Cloud Computing 101

As you prepare for 2019 and beyond, Cloud Computing should be part of every technology discussion for your business.  Today the “Cloud” means everything and anything.  So, what is Cloud Computing and what does it really mean for you and your business?

What is Cloud Computing?

Let’s define Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing is the Delivery, using the Internet or a Direct data connection, of Network-Based Services hosted in a Multi-Tenant Environment.

What does this mean?

Network-Based Services – this is a service running on a network.  Usually networked in a datacenter, not your own.

Using the Internet or another Direct data connection – You are accessing this service from a remote location from the source.  You are using it over the Internet or another data link.

Hosted in a Multi-Tenant Environment – Hosted means it is running on someone else’s hardware and they are just making a service available to you.  Multi-tenant means the provider is ‘hosting” many users at the same time. They serve multiple tenants.

For example, look at Gmail.  The provider (Google) manages the software and the hardware running Gmail.  You just use the service from a distance over the Internet.  Cloud computing is just a form of outsourcing when you use Gmail, you outsource your email application to Google.

There are three major kinds of Cloud Computing Services

  • SaaS – Software as a Service
  • IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service
  • PaaS – Platform as a Service

Software as a Service is probably the most common use for Cloud Computing.  A company will run Cloud-based software similar (or identical) to a premise-based, boxed software solution. Some advantages of SaaS are

  • No expensive hardware (server) needed to run the program
  • No updates or patches to maintain
  • Easier support
  • Equal fixed monthly costs

SaaS works well for software applications you use all the time.  You pay monthly (or annually) whether you use the product or not.  On the downside, there are applications I use only a couple of times a year.  It is tough to justify paying for them each month over and over.  For these types of applications, I found the alternative open source or “buy once” substitutes.

Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS is using hosted hardware, usually virtualized, running in a datacenter to conduct business.  If physical (not virtualized) hardware is used or needed, it is usually purchased and co-located in a datacenter to be used like IaaS.  IaaS is a suitable alternative for most on-premise computing functions that can be virtualized.

Closely related to IaaS is Desktops as a Service (DaaS).  With DaaS, a host vendor provides access to virtual desktops (VDI) from a Public or Private Cloud.  DaaS can take the place of your local PC or workstation or supplement them.  Instead of buying a computer for each employee, you can buy a cheap connection device (thin client) and provide access to a virtual desktop running in a datacenter to handle all your Desktop computing needs.

Platform as a Service is the least used of these three types of Cloud Computing.  Businesses will deploy applications using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools managed and maintained by a hosting provider. The end user does not manage or control the underlying Cloud infrastructure but controls the deployed applications running on the Cloud Platform.

What is Private Cloud Computing and how is it different from the Public Cloud Computing?

There are many companies offering services over the public Internet; these are public Cloud providers. I am sure you are familiar with many of them, from social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to strictly business applications like Office 365 and Salesforce CRM.

A Private Cloud solution is also accessed over the Internet or a dedicated private circuit. In contrast, a private Cloud usually connects two locations, the customer and the provider, and is housed in a private datacenter.  A Private Cloud is generally dedicated to a single company.  A Private Cloud can take the place of premised based servers and desktops.  You can run just about any hardware or software in a Private Cloud.  A Private Cloud is generally more flexible and customizable than a Public Cloud.  You can run your entire business from a Private Cloud environment, not just a single application.

Most companies use a mix of traditional, Public, and Private Cloud services, a Hybrid Cloud. Keep in mind, with a Hybrid Cloud you must manage multiple Cloud vendors.  There is no one best solution, do what makes the most sense for your business.  Use the Cloud Services you need to support your business objectives and implement them as needed.

Why should I use Cloud Computing?

Cycle of Technology

All technology follows an adoption path according to the cycle of technology. With new technology adoption, there is a continuous cycle of value.  New Technology provides a competitive advantage. As a technology grows older, the competitive advantage eventually diminishes to a point it becomes a competitive necessity, everyone has it and needs it and uses it.  Finally, for those that continue to use older technology well past its useful life, technology becomes a competitive disadvantage.  You are losing productivity by using outdated obsolete technology.

Don’t spend time, money and effort on technology that doesn’t give you a competitive advantage.

“Technology has reshaped Industry. Briefly, these technologies provided real advantages. But as their availability increased and their cost decreased, they all became ubiquitous commodities. From a strategic standpoint, they no longer mattered.” – Nicholas Carr

Conventional Technology has become a commodity and no longer provides a competitive advantage.

Technology is analogous to the electric grid.  Companies used to own and maintain their own power generation facilities until they realized it was faster, cheaper and easier to simply buy their power from a utility company.  They outsourced power generation.  That is exactly what is happening to conventional technology today, it is being outsourced to the Cloud.  We outsource many things, you drive a car, you don’t build one, some of us don’t even make coffee anymore, we outsource it to Starbucks.

There are advantages to outsourcing your technology needs to a Private Cloud Computing Provider.

  • There are great “economies of scale”, especially in a multi-tenant environment. This can lead to lower costs.
  • Business Critical Applications are being ‘Cloud Enabled’ at a rapid pace. You can run your entire business from the Cloud.
  • Well managed datacenters offer greater flexibility to expand and contract quickly and offer services that are less expensive to rent rather than to own.
  • You can focus on Business, not IT. Cloud Computing provides stable IT spending.
  • You pay for ONLY what you use. You plan for today’s needs and scale up later as your needs grow. You don’t pay for extra capacity you don’t need today or may never need.
  • Cloud Computing is infinitely scalable – not only can you easily scale up, but you can scale down as well. This is one of the most powerful advantages of Cloud computing. The ability to shrink as well as grow.  You cannot do this with physical hardware. You buy it, you own it.
  • Because it is multi-tenant, you can use Enterprise class hardware at a Small Business price.

 Why Cloud Computing now?

Source: Gartner 2014

This chart is the 2014 Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging technologies.  We have been talking about the Cloud for several years. Why Cloud Computing now, what has changed?

  • Bandwidth costs are still falling.
  • Most major business functions have moved to the Cloud.
  • You can run your entire business from the Cloud.

The hype is over, and Cloud Computing is ready for prime time.

According to the Gartner 2014 Hype Cycle, Cloud Computing will reach the Plateau of Productivity (mainstream adoption) by 2016-2019.  Cloud Computing is poised to be the driving force for business productivity. It is here now and ready to use.

Is my Data Safe in the Cloud?

Is your data safe in your office?  What happens if your data is in your physical office and there is a fire/flood/hurricane (Sandy)?  If you’re worried about risk, buy insurance to protect against risk.  Cloud computing has a lot of insurance built in.

  • Your data is housed using redundant hardware. The hardware is designed to be risk tolerant.  In most cases, you would not even notice a datacenter hardware failure.
  • Your data is backed up at least daily, probably more often, and you can go back and retrieve any deleted files and projects.
  • Your data is replicated to multiple datacenters (geo-redundant).
  • Cloud computing providers are in the business of keeping their client’s data protected. Their systems and practices are more redundant and more secure than 99% of businesses doing it themselves.

How do I use the Cloud to Gain a Competitive Advantage?

Using the Cloud – Infrastructure as a Service / Desktops as a Service

Running your entire IT infrastructure including your desktops in the Cloud is a new way to think about technology.  The future is using connected devices.  You can run almost any application, perform almost any task in the Cloud. Software and hardware as we think of it today is going away. The Cloud is the future in desktop computing, delivered as a service.

 Using the Cloud – Infrastructure as a Service / Servers and Networks

You can run your entire IT Infrastructure in the Cloud. You can run servers in the Cloud, switches, your entire network. Using Cloud Computing you don’t need premise-based servers or PCs any longer, you can connect to the Cloud Infrastructure using thin clients.  Thin clients are small cheap connection devices that don’t break or wear out. You can eliminate nearly all your on-premise IT equipment.

 Using the Cloud – Online Backup

You back up your files, right? Backup is a critical IT function.  Unfortunately, everyone has a backup horror story.  The best practice for backup is to copy your backup offsite.  You should always have three copies of your data, the original, a local on-premise copy, and a copy offsite.

Whether you use tape, CD, or disk backup you need to get those backups OFFSITE.  Backups are useless if they are destroyed along with the rest of your office.  Cloud backup is a perfect way to easily get backups offsite.  Obviously, if your whole IT infrastructure is already in Cloud then you don’t have any local data to back up.

To back up to the Cloud is easy, you install backup software onto the local hardware and it periodically and automatically copies your data to the Cloud.

Using the Cloud – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

 The Ultimate Disaster Recovery (DR) solution is a Hot Site hosted in the Cloud.  A Hot Site completely replicates all your on-premise hardware and data in the Cloud.  It is ready to use and updated continuously. It is also less expensive than a premise-based DR solution.

We had clients in New York who lost everything when Hurricane Sandy hit. Their office buildings were closed, the power was out, but their technology was working and safe in the Cloud datacenter.  They just worked from home until their office was usable again.  They did not experience any downtime or a single problem.  When things returned to normal, they moved back to their office and resumed work without missing a beat.

Using the Cloud – Consolidation / Centralization

For a company with multiple locations, it is easy to see how the Cloud changes the game. If you have three locations, chances are, you have 3 times the hardware and probably a lot of duplicate data.  Scale this up, 5 locations, 10 locations, 100 locations. The numbers get big very quickly.  A business can consolidate and greatly reduce the amount of hardware used to support their business.

Not only can a business reduce costs, but also complexity.  By moving from distributed IT to centralized IT in the Cloud, a business reduces the amount of hardware needed while increasing hardware utilization.  The savings are evident, by reducing the amount of hardware and maintenance, you reduce costs.

Using the Cloud – Cloud Collaboration Hub

Working on a big project with other firms?  You can store all your project data in the Cloud and make it available to each firm.   A Cloud Collaboration Hub allows multiple firms to work in real time on shared projects.  This is accomplished using secure private connections to a Cloud Workspace hosted in a datacenter. This type of collaboration creates a robust and secure environment and allows firms to work together while keeping their intellectual property safe and secured.

Benefits of the Cloud Collaboration Hub:

  • Privacy and security of Intellectual Property.
  • Real-Time Collaboration and file sharing
  • Reduced project “latency”, improved project productivity.
  • Accelerated project information visibility
  • Mobility, accessible from anywhere

 Using the Cloud – Hosted Phones

Fire the phone company. You can have your phone system in the Cloud. You can save real money by moving your phone system to Cloud.  In addition to saving money, you reduce maintenance costs.  Your phone system works over your data connection.  Office moves are a breeze, just unplug your phone, take it with you and plug it in at your new office and you are ready to go.  You are completely location independent.  A hosted phone system has all the typical phone options found in a premise PBX, call forwarding, find me follow me, voicemail, all features of a PBX without a PBX.  The sound is HD quality. Your voicemail and faxes can be sent directly to email.

With hosted phones you have Built-in Business Continuity – if your Office is closed for a week, you can work from anywhere, take your phone with you or use a full-featured mobile phone app.  Are you on the phone all day?  You can use a softphone running on a PC and a headset to manage all your calls, you don’t need to buy phone handsets or wireless headsets.

Communication as a Service – You have free 4-digit dialing between all your offices, there are no charges between locations on the same system.  Incoming calls are free as well.  You only pay for outgoing and long distance but the price per minute is very competitive and you can buy prepaid minutes to save even more.

Using the Cloud – Hosted email / Office

Is there anyone who does not use Cloud-based email for your personal email? When it comes to email, individuals are ahead of business.  Today, there is little reason why any business should be running their own email servers and managing their own email.  Using Office 365 or G Suite, you have business productivity applications bundled with business email at a very competitive price.  These are very compelling reasons to move your business applications and email to the Cloud without any downside.  In most cases, you can reduce costs as well.

Using the Cloud – Helpdesk

Remote assistance technologies and the ability to time shift make Helpdesk an easy fit for the Cloud. You can get Helpdesk support from a Cloud-Based Provider 24/7/365.  Outsourcing your helpdesk is an easy and low-risk way to move to the Cloud.

 Using the Cloud – Mobility

Using the Cloud, you have complete mobility, connect from any device, from anywhere you have a data connection. (which is almost everywhere these days) Work sharing, hoteling and job sharing are all enabled by increased mobility.

But my boss says, “No way I am going to let my employees work from home!”

There have been numerous studies about telecommuting that show productivity increases the more mobile the workforce.  Increased Mobility and Cloud Computing also support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) further reducing IT expenses.

 Using the Cloud – Software as a Service – SaaS

Run your software from the Cloud. Virtually any software that runs on a desktop will run on a Virtualized Cloud Desktop.  Many major business applications now offer Cloud options.  SaaS allows you to stabilize your software cost. You can increase and decrease the number of seats of each application.  You reduce maintenance costs and are always running the latest version.  You run your application from anywhere you have data connectivity.  SaaS makes you more mobile and flexible.

 Using the Cloud – Video Conferencing / Web Conferencing

Video conferencing works great for small meetings, up to 25 participants.  There are several Cloud-based Video / Web Conferencing applications available.  They offer many options for video, they interface with phone systems for participants that don’t have access to a web camera.  Video conferencing works very well for smaller meetings up to about 25 participants.  If you have more than 25 users, the advantage of seeing the participants gets lost in the quantity/quality of the interaction.  But for small team meetings, it is ideal.  You get more face time with your clients.

Using the Cloud – Hosted wireless

The Cloud is great for hosting wireless, centralized management of wireless resources. With the Cloud, you have one place to control and manage content, security, and access.

How is the Cloud Transforming Work?

Sustainability

The Cloud reduces the need for non-renewable energy.  When businesses move IT from on-site facilities to consolidated Cloud datacenters, it saves energy and cuts pollution — just as relying on power companies is better for the environment than if everyone ran their own power plant.

As a vendor, we also make sure our datacenters are running as green as possible.  We use renewable green energy sources – hydroelectric power and passive cooling whenever possible.

Innovation

Cloud-based collaboration drives Innovation.   Innovation creates a competitive advantage.  The Cloud supports and promotes collaboration.

Data Storage needs are growing exponentially

As bandwidth improves more centralization is possible.  Data Centralization reduces the need to duplicate data in multiple locations.  It also allows you to deduplicate and reduce the total amount of storage needed.  And storage in the cloud is infinitely scalable. (practically speaking)

Mobility – Remote access

Work from anywhere –home, hotel, airplane, client office, anywhere you have an Internet connection which is almost everywhere. Connect using any device, Smartphones, Android, IOS, Macs, PCs.  You are device independent.

Security

With security, the key is to assess risk.  Are premise-based computers, networks and servers better protected than Cloud-based assets? In most cases, the answer is no.  Cloud Providers invest far more on security than the average business can, it is their business. But what about Government / Cloud Provider snooping?  Make sure you read and understand Privacy Policies and insist on absolute privacy for your business data.  You will have more flexibility and more privacy using a Private Cloud rather than a Public Cloud.  For example, as a Private Cloud Provider, we will not allow government access to your data without informing you first and not without proper legal authority.  Your data belongs to you. Period.

Budget

Using the Cloud must make sense from a financial point of view.  What is the return on your investment?  Many factors affect your ROI, download our free white paper to determine your Cloud ROI.  We’d love to have an opportunity to help you save money.

How do I Choose a Cloud Provider?

Ask a potential Cloud Provider these questions:

  • Mature Services Offering – Are they “Full Service” or do you need to do most of the work?
  • Data Center Operations Excellence – Do they own/operate their own Data Center?
  • Committed Ownership – will they be around in years to come?
  • Geographical reach – Can they service all my locations?
  • Internal Engineering Expertise – Do they have the right people with the right knowledge?
  • Established Client Base – Are they a healthy organization? Financially stable?

Assess

What is the next step after you have chosen a provider? This first step is assessing your needs. What are your needs? Where are you today? Where do you want to be?  A good Cloud Provider can help you develop an assessment.

An Assessment is a deep dive into the current state of your technology with specific recommendations on improving your IT Infrastructure and Operations.  Remember your Technology Initiatives must align and support your Business Goals.

Identify Gaps

During this assessment, look at all aspects of your technology and your business and identify ways to improve productivity, save money and protect your business.

Recommendations

Next, identify specific recommendations to improve your technology.  Create a plan for improving PCs, your network, network servers, security, backups, email, wireless, printing, all things technology related.

Also, consider how you can use technology to build your business.

Implementation

Once you have identified your initiatives, meet with your Cloud Provider and develop a plan for implementation.  The plan takes into consideration your priorities, your time and your budget.  Prioritize and budget and then develop a schedule to get it done.  The faster you can implement, the faster you can realize the benefits and savings afforded by moving to the Cloud.

Service and Support

Finally, make sure you have on-going support.  No technology is 100% foolproof, you will need help at some point.

Advance2000 provides a 24 / 7 /365 Help Desk and can provide your staff with any type of IT Support.  We offer 4 different levels of support from Basic Support all the way up to full Managed IT services.  You determine how much support you need and then buy what you need.  We also provide Full Turnkey Support whether you are hosted in Cloud or still using equipment in your office.

Sounds Great, how do I get started in the Cloud?

We’ll leave you with ONE BIG IDEA. Centralizing and Outsourcing your Technology is called the “Cloud”.

Cloud = Scalability, Mobility, Agility and Speed

Is there anything you could do better in the Cloud?

  • Identify your Business Objectives; is your technology supporting those objectives?
  • Are you using old outdated technology?
  • Is your technology putting your company at a Competitive Disadvantage?

Cloud Computing can help.

What’s next?  Do you have questions?  Contact us today.

 

 

 

Strategic IT Assessment

The Truth About Remote Working

Remote Working Success Factors:

According to a 2016 survey of American remote workers, about 91 percent of people who work from home feel they’re more productive than when they’re in an office.  Forbes Magazine and Harvard Business Review have both written extensively about the productivity gains from remote working.

I have worked remote for the past 6 years.  I think working remotely is great for productivity and work-life balance but it might not be for everyone.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of remote working.

Remote work can be good or bad, it depends on you, your job and employer

What kind of a job do you have? Studies show Knowledge and Creative workers will benefit most from remote working.  Obviously, if you have a job that requires face to face meetings or special equipment then working remotely is not going to work for you.  There is no way a Starbucks Barista is going to work remotely. The exceptions might be phone or chat-based customer service jobs, they are tailor-made for remote workers.

Remote working flexibility is great.  It allows you to schedule life around work.  You can take a 15-minute break to pick up the kids from school or meet the plumber.  These little conveniences improve work/life balance.

Commute time is eliminated.  People don’t realize how much time (and money) is spent commuting.  I live in a large urban city and my wife spends 3 hours and $15 a day using public transportation.  That is a big expense and time commitment.  My commute is one minute to my home office.

If you spend a lot of time working in teams, remote working can still be very productive.  There are many factors that determine if remote work works for you. Let’s look at those that can make you a successful remote worker.

To work remotely, you need appropriate technology

Remote working requires the ability to work from anywhere, ideally, you need complete mobility.

Depending on your exact situation, you need a laptop (or desktop PC), mobile phone and some kind of screen sharing or online meeting tool.  You might also use a chat client or an online project management tool.  There are many solutions out there, you need to investigate which tools work best in your situation and with your employer.

I use Google Voice.  Google Voice allows one number to ring in many places at the same time,  my desk phone, my mobile phone and my Skype number all ring together. I can be anywhere and you can reach me by phone.  Many telephony systems allow you to forward your calls to another number or to your mobile phone.  There are phone features like Find me / Follow me that ring at multiple locations, one after another until you pick up or it goes to voicemail.

If you work in teams, you need technology to support teamwork.  Technologies like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or VDIs (Virtual Desktop Interface) give you complete access to your work computer and all your office files and programs from anywhere you have Internet connectivity.

If your company does not use VDI or allow remote access, then you are going to have a harder time collaborating with colleagues and access the programs and data you need.  Most companies, even if they do not use VDI, have some way to securely access company infrastructure.  This is typically done using Virtual Private Network (VPN) and some kind of secure authentication.

I am fortunate my company, Advance2000, provides technologies to enable our entire staff to be 100% mobile.  We also help other companies become 100% mobile and work remotely.  We can provide an “office in the cloud” and supply servers, desktops and phones all completely hosted in our private cloud and accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection.  Some of our clients don’t even have physical offices any longer.

Dedicated Workspace

You need a comfortable place to work.  Companies provide a comfortable productive place for their employees to work.  Working remote, you need that too.

When setting up a home office, keep these things in mind.

  • Door – I find having a door on my office, especially when my kids were younger, was a necessity. If the door is closed, no kids or cats are allowed in.
  • Full-size desk – Get a full-size desk for your computer and two monitors. Dual monitors have been shown to boost productivity.  Spend some money on quality monitors, keyboards and mice.  You spend 8 hours a day on these tools, make sure they are high quality. You want to minimize the chance of eye strain and RSI and you need reliable technology that will last.
  • Network/Internet – a wired Internet connection is faster and more reliable than using WiFi.  If needed, have an electrician run wiring from your Internet Router to your home office.  If you have multiple devices using the Internet, you can invest in a small switch to share your Internet connection.
  • Hotspot/phone fallback – I recommend you have a cellular backup in case your home Internet service goes down. You can use a mobile phone or tablet with cellular data to create a mobile hotspot to use in case your primary Internet goes out.  Or you can just pack up and head to the nearest coffee shop to work.
  • Good desk chair – Get a good office chair.  Do not buy a cheap box store chair.  You are going to spend 8-10 hours a day in your chair.  There is a reason office chairs are so expensive, they are designed for all-day comfort.  Don’t scrimp here, if you can’t afford to spend a lot, check out office equipment resellers.  They have lightly used office chairs by all the major office furniture providers.  Go and sit in the chair, make sure it is right before you spend hundreds of dollars.
  • Private space – I recommend a private office space not shared with the rest of the family.  You need to separate from the family distractions.
  • Windows / fresh air – it is a bonus if you have natural light and operating windows in your office.
  • Monitor/keyboard/headset – These are the tools you use all day. Along with a good chair, get a good keyboard and mouse and monitors.  Ergonomic tools are a plus.  If you spend a lot of time on the phone, consider using a lightweight high-quality headset.
  • Office in a wardrobe – Tight on space? You can house an entire office in a piece of furniture.  There are also desks that hide the office equipment from sight.

Photo: Bowery Hill Computer Armoire

  • Build an office? – Depending on your local building codes, you might be able to build an office in your backyard. This gives you the mental and physical separation from the home.  You leave your house but still have all the amenities of home just a few steps away.

Photo courtesy Will Leger

Office parks/coworking spaces – Finally, if you can’t stand working alone, there are many coworking spaces available everywhere.  For a very small monthly investment, you have access to a shared desk and workspace.  Coworking spaces offer Wifi, refreshments, shared desks and team/conference rooms.  You just bring your laptop and work.  Some people find the social activity stimulating to work.

Photo: WeWork – Chicago

Staying Focused

Successful remote working ultimately depends on you.  It requires discipline and organization.  If you are the type of person whose attention wanders you might not be a good candidate.  Here are some things you can do to improve concentration and reduce distractions.

  • Music – some people use music to provide “white noise” to help them focus on tasks at hand.
  • Minimize interruptions – Be careful of distractions / Internet / social media. Stay away from distractions online.  Consider using browser extensions to block all websites for a period of time.  (RescueTime)
  • Pomodoro technique – Work 25 minutes without stopping and then take a 5-minute break. Specialized Pomodoro apps and websites can help you use this technique to stay focused.
  • Set time for lunch and breaks – every 20 minutes look away from the computer screen for 20 seconds. Plan a regular time for lunch and get away from the computer.
  • Face time – Plan regular trips to the company’s office. You need face time occasionally.  This makes working remote more successful.  Once you meet someone in person, it is much easier to work with them remotely.
  • Demographics – Surprisingly, younger people prefer working in an office for the “social” aspects.

Tips for remote workers

  • Keep a professional attitude – When remote working, it is tempting to not get dressed or shave or get out of your pajamas. Resist these behaviors, they affect your thinking.  Maintaining professional behaviors will help you be more productive.  Don’t take conference calls in bed.
  • Turn off social media – Use organizational technology to keep on track, create lists. If you know what to do next, it will help you resist the temptation to waste time.
  • Schedule all your time – Schedule your todo tasks as well as your meetings and appointments. When you have free time, refer to your to-do list and move to the next item on your list. Stay busy and your mind will not wander.
  • Use fill-in tasks – I have a list of projects to do right now, to do in the future and to do someday. Having those lists prepared keeps you from wasting time by not knowing what to do.
  • Establish regular hours – Keep regular hours. I start work at 8 AM and take lunch 11-11:30 and end my day at 5.  Beware of the trap of working all the time.  It is tempting to answer email and phone calls 24/7/365.  Unless you are required to do this, working remotely is not an excuse to work 12 hour days.  Working remote can improve work/life balance.  Working all the time increases stress and is unproductive.
  • Take regular breaks – Take time away from the computer screen, rest your eyes every hour. Take lunch every day, I take a shorter lunch (30 minutes) since I don’t have to get food or go anywhere to eat.

Pulling it all together

Positives

  • No commute
  • Flexibility
  • Fewer distractions / interruptions
  • Lower employee attrition (higher retention)
  • Better home/work balance
  • Self Management (responsibility)
  • Save money – no commuting costs = instant raise, eat at home
  • No office space required/create a virtual company for startups

Negatives

  • No face time / alone / isolation
  • Lose “social” aspect of the office
  • Time management harder / requires more discipline
  • No physical presence in the office – out of sight …
  • Need to over communicate to be heard – you are not seen
  • Must be a good time manager

Convincing the Boss

So how do you convince your company to allow you to work remote?  In the studies on remote work, middle management seems to be the most resistant to allowing staff to work remote.  This might be because they can no longer see their staff working in front of them.  There is a certain amount of trust required on the part of managers to let go.

One suggestion might be to rotate the days you work remote.  Maybe you go to the office on Monday and Friday and work remote Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday?  Or maybe part of your department works remotely while the rest are in the office and then you switch.  Companies using remote workers need less office space.  Fewer offices/cubicles and less office furniture reduce costs for a company.  It is a win-win for employees and their companies.

Try It

Remote working is not for everyone or for every company.  Set up a remote working trial and see how it goes.  I think you will be surprised how it can improve productivity, create happier employees and save money.

For more information on setting up a virtual office and working remote, contact us today.  Click here and we can get you started.

Back to Basics: Screen Capture for Collaboration

One of the most simple and effective tools for sharing on-screen concepts and ideas in today’s technology-driven world is screen capture. In fact, it’s a tool I’ve come to use just about every day to communicate with my colleagues and clients. A picture is worth 1,000 words, as they say – and capturing an image from your computer screen allows you to communicate what you’re seeing – and why it matters – to another person in a way that eliminates the need for a long, wordy email explanation.

To help you get the most out of this often-overlooked tool, here are some ways I’ve come to use screen captures to collaborate, as well as some of the best tools out there to make it happen.

Sharing information

It’s not uncommon to want to share something you’ve seen or read with another person on your team.  You can take a screen capture and get an exact copy of the information or image in context and with the formatting intact.  Let’s say I have a question or want feedback on something I’m working on. It’s easy and fast to send an annotated screen capture like this:

screen-capture-collaboration

Presentations

You can create quick and informative diagrams and cut and paste them into blog posts and other presentations.  I use screen capture all the time in presentations; it’s a great way to teach your audience how to do something or show a process. Here’s an example of a screenshot showing the process one would go through to insert a SmartArt graphic into a Microsoft Word document.

screen capture collaboration

Emailing to a friend or colleague

A screenshot is incredibly handy if you’d like to quickly share something on your screen with a friend or colleague to help support a conversation – or just give them a quick look at something you’re seeing. For example, here’s a clip I sent to a colleague with annotation showing our different support options.

 

screen capture for collaboration

Preserving or saving important on-screen information

When I finished my taxes, there was a screen with information I had to print and save. Naturally, the page did not print (as it was a government website), so I used screen capture to save the proof that I did my taxes…ugh!

screen capturing information

Asking a question or getting information

When it’s hard to express a question you have about something you’re looking at on your screen, an annotated screen capture works well combined with a question.

screen capturing for collaboration

 

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When it comes to tools for screen capturing, there are many free and paid programs available. For the sake of brevity, I’ve compiled a quick list of some of the tools I use personally (and like).

I use both Windows and MacOS (and Linux) – here are some options for both:

Windows

 

Screenshot Captor

Screenshot Captor is super full featured and does just about anything you can think of in terms of capturing and editing/annotating screen captures. It’s extensive features satisfy my needs for the tool and then some. This tool is donationware and needs to be registered.

Greenshot

Also full featured and includes an image editor, Greenshot is open source and free to use.

Jing

Jing is simple, easy to use, and gets the job done. It’s free, but requires registration, will also record a 5 minute screen video with sound. I personally use this tool on my Mac and PC. It works the same on both operating systems.  (no learning curve)

Snipping Tool

The Snipping Tool comes with Windows; it’s already loaded and ready to go. It’s very basic and allows for minor editing, saving, and copy to clipboard.  If you’re having trouble finding it, simply search your computer for snipping tool and go.

Windows Snipping Tool

Pro Tip: Hit the Prt Scr key on your keyboard, then paste from clipboard (or Ctrl + V) – or hit the Alt + Prt Scr keys for active window capture

You can also set up OneDrive or Dropbox to automatically save screenshots created this way for later editing or sharing. These key commands are built into Windows and on most keyboards.

Mac

 

Skitch

Skitch has many features, and has both free and paid versions available. If you’re an Evernote user, this tool saves right to Evernote for you.

Jing 

Jing for Mac works the same as the Windows version – I use this for both PC and Mac, and there is no learning curve.

Press Command + Shift + 4 on your keyboard

This turns the cursor into a cross hair and allows you to draw a window to save. The screenshot will save as a PNG image to your desktop.

 

Screen capture is one of my most used productivity and collaboration tools.  Try incorporating it into your workflow, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see what a handy tool it is!

Next time, I’ll share my favorite tools for screen sharing over the web.

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