Employer Legal aspects of Remote Working

Kelly MansfieldLegal details normally turn people off, but it is extremely important stuff! Kelly Mansfield is an editor and writer at Workplace Law. Workplace Law specialises in employment law, health & safety and environmental management and is a provider of information, training, consultancy and support services. Kelly has written a post for us that considers some of the main legal issues for employers in light of the recently released Flexible Working Regulations 2014.

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Is Remote Working the way Forward for Employers as well as Employees?

Remote working is the new workplace fad, but can all employers trust their staff to work responsibly away from their desk? With employers implementing workplace rules that mean workers must travel to the office each day to carry out their working activities, it would appear that some bosses want to keep a close eye on their staff.

However, forcing employees to make their way into the office every day can actually have numerous detrimental effects.

With over a fifth of commuters in the UK spending more than 30 minutes travelling to work on a daily basis and the cost of travel ever increasing, both time and money is being wasted by forcing workers to always travel to work.

As new legislation come into force though, it will be interesting to see whether employers find themselves having to be more adjustable.

Photo by

Photo by Sarah Joy, Flickr

The Flexible Working Regulations 2014, which came into force on 30 June 2014, allows any employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service to request flexible working. Prior to the new regulations, only employees with children aged under 17, or 18 if disabled, and those caring for the elderly, who have 26 weeks’ continuous service, were able to request flexible working.

So will this change simply mean that employers will be bombarded with applications from employees wishing to change their working environment, or their working hours, or maybe even a combination of the two? The answer is probably yes, but employers must remember that they are not legally required to accept an application. However, they must have a good reason to reject it if they choose to.

A business can actually only refuse the request under eight specific business reasons, and must go through a very structured, legal and time-bound procedure when considering the request. If the request is granted, it’s a permanent change to terms and conditions; if it is not granted, the employee has the right to appeal and thereafter, the process is closed.

Implications for statistics

It is extremely likely that the introduction of the new regulations will ensure there is an increase in the amount of people who work from home. However, statistics show that a large number of people already do enjoy flexible working.

In line with the National Work from Home Day in May this year, TUC findings were published, which stated that the number of people who say they usually work from home has increased by 62,000 over the course of the last 12 months. The way people work has been beginning to change for the past few years and the new flexible working regulations will possibly accelerate the figures in the coming months.

Invasion of privacy?

It is vital to remember that no matter where an employee’s workspace may be, any area used for working at home must comply with the legal requirements which apply to all workplaces.

As ever, there are numerous legal issues which apply to office-based workers, but if you have employees working at home while still employed, then health and safety remains a fundamental issue.

To assess if a homeworking space is compliant, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is required. This process could perhaps feel like an invasion of the employee’s personal space, if the assessment is carried out by a professional, or even a Manager of the workplace, and they are investigating around one’s home. However, it is possible for the employee to undertake the assessment themselves, providing they have the correct training and direction.

Photo by Infusionsoft, Flickr

Photo by Infusionsoft, Flickr

For inexperienced staff, it is important that they are led through the process and if the individual is required to complete the assessment, consideration should be given as to general safety training.

Keeping an eye

Email / internet use obviously enables better communication between a remote worker and their employer or other colleagues, but does it allow employers to keep an eye on their staff working away from the office and ensure that work is being completed? Do employers have the right to monitor the use of email / internet?

This remains a highly contentious issue and in terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPA), it is unlawful to intercept communications without the consent of the communicating parties.

Ideally, employers need to put together an email / internet policy document in line with the Data Protection Act 1998 and ensure that all workers are aware of it, understand it and then follow accordingly.

Within the policy, details on whether employers are potentially going to be delving into employees’ emails can be included. When it comes to monitoring emails, employers need to be careful and should only monitor messages’ address or heading.

Advising employees that their emails might be monitored for business purposes and then educating them on the terms of the policy is the way forward for employers. Informing employees about what does and does not constitute proper use of the system and explaining that any breach of the policy will result in disciplinary action is also advised.

Look to the future

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) states that technology has meant we’re increasingly on the move and that workers can now adapt to handling their time and workload more flexibly to suit both business and personal needs, which of course if handled correctly, can be a benefit for both employer and employee.

The introduction of the new flexible working regulations enhances the need for employers to recognise the necessity to move towards modern ways of working, and create the right organisational culture and relationship with employees so that requests for flexible working are considered fairly and result in a beneficial outcome.

As flexible working starts to become the norm, it is crucial employers start to get on board with the idea and more importantly, realise that with the right attitude from both parties, working remotely can prove extremely beneficial.

My Experiences of Being a Home Worker

Portrait of Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly was the line manager who consented to my working from home and who encouraged me to write a blog about my experiences. Now 6 years down the line he too has started working from home and I’ve managed to persuade him to write about his lifestyle change for the blog.

Brian works for Cetis, an organisation that specialises in technology innovation and interoperability standards in learning, education and training, as an Innovation Advocate. He previously worked at UKOLN as UK Web Focus from 1996-2013. Brian has worked across the UK higher education sector, having previously worked in IT service departments at the universities of Loughborough, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle.

Brian is a prolific blogger and has also published peer-reviewed papers in areas including web accessibility, standards, digital preservation, institutional repositories and open practises.

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My former colleague Marieke Guy kindly wrote a guest post on my UK Web Focus blog which was published during Open Education Week as part of a series of guest posts covering a variety of issues related to open education.

Marieke invited me to reciprocate by writing a guest post on her Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog about my experiences of being a home worker. I am happy to respond to that request by writing this post.

My Move To Home Working

Changes!

On 24 April 2013 I announced that “My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today“. On the 31 July 2013 myself and many of my colleague at UKOLN were made redundant.

In my final week at UKOLN I wrote a post on . I’m pleased to say that on 28 October 2013 I was able to write a post which announced that I was Starting A New Job! That was the day I began work as Innovation Advocate at Cetis, University of Bolton.

I’m enjoying my new job. However there has been one significant change: after working in an office at the University of Bath for over 16 years I am now a home worker.

House Renovations

Network boxBetween leaving UKOLN and starting at Cetis I did do some consultancy work and updated my professional skills by completing a MOOC.  But I was also able during the three months to complete the renovations on my house.  As well as replacing bathrooms which still had their original 1970s decor one of the bedrooms was converted into my office.  My office is now just 10 metres from my bed – there have been no 45 minute bus trips  on cold and wet winter mornings for me this winter 🙂

During the house renovation (which included a new kitchen and bathrooms and new ceilings in the bathrooms and living room, dining room and kitchen) I was able to use the work to have computer cabling installed with network points provided in most of the rooms throughout the house.

On the advice of a former colleague I also had a cupboard build which housed various IT boxes including the router and a NAS (box). This was build in the living room, so that the WiFi router was more centrally located, with a strong WiFi signal being available throughout the house.

This box is shown. What can’t be seen are the network cables (CAT-6) which go into a void behind the wall and are then hidden behind the coving (which was installed during the renovation work). The cables go up into the loft and then down into all of the bedrooms so that a network point is available in all of the rooms. Note all of the network points are currently enabled, however, as I only have a router with 8 network points and three of these are located by the TV and are connected to the TV, YouView box and XBox.

My home officeIt’s not all fun and games though! The bedroom which is now my office contains a Dell All-in-one PC with a large screen and small printer as shown.

The office also contains IKEA bookcases around two of the walls. I also had wooden shutter blinds installed in the room which can provide an additional level of privacy. The upstairs office, incidentally, is located on a ground floor since the house is built into a hill. Next to the office is a door located at the end of the upstairs corridor which opens to a parking area.

In brief, I am very happy with the work which was carried out to the house last year. In particular my office is a pleasant place to work.

The Software Environment

Although my physical environment has changed significantly my online environment has many similarities to my previous working environment. I am continuing to make use of several Cloud services to support my work, such as Google Docs and Dropbox, although I still also make use of MS Office products.

I am finding that I am using Skype much more than I did previously (it is interesting that this proprietary system is now a de facto standard for many). In addition to Skype I am also making use of Google Hangouts with this tool being used for regular online meetings with my Cetis colleagues.

Working Practices

I have been aware for some time from reading Marieke’s posts on her Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog that the biggest challenges in remote working (and especially in home working) are concerned with issues such as the lack of regular face-to-face meetings with colleagues and the ad hoc meetings with others and, on another level,working in the place one lives.

I do continue to feel the need for intellectual stimulation from interactions with my peers. But this is a reason why I have felt it important to cultivate my online professional networks. Channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn help to provide such intellectual stimulation as well as the social intercourse which is needed.

In Marieke’s blog posts she has given her thoughts on working in one’s home environment. I try to ensure that my work does not completely dominate my life. One decision I did make when I was offered the job at Cetis was that I would work four days a week, with Friday as time for myself or for other professional interests. I do try and take regular exercise; I try to take a walk to nearby shops to buy some milk or bread two or three times a week.

To sum up in a tweet:  “My experiences of being a home worker: enjoying it; need to be disciplined; don’t think I’d like to go back to being an office worker!

Netbook vs. Tablet: It’s All about Fit

jamieSo which one do you prefer? Netbook or tablet? Or is it horses for courses? Here’s a guest blog post exploring the issues in more detail.

Jamie Lee lives in Charleston, South Carolina, in the US and works for Telogical Systems. He is a full-time tech consultant as well as a writer for eBay (where as Jamie puts it “you can find the world’s best selection of new and used tablets, netbooks and other travel friendly computing devices“). You can catch Jamie on Google+.

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I am a laptop kind of guy. Always have been, and, well, I will be for the foreseeable future. I use my laptop in the office and when working from home. I listen to music on it and it’s my go-to device for business and recreation.

Even though I feel like I have found the device that fits me and the work I do, it’s difficult not to acknowledge new technology in the marketplace that makes laptops look old and clunky — namely, netbooks and tablets. If you are in the market for a small computing device, you may find yourself looking at the options and scratching your head. I know … I have been there. Given that I have used both fairly extensively, I find that, like my laptop, it really boils down to personal fit.

Following is a breakdown of each, along with their pros and cons.

laptopNetbooks: Netbooks are really just smaller, more portable versions of laptops, complete with keyboards and screens. Current models tend to range from 10-inch screens at the smallest to 15.6-inch screens for the largest. Not only are most of them smaller than your average laptop, but they are less expensive. Lower-end models, like models of Acer’s Chromebook series, can be purchased for less than $200, and higher end models can cost up to $1,000. You can buy a popular mid-range device, like the Lenovo ThinkPad or the HP Pavilion TouchSmart, for less than $500.

  • Netbook PROS :
    Much like laptops, netbooks provide a combined screen and keyboard setup, enhanced usability of word processing applications like Word and Excel, and they are intended for more basic tasks – like checking e-mail, browsing the Internet, light entertainment and light productivity – albeit in a smaller package. Given the increase in popularity of tablets with touchscreens, some netbook manufacturers are making devices with similar screens that eliminate the need for a keyboard or mouse. Like tablets, extended battery life for these devices is a plus. If you conduct virtual meetings regularly or use programs like Skype for phone calls, netbooks often provide webcams.
  • Netbook CONS :
    While netbooks are great if you are looking for a mini version of your laptop, including similar functionality and operating systems, size can be a detriment. Smaller devices have tiny keyboards that can be difficult to use. Keep in mind that these aren’t intended to be high performance machines and generally have less RAM (Random Access Memory) and HDD (Hard Drive) space than their laptop counterparts. These performance constraints aren’t a big deal for users who don’t expect a lot from their netbook, but power users and gamers may quickly find that a netbook doesn’t meet their needs.

If you are looking for a device somewhere between a laptop and a tablet, consider a netbook. You will have limited functionality, but a similar look and feel on a smaller scale and at a lower price. Keep in mind the limitations when it comes to RAM, HDD, and graphics capabilities. If you are fine with these aspects, a netbook may just be the device for you.

$_57Tablets: The iPad started a tablet revolution, and these rectangular computing devices with touchscreens and apps galore are only increasing in popularity. Top tablet manufacturers often offer a “mini” version of their primary model, and screen sizes can range from 7-inches for Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and HDX to 10-inches for Google’s Nexus tablet. Tablets and netbooks are priced similarly, and you can spend anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to nearly $1,000, depending on the size, memory, connectivity, and other features.

  • Tablet PROS:
    Tablets tend to be smaller and lighter than netbooks, and manufacturers are focused on usability and versatility. From the touch screens and scrolling features to advancements like high density display that Apple introduced with its iPad 3, they are great for watching movies, reading books and entertaining kids. While netbooks rely on programs, much like a laptop, tablets allow you to use apps that are easy and cheap to install, and the selection is extensive and ever-growing. You will also find additional functionality in some tablet models, like the ability to take photos or HD videos.
  • Tablet CONS :
    The one area where tablets tend to fall short is productivity. Most don’t have a built-in keyboard, but rather a touchscreen. This can be remedied by purchasing additional equipment, but even then, I find it to be a subpar experience when using word processing software. Like netbooks, size can negatively impact your user experience if you purchase one that is too small.

Tablets are currently the “in” device, and it’s not surprising. They are easy to use and extremely versatile. That said, if you are looking for a device that supports your productivity, or even your creativity, you may be disappointed in a tablet. It is not necessarily that the tablet won’t allow you to do the work or access the programs, but rather you may find it more challenging to complete tasks efficiently on a tablet instead of a netbook (or laptop).
It is clear that a tablet is the best bet for many in the market for a small, lightweight computing device, but don’t make the decision to hastily. It is important to consider what you plan to use it for, as well as your workflow preferences. You may just find yourself sticking with that good old laptop.

Boost Remote Productivity with Beautiful Home Office Blooms

So it’s Saturday and maybe time for some light relief!? Rheney Williams has written a guest blog post for us on how you can boost remote productivity by having beautiful home office plants and flowers. Rheney enjoys sharing her DIY craft window ideas with others and writes about her projects for The Home Depot. Rheney has been busy this past year updating her Charleston, S.C., home with all manner of custom lowcountry touches.

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African violets

When you’re a remote worker, more often than not, you’re working online from a home office. And even if you have the most conducive conditions for working remotely (peace and quiet!), we’ve all experienced that part of the day where you just need a boost. Whether it’s a mental boost because your brain has been working overtime or a creative boost because your imagination’s well has run dry, sometimes all you need is a bright pop of color to push your productivity back into forward motion.

Basically, when you work and write online, it’s important to surround yourself with an environment that fosters free-thinking and a potted ‘office mascot’ may be just the thing you need to cheer you up and spur you on during the day! In addition to the bright burst of color that the blooms provide, plants are notorious workhorses in the air purifying department. And when you’re cooped up inside all day, a little bit of fresher air goes a long way! I’ve been considering candidates for my own home office mascot and I’ve finally narrowed it down to the perfect choice for me: African violets!

I have a casement window that is just begging for a bit of windowsill dressing and the violets are it because although it is a bright window, its placement and direction on my house means it almost never receives direct sunlight. This is important for these little violets as they love bright conditions and indirect sunlight. Even if you don’t have a large, indirectly lit window, violets could still be the perfect choice for you too because they are some of the easiest indoor flowers to grow and don’t require full-on sunshine (or two green thumbs) to keep them alive. Their needs are a bit unique but once you address them from the beginning, the ongoing maintenance for African violets is minimal. Here’s a glimpse into how I planted my home office mascot for my windowsill and a few tips for establishing one of your own.

Inviting Violets

Purple and blue are two of my favorite colors and two great options in your working area. The rich depth of the purple and the calming brightness of the blue, in pastel shades of lavender and sky, respectively, provide just the right amount of inspiration and creative spark when you need a pick-me-up but they don’t demand attention or scream at you the way other bolder colors seem to do. So I started building my mascot’s ‘home’ by painting a clean terra cotta pot with blue and grey chalkboard paint.

2. Basic*Tip: For African violets, make sure you use a shallow pot (or one designed specifically for African violets) because the more standard height pots are too deep to provide their optimal growing environment.

After that dried overnight, I gathered everything else together and started adding the colorful details. Using the Frog tape as a guide, I taped off alternating segments around the rim and painted the insides with white craft paint. I removed the tape and painted over the remaining grey strips underneath with lavender craft paint. Finally, I painted a thin line of the grey in between each of the white and lavender stripes.

3. Supplies

Allow the rim to dry thoroughly before moving on to planting your flower. Cover the drain hole(s) with a flat stone to allow for the water to enter and exit while keeping the soil in the pot where it belongs. Fill the pot 1/3 or ½ of the way with potting mix. You can use the kind designed for African violets or make your own with an equal parts mixture of peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. Carefully place your plant into the pot and gently scoop soil around the edges, tamping down with your fingers as you go. Continue filling and tamping until the soil is about ½” below the rim and be careful to avoid getting dirt on the leaves and fuzzy stems.

4. Planted

To create the most accurate representation of the African violets’ natural moist, humid habitat, line the bottom of a deep saucer or dish with pebbles for the pot to sit atop. To recreate my natural environment, however, I replaced the pebbles with shells I collected from my native South Carolina coastline!

5. Shells

The goal is to provide a raised bed for the pot that is filled with water to just below the pot’s base so that humidity swirls as the water evaporates below. This is also how you should water your violets ñ from below, never above.

*Tip: If you ever do get water on the leaves or petals, do your best to dry it immediately as this can damage and burn them (if in direct sunlight). Keep an eye on the water level and when it drops, simply refill the base. When you first plant your violets and every couple of weeks, add several drops of African violet food to the water to ensure it receives the proper nutrients.

6. Final

And that’s all you need for a freshly potted, bright office mascot that’s sure to boost your spirits and your creative productivity in no time. What type of flowers do you want to plant in your remote office?

Managing a Team of Remote Workers in Different Countries

How you manage remote teams has been a frequent topic for discussion on this blog, but we haven’t had many posts written by actual managers – they’re normally too busy 😉 Today we’ve got a guest blog post on some tools to help from a colleague who wishes to remain nameless (he references his old job in the article and wouldn’t want his name picked up on Google relating to this blog post as he hopes to do some business with his previous employer in the future) – we’ll call him ‘Mr Manager’! The author, Mr Manager, has since left the large American company he mentions to start up his own Computer Support company in London. If you are in the UK and need any form of IT Support feel free to get in touch via his website.

Note – Mr Manager doesn’t mention timezone trouble but this is an area we’ve covered in the past. We could definitely do with an updated post though, so if you are working in a global environment and are effectively using timezone tools then let me know.

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From 2010 to 2012 I was working in Switzerland for a well-known American technology company. In my role as the Online Marketing Manager for Europe I was responsible for a web team who were all working out of different regional offices. So for example, I had a web designer located in the UK office, two programmers in France, social media staff in Italy, and a couple of developers working out of the German office. So in effect, we were all working remotely from each other, but working towards the same common goal and on the same projects.

The main issue wasn’t the cultural and language differences (thankfully everyone spoke English), but more the challenges of managing the staff from a remote location as my time was split between the central Swiss office, travelling through Europe to the different offices, and also a lot of time spent working from home.

The challenges were very much split into two camps; there were the classic HR difficulties in managing a team, and also the technology issues. I am going to focus on the technology side in this blog post and offer some insight into how I tried to manage workflow, meetings, and projects despites the geographical differences in the team.

Project Management Tools

BasecampIn terms of keeping track of what everyone in the team was working on and offering a collaborative environment where we could add notes, comments, and how progress, I found a number of tools were invaluable.
The first was called BaseCamp. This was really great at nested discussion threads, code problem solving and more. The mobile version of the software worked great too meaning I could access it on the move and see how the team were progressing even when out of the office.

NotableAnother tool worth mentioning was Notable. My creative guys would upload their latest web designs to this app and then whilst visiting offices I could then get feedback from the stake holders and add annotations over the designs which the designers could immediately act upon.
I had tried using software such as Microsoft Project, but found it totally inappropriate and fiddly for a team where work turnaround was so quick and the projects came up thick and fast. I remember trialling the software for one month and seemed to spend one hour every morning just updating the thing – not for me that one.

Telephone Calls and Online Meetings

A couple of times each week, the team as a whole would have collaborate phone calls and online meetings. For the first year and a half we were using the excellent GoTo Meeting software. It would let me send out an email appointment to the team in advance which would include regional telephone numbers for them to dial as well as a web link so they could enter the online meeting.

During meetings I was able to share slides, annotate project notes, bridge another team member into the call, hand controls over to another team member – I can’t recommend it enough. It really worked well.

This software was probably the most invaluable asset I had when managing my remote team, so I was bitterly disappointed when the annual company cost-cutting meant we had to ditch GoTo Meeting. Instead, company policy was switched over to use a free (or lower cost) solution from Microsoft called Lync (which I am not even going to give the credit of a “link” to). It was terrible. Whilst I could set-up GoTo Meeting in a number of seconds, and never had any glitches, the Lync application probably worked only 50% of the time. Common issues were caller feedback, different team members being given the wrong number to dial so ending up in someone else’s call, and the screen sharing freezing.

Towards the end of the time working for the company we actually ended up (as a team) ditching Lync and moving over to using Google Hangouts. I won’t go into too much detail on how Google Hangouts work as it has already been covered on the Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog. All I will say is that we never went back to using Lync. I was also to work via SmartPhone into a Google hangout when on the move… so it gets the thumbs up from me.

Hardware Used on the Road

Whilst out on the road visiting the office I was armed with a Blackberry, which was subsequently upgraded to a Samsung. Give me the Blackberry any day of the week. The email integration was really easy to use compared to the Samsung. In fact, with the Samsung I ended up deleting my whole inbox by mistake due to the strange button configuration.

I would always travel with my laptop, but in the last month of my employment the company approved a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy so I started to use my own personal Apple iPad. This immediately cut down all the baggage and weight of my bag and made remote working just more comfortable generally. I found that most of the collaborative software the team used had a mobile app version meaning I could stay in the loop and my work wasn’t affected.

To conclude, the last couple of years has seen a real increase in the quality of software available for remote working and collaboration. I believe this is down to demand, and the huge increase in company employees using mobile products. In fact, recent research by Gartner states that by 2018, 70% of professional will conduct their work on mobile devices.

Small-scale Cyber Security

There’s been a lot in the press recently about matters of ‘national security’: think PRISM, Edward Snowden and release of release of NSA material. In fact I saw a great session on ‘Open Data Lessons from the US Shutdown’ at MozFest which covered the culture shift in the intelligence community from targeted surveillance to dragnet programs. All very interesting matters for debate, but here we are talking security on a slightly smaller scale.

elvisElvis Donnelly has written a guest post on what small businesses and people working from home need to know about their own cyber security. Elvis is a father of two who works from home and lives with his wife. He is a voracious reader and likes to keep abreast of current affairs on personal finance, technology and innovation, and takes a keen interest in environmental issues. In his spare time, he loves taking on home improvement projects and considers himself a closet chef.

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When the website of Novice to Advanced Marketing Systems (NAMS) was hacked, the small business had to shut down for six weeks and lose $75,000 in the process and recovery was not easy. NAMS owner David Perdew felt this attack was a “personal violation”. But there is nothing personal when hackers target small businesses. Why? Many small businesses have an online presence that runs on limited IT resources and are often the target of phishing attacks by scamsters, especially those looking to steal financial information of customers. Not just that, stealing passwords, theft of funds or intellectual property and paying up huge fines for not protecting customer information are some of the ways in which your business can be at risk, according to Forbes. Safeguarding your website against cyber-attacks should be the number one priority of a small business owner.

In a 2012 National Small Business Cyber security Study, jointly carried out by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and Symantec, even though 73 per cent of small businesses reported that the internet is absolutely vital to their business’ growth, 88 per cent of small business have no official internet security plan in place. Symantec also reported that a huge chunk of cyber-attacks are directed at small businesses. As a small business owner, you know much capital has been invested in your business. It’s important you also know that it can all vanish in a matter of seconds. Beware, cyber-attacks are increasing!

by Lulu Höller, Flickr

by Lulu Höller, Flickr

A Quick Guide to Staying Cyber Safe

Cyber-attacks do not come with a warning, as seen in the case of NAMS. Why compromise the security of your business with a shaky security plan? Here are a few pointers on what a small business owner can do to improve cyber security.

Train your employees

All employees, irrespective of their designation, should be trained to maintain a secure online system. Infecting a computer with a USB stick or downloading files with malicious content are some of the ways in which security can be breached. Employees must be trained to quickly identify content that can harm a computer as well as given a hacker’s dictionary to understand hacking ploys like phishing, social engineering or know what a Trojan horse is. The National Cyber Security Alliance has some training resources for small business owners wanting to educate employees in cyber security.

Secure your computer systems

Monitor all online activity and make sure malicious content is blocked before it enters the system. Incorporate appropriate firewall settings that will help prevent third party users from accessing your data. Password-protect all computers, online accounts and databases- never leave a computer unattended. Take back-ups of all data. Securing your systems and assets help in lowering your risk of an attack. Limit the access of sensitive information to employees. If your company has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, make sure you follow steps to ensure these devices do not make your systems vulnerable to an attack.

Get insured for data breach

Insuring your business can go a long way in reducing the risks associated with your business. While many small business owners purchase liability coverage for property, few opt for coverage related to data breach. With cyber-attacks increasing by the hour, insuring your business’ data is absolutely essential, especially if online financial transaction form a bulk of money transfers. Check with your insurer how you can incorporate coverage for data breach in your business insurance policy.

While an insurance plan is a strong safety net that can help a small business reduce the losses that accompany a data breach, it’s best to avoid such incidents by putting in place security systems to prevent such an attack. A report by The Hartford suggests that businesses should develop computer security tools to secure their systems from hackers, especially in the current mobile-oriented business platforms. In David Perdew’s words: “No computer is foolproof“, but understanding how you can be cyber safe can help lessen the risk of an attack to a huge extent. Make sure you are secure today!

Editor’s note: I’ve written posts about approaches to password protection (I now use Lastpass) and have advocated in the past for personal data management. I’d also like to hear from people who have had experiences of losing data in the cloud – I read this post recently on how someone had their entire account deleted by Box.com!

How to Create Your Very Own Home Office

So it’s important to feel comfortable when working and Tom Bowers has written a post for us on how you achieve the ultimate home office. Tom has been working from home on a number of different writing, blogging and magazine projects since graduating from university in 2011. He enjoys reading, writing and, most of all, working from home!

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I’m Tom and I’ve been lucky enough to work from home for the past four years now. Working from home can be a tricky business – with distractions aplenty you can often find yourself doing the dishes rather than answering your emails. In order to get into the right frame of mind to get to work, I found that creating a little corner at home to call your own can really be the key into making your home office a successful one.

desk

It’s all well and good working from home if you already have your own dedicated office space, but what about those of us who have no such luck? I, for instance, have had to resort to working out of my kitchen – with two kids in a two bed semi, there was simply no room for a “proper” home office.
So what can you do? Well, guys and gals, I can sum it up in just one word: improvise. You have to make the most of what you’ve got and try to squeeze out a place where you can work effectively in peace.

If you’re looking for some tips on exactly how to do just that, well you’ve certainly found yourself in the right place. I’m going to say how I’ve managed to fashion my kitchen space into a makeshift workplace and give some generic tips that should help you transform a small area into big potential.

Find a Good Location

Not everyone will be able to stick to each and every recommendation I’m making here – don’t worry about it if you can’t; we’re all tight on space so just try and find the best location you can. The more boxes you tick, the better, but it’s not going to be the end of the world if you have to give up on a few points.

If you’re working from home, you’re going be spending a lot of time in that home office area, so choose a space carefully. First off, don’t skimp on space. If you’re lucky enough to have a guest room, for God’s sake convert it into your office instead of trying to fit into a closet, especially if you don’t often use it.

Also, try and consider the flow of human traffic around you. I quite often have to suffer the kids getting under my feet in the kitchen, but it’s the best solution I could manage, so I have to make do. Minimise distractions – away from the telly is best! – and consider whether clients will be visiting.

Function over Form

It’s a bit of a cliché, sure, but it’s important. It is of vital importance that your furniture serves you well, so look for things that make the most of your space as will keep you comfortable and working effectively.
However, you will also want to avoid the place looking completely soulless. I was lucky in that we had a small dining table in the kitchen, the perfect size for my computer and everything I needed at hand, so I didn’t have to splash out too much on taking the aesthetics away from “boring cubicle“.

Get a Great Chair

This is inarguably the most important piece of furniture in the whole shebang, especially if you’re a keyboard warrior like me. A badly-fitting chair can eventually lead to some pretty serious spine problems, so you want something ergonomic and seriously comfortable.

I’m currently rocking a fancy-looking leather office chair (it was second-hand and a serious bargain in my eyes), so all I need is a fluffy white cat to complete my Bond villain look. I wouldn’t give up my comfy pal for anything, well… except the one addition I’ve lusted after for years – the adjustable-arm Humanscale chair.

Personalise Your Space

This is really important, guys – don’t work in a soulless environment; you’re at home so you have the freedom to tailor your workspace to the exact specs you desire. Make the place look nice and you’ll have a much easier time getting inspired and knuckling down.

Try brightening the walls with a favourite poster or prints – frame them to make them really pop; they’ll look more professional this way too, as an added bonus. One of my favourite things is a photo of the family that I’ve got blown up to poster size and hanging on the wall in front of me. That little familial touch seems to make things easier! So does the kettle being three feet away, but that’s just me…

If you take all these tips into account as best you can when designing your own little home office space, you should have a much breezier time in setting it all up and getting down to work. I know I get a lot more work done than I did before, plonking myself down onto the sofa with my laptop, so you should see some pretty major improvements too!