|Communicating and socialising is an elemental human need. If you are restricted to your home, effective communication tools will be critical, and for many working from home will become the norm for a while. So, if you are new to remote working or isolation, here’s some stuff that might help you be more productive and safe! |
We thought we should highlight some additional tools to make remote working – or communication with friends and family – practical and straightforward. It is quite long, but hopefully worth reading! It’s essentially a guide to contemporary business toolkits…
|Video calling, virtual meetings & conferencing|
Beyond old fashioned telephone/voice only calling (landline and mobile), you’ll probably already have some useful free video calling app’s on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Unless otherwise stated, these VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) applications are all available for Apple iOS and Android on mobile devices, and Apple MacOS, and Windows computers): Facetime (Apple devices, with an AppleID/account only), Skype (requires a Microsoft account), Google Hangouts (particularly for Gmail account holders, due to its integration into things Google), Facebook Messenger, Wire, and WhatsApp, which is probably the best overall, as it doesn’t require an account – just a mobile phone number, provides end-to-end encryption, and has group video calling.
For business purposes there are more professional applications, which have additional screen sharing, team collaboration (file sharing etc), and full conferencing features (including telephone call-in, recording), and these offer free plans: our favourite, Zoom – group chat limit of 40 mins, up to 100 participants; Webex (from Cisco) – no call time limits, up to 100 participants; and GoToMeeting – £9.50 per month (free 14 day trial). Microsoft’s solution, Teams is heavily integrated into their 365 Business packages, however the free offering includes web versions of their Office suite, supports file and screen sharing, and online document collaboration, Then there’s Slack (see below).
Due to current circumstances, some providers have upgraded their free services to increase usage and participant numbers.
If you’re working on a computer, a microphone and/or webcam will be required, although most modern laptops have these built-in.
By the way, if you suffer from poor mobile phone reception, be aware that EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three all offer Wi-Fi Calling in some form, which will provide you with a phone signal via your wi-fi.
|Collaboration, file sharing and synchronisation |
There are significant problems with distributing documents simply as email attachments: from the practical (file size limitations etc), to version control (ensuring everyone’s looking at the latest copy). There are various solutions to these issues, some of which you may already have available as features of your existing accounts.
The likes of WeTransfer and WeSendIt are great free tools which enable you to simply upload and send very large files and folders which might otherwise not be possible via email.
If you have many files and folders which need to be shared (but don’t reside on an office-based server, Network Attached Storage drive, or shared workstation – and so cannot be accessed via a VPN, see below), chances are that your business already has a cloud-based solution in place. If not, here’s a brief summary of their basic features: online file storage (usually with offline access via a ‘local’ desktop folder), file synchronisation (automatically keeping local and online versions up-to-date), local computer file backup, secure sharing, file transfer, and most offer live (real-time) collaboration (ie. multi-user access to – and editing of – the same file), file versioning, and integration with 3rd party applications (often including their competitors!).
Dropbox is a well-known vendor, offering a free Basic account with 2GB of storage. If you have a Gmail account or employ other Google services, you will have 15GB of free Google Drive storage, which is deeply integrated into their product suite. OneDrive is similarly integrated into Microsoft’s Office 365 packages, with a free 5GB standalone version. Microsoft also offer SharePoint, their sophisticated, business process oriented, company intranet and filing application.
An alternative approach
Another popular communication and collaboration tool is Slack, a secure instant messaging platform that also includes file storage sharing and video calling. Slack markets itself as a more immediate internal business communication, project management and file sharing alternative to email, and offers many of the same features as the other tools mentioned, however its stand-out appeal is its interface. And there’s a free version.
Project management, ToDo lists etc
As we’ve touched on this, we’ll just say that tools like Trello provide sophisticated team and project management, with file uploads and integration with 3rd party applications.
Finally, we should mention the Zoho suite of tools, some of which we employ here at ComputerPro.
We know that this can all be quite confusing, as the stand-alone solutions tend to combine features from across these loose categories, integrate with other vendors’ complementary products, as well as often forming part of an integrated suite of tools.
|VPNs and Remote Desktop Connections|
If you’re having to work from home in the coming weeks, we can help you set up a remote connection to your office, or access to the resources necessary for you to get on with your job.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a secure and effective means of achieving this. Quite presciently (!), we posted a newsletter and detailed blog about VPNs only recently.
Basically, employing a VPN allows you to access the internet while safe behind a firewall that protects your confidential information by establishing a secure, encrypted connection. Furthermore it enables you to browse anonymously, plus access geographically restricted content from any location. VPN software can be installed on more or less any device.
VPNs are frequently used to securely connect remote workers’ computers directly to their office network and access their file storage, intranet etc. (particularly if the organisation hasn’t yet moved its resources to the ‘cloud’).
They are also very useful for those of us:
• watching geographically restricted media (eg. BBC iPlayer, Netflix), websites and social media from abroad;
• browsing and communicating securely when connected to an unsecured public or ‘open’ wi-fi network (particularly important when online banking or shopping, and submitting personal information); and,
• allowing remote workers to securely connect their personal devices to their business services (eg. email, cloud storage), or safely use their work devices online, particularly if using a public hotspot.
Please be aware that all applications you use in the office will need to be installed on any secondary machine (personal laptop etc) intended to be used to access the business network.
Remote Desktop Connection
If you have a dedicated (ie. not shared) office computer which is not mobile or practical to take away, it is worth mentioning that there is an alternative – and secure – method of remotely connecting directly to that machine (which will need to switched on!), and working with it remotely: this negates the need to install all applications on the remote device, which can be particularly useful if there’s an issue with licences or incompatible software, eg. Windows only applications can be operated remotely from an Apple/Mac.
There are a number of remote desktop connection (RDC) applications to choose from, free and paid, such as RemotePC, TeamViewer, LogMeIn and Chrome Remote Desktop.
For a full explanation, click here to read our VPN guide
|Should the wi-fi coverage in your house be inadequate for your new working arrangements, or doesn’t reach your garden office (previously known as ‘the shed’!), we can advise on – or provide – the best solution for you. |
Please be aware that, due to increased numbers of people – especially children – now at home, your internet speeds may be noticeably reduced, as domestic broadband connections are shared.
Remember too that if your broadband speed or access is inadequate, you can employ your mobile data (phone) network via a USB 4/5G ‘dongle’ on your computer, or by tethering to your phone.
Please bear in mind that there may well be data limits on your mobile phone tariff, and some broadband packages still have download limits which could easily be exceeded by your increased workloads.
|Some further remote working considerations |
Data protection and security should be a significant concern, particularly if you handle client or staff information.
Now is a good time to review the data that you process, and your security and privacy policies and practices: from ensuring you have ongoing and tested backups of all your stuff (documents, spreadsheets, music, pictures etc), to thorough virus and malware protection. Consider encrypting your data, only using complex passwords, secured wi-fi networks, a VPN, and two-factor authentication.
If you hold or process any data (most likely for an organisation – business, charity, club etc), you and they are obliged to establish whether that includes anything which can be defined as ‘personally identifiable information’ (PII), and if so, consider what, when, why and how. Every organisation processing PII – from local charity or sports club, sole trader to large company – must be compliant with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which became enforceable in May 2018.
It’s doubtful whether the Information Commissioner’s Office will be any more lenient towards breaches through enforced home working than at any other time!
Phishing email always follow the headlines, so be vigilant for scams. Our spam folders have multiplied in recent days. To take a look at Which’s new article CLICK HERE.
Mobile devices are rarely out of our hands, and keyboards and mice host a horrible level of germs, so please don’t forget to clean your tech! … especially if it’s being shared.
|We have parts – such as webcams – in stock, and have some PCs and laptops available for loan or hire.|
We can support you, wherever you are (providing you have an internet connection), by using our easily installed remote assistance software (otherwise we can talk you through your connection issue).
From a slow machine to email or cloud services issues, we can undertake most support needs remotely.
Hoping you stay safe and well.