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Reopening Your Office? Now’s a Great Time to Evaluate Your IT Infrastructure

As vaccination rates climb, many businesses are starting to think about reopening their offices and bringing back employees who have been working from home for the last year. That’s a big decision that will undoubtedly vary from company to company, but we’d like to suggest a few things to consider. Please contact us early in such deliberations so we can provide guidance before problems crop up.

Full Return or Hybrid Model?

Perhaps the biggest question firms will have to answer is if they’ll require all employees to return or if some can continue to work remotely. Many organizations have discovered that physical presence isn’t as important as they thought it was. In a post-pandemic world, many employees may prefer to continue working from home if they can, at least for a while.

If you decide on a hybrid model, you’ll want to put some thought into what technology you’ll need to enable hybrid meetings, with some people connecting remotely via videoconferencing software and others gathering in person. Large screens, specially mounted cameras, and dedicated speakerphone hardware may be necessary to conduct a hybrid meeting effectively.

With some workers remaining at home, it will also be important to ensure that everyone has appropriate access to on-premises servers. Obviously, that has been a problem for the last year as well, but it may be tempting to revert to old approaches upon reopening an office. That may not be effective in a new hybrid workplace, so check with us on cloud-based alternatives that could work better in the new world order.

Consider Your Physical Space

Particularly if you do decide on a hybrid model, it’s worth evaluating whether you need the same amount and type of space as you did before. There’s no single answer here. You don’t want to downsize your physical space only to discover in a few months that some of those employees who swore that they never wanted to come back feel that they’re missing out. Simultaneously, if your offices are a warren of small, poorly ventilated rooms, employees may be even more hesitant about returning.

Plus, your physical space is inherently related to your IT infrastructure, so don’t ignore the costs surrounding an office move. A new space might require pulling new Ethernet cables, testing Wi-Fi signal strength to ensure sufficient coverage, evaluating the cleanliness of the electrical power, and more.

We don’t mean to dissuade you from moving offices if that’s what makes the most sense for the future of your company, but talk to us before signing any new leases so we can help identify and head off any technical problems with the physical plant.

Finally, this isn’t related to IT, but if your existing office space has been entirely vacant for the last year, it’s worth reading the information that the Centers for Disease Control puts out to help employers create safe and healthy workplaces. Buildings don’t do well with prolonged shutdowns.

Does Network Infrastructure Need Updating?

Before you bring employees back, at least en masse, it’s also worth touching base with us about your IT infrastructure. If you’ve been limping along with sketchy Ethernet cabling, or if you have dirty power that could be damaging your Macs and peripherals, it’s a great time to consider addressing such problems. Pre-pandemic, attempting to install new electrical circuits or pull new network cabling might have been too disruptive, but with an office that’s empty or nearly so, such work can be done more quickly and cheaply.

Similarly, this could be a good time to replace aging computers, printers, or even phone systems. Such infrastructure upgrades and transitions can cause interruptions in normal times, but if you’re bringing people back, wouldn’t it be nice to have the office provide a better IT experience than it did before?

(Featured image by Shuki Harel from Pexels)


Social Media: If you’re having discussions about when and how to reopen your organization’s office, it’s worth thinking—and talking to us—about the role your IT infrastructure plays in such discussions. Learn more at:

How to Ask for Tech Support So You Get Good Answers Quickly

Need help with something? On occasion, we all need tech support. Speaking as the people who are sometimes on the other end of those requests for help, we have some suggestions on how to get the support you need as quickly as possible.

For instance, think about what we have to do if we receive an email message along the lines of “I keep getting a note that my backups aren’t working.” All we can tell from that message is that something may be wrong with the user’s backups. But without knowing what app they’re using and what the specific error is, we can’t even begin to recommend a solution. We’ll have to go back and forth to figure out what we need to learn to address the problem. By the end of the (possibly lengthy) process, the user and we may be quite frustrated.

So here’s a simple set of steps you can use to get to the heart of a troubleshooting problem whenever you’re communicating with tech support.

  1. Describe your setup as it relates to the problem. Whenever possible, be specific about what apps you’re using and include screenshots or videos. In our example above, this might involve saying, “I back up with Time Machine to an external hard drive. It has been working fine, but now I’m getting this error.” (Obviously, if you’re talking on the phone, it might not be possible to share a screenshot, but you can read it to the support rep.)
  2. Next, explain how you’ve tried to resolve the problem so tech support doesn’t automatically tell you to repeat the same actions. (They may anyway, just to confirm that you did everything properly, but it’s still a help.) You might say, “I clicked OK and let Time Machine try again, but I got the error on the next backup too. Then I launched Disk Utility, selected my Time Machine drive, and clicked First Aid.”
  3. Finally, explain what happened (or failed to happen) when you took the actions in the previous step. For instance, “First Aid also reported an error.”
  4. At this point, you may need to repeat Step 2 and 3 for each thing you tried, but you’ve given the support person enough for them to start recommending other courses of action. (In this case, we’d have you erase the drive using Disk Utility and see if that eliminated the error. Even if it did, we’d recommend that you get a new backup drive since you don’t want to depend on a potentially flaky drive for important backup data.)

The steps are a little different if you’re trying and failing to figure out how to accomplish some task. Try this script:

  1. I want to _____. State what you’re trying to achieve, and as before, make sure to say what apps you’re using. For instance, “I’m using Preview to read a PDF, and I want to print it with four pages per sheet of paper to avoid wasting hundreds of pieces of paper.”
  2. I tried ____. As before, explain what you’ve already attempted, as in: “In Preview’s Print dialog, I tried choosing 4 from the Copies Per Page menu.”
  3. What happened was _____. Finally, explain what happened after what you tried, and why it was wrong. “That caused me to get four copies of the same page in the preview, rather than four different pages.”
  4. Again, you may need to repeat Steps 2 and 3 for everything you tried, but in this case, we have all we need to explain that you need to click the Preview menu in the middle of the Print dialog, choose Layout, and then choose 4 from the Pages Per Sheet menu.

One last thing. It’s always important to explain your overall goal, rather than just ask a specific question. In the example above, for instance, saying that your goal was to reduce paper usage was helpful because we could then suggest that you select the Two-Sided checkbox near the top to print on both sides of the paper, cutting your paper usage in half.

So next time you need to contact tech support, make sure to use these tips, and you’ll likely get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.

(Featured image by Christina Morillo from Pexels)


Social Media: Do you have frustrating interactions with tech support? Follow our advice on how to talk to a support rep to get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.

Ever Wondered Which Words to Capitalize in a Title? Use Capitalize My Title!

When you’re writing a blog post or email newsletter, you’ll eventually hit the question of how to capitalize words in a title. There is no one right way, but just as with poor spelling and grammar, randomly capitalized titles can reduce reader trust in your knowledge, competence, and expertise. The trick is to pick a capitalization form and style guide to follow. There are two capitalization forms: title case (where important words are capitalized) and sentence case (which is capitalized like a normal sentence). Then there are a handful of major style guides, including the Associated Press Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. It’s never a bad idea to pick one and learn its rules, but for a quick shortcut, turn to the Capitalize My Title Web site. Click a style guide tab at the top, select a capitalization form, and paste or type your title. The site automatically applies the appropriate rules to your title. Press Return to copy it to the clipboard for pasting into your document.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Preparing Your Organization for a Possible COVID-19 Quarantine

As of this writing, the respiratory disease COVID-19 has caused nearly 3000 deaths and infected over 80,000 people worldwide. There are relatively few cases in North America currently, but that could increase significantly. For high-quality information about COVID-19, turn to the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For now, the Centers for Disease Control are recommending sensible precautions. They include regular hand washing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes (with your elbow), and staying home and avoiding public spaces if you’re feeling unwell. (These are smart things to do during flu season anyway, given that 10,000 people in the US have died of influenza already this season.)

What if local health officials were to declare a quarantine? Without lapsing into doomsday scenarios, it is always reasonable to make sure that you are personally ready for a natural disaster or other emergency. The Prepared has a detailed guide to help you prepare for a COVID-19 scare or quarantine.

We want to focus on how organizations—either those you run or work for—might prepare for a public health scare or possible quarantine, particularly in the context of your technology use. Here are our thoughts, and contact us if you want help with your preparedness plans.

Infection Prevention

If your organization has numerous employees or serves the public, put some thought into how you can reduce the chance of infection. That might include providing hand sanitizer dispensers, wiping down frequently touched surfaces with household cleaners, and a more frequent cleaning schedule for restrooms.

For an Apple-specific tip, try using or encouraging the use of Apple Pay to reduce the need to touch credit card terminals!

Also, it’s best to avoid shaking hands with customers and colleagues. Perhaps the Japanese custom of bowing will gain traction elsewhere in the world.

Internal Communications

In the event that public health officials discourage people from gathering, think about how your company will communicate internally with people working from home. Many organizations allow such flexibility now anyway, so it’s likely that yours has at least informal communication channels via phone and email, and chat systems like Slack.

Consider formalizing those channels if need be, and if your directory service doesn’t already contain this information, publish a list of phone numbers and email addresses so everyone can contact co-workers easily. If your organization relies on IP telephony, make sure everyone understands how to use softphones or can configure an office phone at home. If you have a switchboard, investigate how it can be operated remotely.

If your organization’s email system is usually available only from computers owned by the organization, make sure webmail access is enabled and that everyone understands how to access it. Similarly, it’s worth making sure everyone has email access from their phones.

Chat systems like Slack or Microsoft Teams can be effective ways for far-flung groups to communicate because they provide real-time communication segregated into topic- or group-specific channels. If you’re not already using such a system and would like to investigate adding it to your communications strategy, contact us for advice.

Remote Access to Organizational Services

For connectivity to office-based file servers and other systems, make sure everyone has access to your VPN and knows how to use it. (Don’t have a VPN, or virtual private network? Again, call us—a VPN is an essential way to provide remote access while ensuring security.)

Are there any specialized servers or services, such as an accounting system, that have security safeguards related to specific access points? Think about what additional access may need to be provided for an employee working from home.

Physical Environment

If most or all employees are working from home, what does that mean for your office? Do physical security systems or climate settings need to be adjusted? Do you want to set up video cameras or other remote monitoring hardware? Who’s going to water the plants? On a more serious note, if you have on-premises servers, make sure they can be administered entirely remotely, including power cycling.

It’s also worth determining who will have responsibility for the office in the event of problems, which could still occur even if no one is there. What if a water pipe in the building breaks, or there’s a burglary? Make sure it’s clear who will respond.

Business Functions

Think about the regularly scheduled aspects of running the business, with an eye toward those that might assume the presence of certain people. Can they run payroll, accounts receivable, and accounts payable remotely? Make sure that every key position has at least one backup, so if one person falls ill, the organization’s ability to function won’t be compromised.

If international travel is a significant part of your organization’s mission, you’re already figuring out how to compensate through videoconferencing and similar technologies. But if you regularly travel only within the country or your area, think about which trips are essential and which can be replaced using online conferencing tools.

Finally, consider how your clients and customers will react to the situation. It’s unfortunately likely that there will be less work taking place, so you may see decreased revenues, but certain organizations may see an increased workload. For instance, if the number of patients in hospitals skyrockets, those who support healthcare systems may struggle under the load alongside the doctors and nurses.

We certainly hope that all these preparations prove unnecessary, but they’re worthwhile regardless. Too many businesses have failed after a fire, hurricane, or earthquake renders an office uninhabitable, and such natural disasters are all too common. As the Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared.”

(Featured image based on an original by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)


Social Media: How would your organization react to a COVID-19 scare or quarantine? Here’s how you can use technology to respond to such an event.