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If the year 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the world can change at the drop of a hat. As a business owner, you’re likely feeling pressure to be ready when (not if) disaster strikes.
To accomplish this, you’ll need a trusted partner to help you prepare your vital IT infrastructure for when that proverbial hat… drops. That’s where we come in. With Keystone’s Business Continuity planning, the key technological components of your organization will never be at risk – giving you and your team complete peace of mind, 24/7/365.
What is a Business Continuity Plan and what should go into it?
Keystone Technology Consultants in Akron, Ohio provides expert business continuity solutions that are fully comprehensive and ready to be deployed the instant a crisis arises. Each of our plans include the following essential elements:
- A set of definitions: This important document, which is usually maintained by the IT department, may contain terms such as “Active Data Systems”, or “Reduced Performance.” Efforts should be undertaken to ensure that these terms are defined in a way that a business leader will understand. This will allow key players in your organization to assess the cost and capabilities of your disaster recovery process.
- A network diagram: This is an important tool utilized by your IT personnel to see what systems are in play, along with their locations and characteristics. By including specific details like location, the team can quickly assess and respond to a local issue such as a fire or flooding and pinpoint where that issue is taking place.
- A list of locations: In conjunction with the network diagram, this shows the specific location (address, room #, etc.) of all your major technological assets.
- A flowchart of the process to be enacted when a disaster occurs: This includes common tasks which are often overlooked, like communication, equipment provisioning, and system restore points.
- Communication and Operations Plan: This crucial planning document describes each system (where system is an application that the organization uses regardless of server), and what the plan will be for various periods of downtime. This is normally viewed across multiple time lines of unavailability, such as 0-4 hours, 4-24 hours, etc. For example, if the shipping system is unavailable for 0-4 hours, the plan may be to hold shipments in staging area, but after 4 hours to use a manual process to continue shipping. The business personnel who “own” each system should also be identified and engaged with as these periods are experienced.
- Key Personnel: A list of all key personnel with contact info, this is useful when initiating and communicating during a disaster. It should also include the systems they would be responsible for where applicable.
- Backup and Restore Plans: A list of all systems which details when they are backed up, how and where they are backed up, and approximately how long each backup will take to complete. A solid backup and restore plan is extremely helpful when troubleshooting system performance issues. It should also include a comprehensive restore plan.
- Reporting and Review: A description of how backup systems report results, and who reviews them for errors and resolution. Backups are of no value unless that can be restored when needed.
- Key Vendor Contacts: Often disasters are either caused by vendors, or resolved by them. For example, your internet access may be lost, so having the contact information is essential.
Keystone’s Business Continuity plans are tailored to your unique situation, provide a comprehensive way for you to understand the risks your business faces, and to restore business operations quickly and seamlessly when the need arises. These plans are typically 15-20 pages in length and are a valuable asset to your organization for many reasons, including the following:
- They are essential when a disaster occurs. As previously mentioned, it’s far too late to start planning for disaster when the middle of one. With a business continuity plan you can rest assured, knowing that your business is safe and protected.
- They are great risk assessment tools. This is important because mitigating risk has a cost, and the best way to manage that cost is to view it as an investment against loss of access. Keystone’s plans allow you to do this in a way that you (not just your IT team) can understand.
- They can reduce your insurance costs. Business insurance providers often look for a comprehensive plan, and provide lower costs when they see one.
Keystone Technology Consultants offers your organization a complete, comprehensive set of fully managed IT services, including your Business Continuity plan. We can be your sole IT provider or can work in conjunction with your existing IT department – whatever suits your business best.
Contact Keystone today by submitting the form below to see how we can improve your Business Continuity capabilities. We look forward to speaking with you!
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In this help guide, we want to share ways your workers can work from home. While this is in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many are finding it productive and helpful to work remotely. There are two areas we will focus on, some useful tips to connect to your corporate network, and using Microsoft Teams to stay productive and connected.
Remote Access for Working from Home
For most clients, Keystone provides a Virtual Private Network (VPN), so you can connect to the corporate network and operate as if you were in the office. Your organizational leaders must approve remote access. While connected to this VPN, you will have:
- Access to any servers, printers, other PCs, etc. as if you were in the office. There are limitations, see below.
- Data sent between your remote PC and the corporate network will be encrypted and secure during transmission for better security.
- Some protections your corporate network provides will be available to you, such as the services on the firewall that block malicious threats. Still, generally, you will be less secure than when in the network on a corporate PC.
- Your traffic will be observed and managed as if you were in the office. For example, in many cases, if the corporate network prohibits Facebook access, you cannot visit Facebook while on the VPN.
Limitations and a Word About Home PCs
If you are using a home PC (non-corporate) to access the network, there are limitations you may experience when compared to working on your PC in the office. One of these is mapped shared drives; if your office PC has an assigned “S” drive for shared files, that will not be setup on your home PC. There are other ways to create this map or access the data, but it will not be the same immediately after connecting. An additional, and probably obvious limitation is that applications installed on your office PC will not be installed on your home PC, so the ERP or CAD application you use in the office is not available.
Ideally, you would have a laptop and take that home and connect to the VPN; you would have a reasonably similar experience as in the office. If you will be working remotely for an extended period, and have a desktop PC at the office, it may be advisable to bring this home and use it.
There are other limitations you may experience, primarily in performance. The document linked below describes this.
Ready to get connected?
To get your home PC connected, and the leadership of your organization has approved it, download the instructions for remote access. Keystone cannot provide support for home networks, PCs, or personal internet service providers.
A lot of organizations are finding Microsoft Teams a great help in this time of social distancing and working remotely. Keystone has been using Teams for about two years and has found it to be even more critical with the Covid-10 challenges. We wanted to share a quick overview of what Teams can offer for functionality, and some helpful tips we found in using it, and finally links to helpful training videos and resources.
What Microsoft Teams Offers
Microsoft Teams offers a platform for communicating in real-time or as needed right out of the box. It can tie your employees together, and even outsiders like customers or vendors to share information in a variety of ways. Here, we summarize the most important functions.
|Chat||One on One or group chats like quick text messages, but allows adding attachments, sharing images, and moving smoothly to a voice or video chat, or sharing your screen.|
|Voice Calls*||Allows one on one or conference calls, from the native client, or a dedicated desk phone.|
|Conference Calls*||Similar to most conferencing services, Teams allows many people to call in using the Teams client or a toll-free number.|
|Video Calls*||Video calls with webcams for one on one or multiple participants. See below for a tip on this.|
|File Sharing||Microsoft built Teams on Microsoft SharePoint, so every team comes with a document library for sharing files for that team, along with a OneNote notebook, and other functions.|
|Screen Sharing||Share your screen, or a specific application window with others to collaborate on a document.|
|Multiple platforms||While Teams can be used in your web browser, there are native clients for Windows, MacOS, IOS, and Android.|
* Some features require an additional license or equipment.
Helpful Tips for Implementing or Using Teams
In our use, we found the following was helpful.
- Use Zoom, or something similar, for larger video conferences. Zoom does not offer most of what Teams does, but in video conferencing with more than 8-10 participants, it provides much better results. Teams is now limited to four active webcams being displayed and promise to expand to nine soon, but Zoom’s performance in larger meetings is superior. Note that the free version of Zoom is limited to meetings of forty minutes. If you do use, Zoom, set a meeting password!
- Organize your teams around the natural teams in your organization, so have a team for sales, accounting, operations, etc. You may also consider cross-functional teams – like a “Strategic Planning” team, or a “Project XYZ” team, with members from multiple departments.
- Limit who can create Teams. While it is so convenient to quickly create a new team, it is better to thoughtfully plan teams so the information is in places people can reliably find.
- Set a team, or at least a channel in a team, as a “water cooler” and encourage fun, personal posts here. It will attract a lot of attention, especially when employees are forced to stay home, and therefore speed the adoption and effectiveness of Teams. Include everybody here; it is a free for all!
- Spend little money on expensive webcams – Expensive, high-resolution webcams use more bandwidth, which detracts from other capabilities, including voice transmissions. The quality of the sound is more important, so a good microphone is a better investment, but generally, whatever you have will work fine.
- Use Polly for surveys – third-party developers have created add-in Apps for teams that extend the functionality. There are a lot of these available from the “Apps” option, but the one we found very helpful is “Polly.” Polly allows you to quickly create surveys and collect info from team members, like “where should we order lunch from?” or “What should we charge for delivery fees?”.
Links to Training Resources
The first place to look for help is right inside of Teams itself! Microsoft has built a lot of quick videos, short reads, and longer documents, all available from the Help menu, check it out!
Beyond that, we found these resources helpful:
- Learn Microsoft Teams in 7 minutes (Video: 7 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ojm-SkL_zE
- How to use Microsoft Teams, a demo tutorial (2019) – from the Microsoft Team product manager (Video: 15 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH2seLS5Wb0
- Microsoft Teams Full Basic Tutorial And Best Practices Training 2020 (Video: 46 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mpX_dfYCUE
- Microsoft Teams End User Training Site – a comprehensive set of videos and documents giving overviews and details on various aspects of Microsoft https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/enduser-training
How to Effectively Work from Home
Keystone has published a helpful article, Ten Tips to Work Remotely, on working from home and remaining productive and satisfied, which you and your users may appreciate.
Contact Keystone’s support help desk if you need help getting Microsoft Teams set up in your organization!
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In this time of concern about health and contact with others as a response to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, many are facing working at home for an extended period. We enjoy high connectivity and tend to work when not in the office, but it is often limited to checking our email on the phone, or perhaps an occasional day at home. But it is different between “getting” to work at home for a day and being forced to indefinitely. To prepare for remote work for the next few weeks, consider the following tips. With good habits, you will likely find you are more productive, but potentially less satisfied; these should help.
I have worked at home a lot and can share my perspective. At one point, I worked at home every day for about three years in 1996-1998 before the internet. I have consistently worked at home since then. It can be great and can be a problem, so let me share a few personal tips.
- Establish boundaries of time and space; don’t let personal and work pool into one another. Co-workers make jokes about “working” from home, with a wink, but the threat for those who enjoy what they do is that it will begin to take over the entire day. When I worked at home in the 90s, I quickly found that if nothing was going on in the evening with family, I migrated back to the home office and picked up where I left off, which often resulted in my return to the rest of the house now dark and with everybody sleeping; this is not healthy for family life. I encourage you to do two things.
- Have a specific area that is for work and keep it that way. Set up on the dining room table or spare bedroom and work When you complete the day, shut things down and walk away. When you need to work, be there.
- Establish rigid work hours – Get up and get ready and start on time; not 1 minute late. Prepare and dress like you are going to the office as much as possible. Finish on time and ring a bell or knock on the wall; the workday is complete!
- If you have a family at home, particularly small children, you may not be able to work the standard 8:00 am – 5:00 pm hours but should still create a schedule you can hold as much as possible. You may have to start earlier, then stop for a bit to make breakfast for the little angels, and get them on a plan for the day, and then go back to work for a bit, etc. You will find that breakfast time to be precious, so don’t gloss over the great talks you can have but do have a way to get back to work when needed. You may have more interruptions later, so review your space and schedule to take advantage of the times when you can do deep work uninterrupted (infant nap times, etc.). Make it work for you and communicate your schedule to others (Additional tips for work at home parents).
- Have a plan for the day. Create a list of tasks, scheduled calls, and online meetings. The best time to do it is the night before; it is a gift to your future self, so you do not become overwhelmed as soon as you start. Nothing can be more challenging than an open day with what feels like a lot to do, so plan. Use applications like Microsoft Outlook for tasks, or check out Todoist or TickTick. Schedule the day first with the necessary calls or online meetings, and fill the rest with functions that are on your calendar. Tasks take time, schedule them.
- More than just a plan to do some things, create a schedule using a time box or blocking technique and combine it with the Pomodoro technique for sprints throughout the day with planned breaks. One of the articles linked below expands on this, and this technique is excellent to keep you focused and give you breaks.
- Keep track of your work and progress against tasks, productivity measures, etc. Make it a game with a score. Todoist does this very well, with karma points that mean nothing, but like Facebook “likes,” they feel good and provide psychological momentum to complete tasks.
- Take lunch! Unwind, take a quick walk around the block, and get back to work on time. In normal circumstances, I suggest going out for lunch, but in this pandemic requiring “social distancing,” that is not advisable. Do have a good meal in a place other than where you work.
- Make sure your technology will support you. Some of this will require your organization to provide remote access to files, email, and applications. There should also be something that allows quick communication with your team, which could be text messaging, but a much better solution is Microsoft Teams. Some additional technology tips:
- Use the work device issued to you, like a laptop. It is highly unlikely that home PCs are configured or secured for remote It is not advisable to use anything but a company-issued device.
- Cell phone tip: Use earpieces or speakerphone capabilities for hands-free operation, and keep your devices charged.
- Have a stable internet connection; this includes speed (e.g., 100 Mbps), latency (how long do connections take to get started), and reliability (uptime). You may consider calling your provider and seeing what upgrades they offer, and often a call will get you a free update because the new standard is higher than you currently have.
- Have a robust infrastructure in your home, which includes devices like cable modems and routers/wi-fi access points. If your equipment is over three years old, there is probably an upgrade from the provider or local Best Buy that will improve capabilities. In full disclosure, Keystone does not support home networks or devices; there are too many variables to do this. Therefore, make sure you or a local geek squad can help you make sure your home network is secure and performing well. Or ask your teenage child.
- Watch the usage of your connection. Because schools are also closing and kids may be home, their use of the internet connection for games and videos will affect your access speeds. Encourage them to do something “real” that does not involve using the internet. The congestion will also occur because some internet connection types are affected by others in your neighborhood, so when many people are forced to work at home, anything to reduce traffic helps you and others.
- Communicate just like you were in the office – the tools you have should not leave you alone. Communicate status, problems, victories, and need for help. Then communicate some more.
- Avoid isolation. Some of you, particularly singles, need to stay connected. When I first came to Keystone, we had a staff of many singles and played Halo or other Xbox games on Tuesday evenings. Start a tournament with each other, play online games, watch a movie together while you are chatting in Microsoft Teams, etc. Stay connected!
- Review your week and plan the next one – For years, I have taken about 30-60 minutes each week on Saturday morning to review my week and plan the next one. I color code my calendar so I can quickly know how I spent my time (“strategy,” “admin,” “personal,” etc.) and how I plan the next week. A weekly review is a high point to consider the structure of my workday to make changes and get the most out of it for everybody that relies on me—this the time to review your workspace, schedule, and tools.
And here are some helpful additional articles and pointers on the subject to be more productive.
We hope these tips are helpful. We at Keystone want you to stay safe and productive in these perilous times!