier to attain and progress with. So, instead of “Plan Party for Greg’s Retirement”, your list might include:

  • Buy decorations
  • Buy card
  • Buy ice cream cake
  • Hide cake in freezer
  • Have team sign card
  • Put up decorations
  • Take out cake
  • Send email to team to gather

More tasks, but much easier to follow nevertheless.

Leverage Shortcuts

There are a great many ways that your technology can offer an easier way of doing things. Naturally, keyboard shortcuts are one example of this, but so is automation. Let’s face it, any time you can save by having your technology handle something is time that you can then spend being productive elsewhere.

Eliminate Inefficiencies

How much time do you spend debating your options for truly inconsequential decisions during the day? Chances are, it’s more than you’d like to admit. The fact of the matter is that many of the choices that we are faced with aren’t all that impactful. Eliminating as many of these choices as possible will allow you to reserve your decision-making skills for the times that you really need them.

Email is another notorious source of lost productivity, simply because people don’t use it as efficiently as they could. It is too common for what should be a very brief and simple correspondence to take far longer than anticipated. Ironically, this is often because the people involved are trying to be brief.

Instead of cutting corners on your next email, invest a few minutes into including more specifics. Don’t just say you want to meet - identify the topics to be discussed. Don’t leave the time of the meeting open-ended, offer a few availabilities. While it takes longer to write, one email written this way will keep you from having to read, write, and send a few more.

Finding Your Groove

Clearly, there are many aspects to consider when you’re trying to be more productive, and some may be more effective for one person over another. A bit of experimentation will help you to land on the approach that works for you.

Coleman Technologies can help by providing the solutions that enable some of these methods. Reach out by calling (604) 513-9428 to learn more about these solutions.

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