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VersaTrust has been serving the Texas area since 1997 , providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

7 Lessons Learned: Keeping Employees Productive at Home

7 Lessons Learned: Keeping Employees Productive at Home

Whether your business is looking to embrace remote work for the long haul or you’re bringing your employees back into the office full-time until a second wave happens, it’s clear that a new normal means there will be some amount of working from home required well into the future.

Use our 7 IT lessons from the COVID-19 shutdown as you figure out the new normal and prepare for potential shutdowns in the future.

1. It’s All About the Bandwidth

There are plenty of corners you can cut when you’re in a bind but having enough bandwidth isn’t one of them. Most people have enough one-way bandwidth to stream Netflix on a device or two. But that’s not enough for running business apps and videoconferencing – especially when kids are doing remote learning in the living room.

Lesson: Establish minimum bandwidth standards for employees who work from home. Many employees will already meet this standard, but those who don’t will lag and have trouble communicating and working collaboratively with their coworkers.

2. Unsecured Computers Don’t Belong on Your VPN

It’s a good security practice to have secure devices access your network through a virtual personal network (VPN) because it keeps people off your network who don’t belong there. Personal computers and unsecured devices are vulnerable and can bring threats to your network, giving hackers full access to your network, files, and applications.

Lesson: Provide workers with a secure laptop they can use in the office or at home. If this isn’t possible, have your IT services provider review and certify all personal devices.

3. WFH Employees Need Guidance

Without the four walls of your business around them as a reminder, it’s easy for staff members to forget important elements of your business’s culture, rules, and expectations. Maintaining an appropriate dress code for videoconferencing is one common standard that slips but there are plenty of others just as important.

Lesson: Establish clear, documented expectations for all aspects of working from home. These expectations and guidelines should include everything from processes, budgets, and technology requirements to dress code and videoconferencing etiquette.

4. Quality Phone Calls at Home

Poor quality voice calling is one of the most common problems we hear from clients and prospects who weren’t set up for remote work before COVID-19. For example, a large insurance company struggled with dropped calls and audio cutting in and out on client calls. This infuriated customers who felt their time was being wasted and annoyed employees whose productivity suffered considerably.

Lesson: Deploy a dedicated business communications suite. It’s the best thing you can do for remote workers and office-based employees alike. Make sure your IT provider reviews access and bandwidth needs.

5. You May Not Need Your Conference Room

Keeping a safe distance means your dedicated conference room won’t get the same kind of use it did before. Videoconferencing will continue to be an essential tool going forward. There are a lot of options and not all of them are equal. Consider how many clients you have, how many video calls will be active at once, and what your security and compliance needs are.

Lesson: Get a subscription to secure, business-grade videoconferencing. Videoconferencing has become too essential to trust to free services that allocate resources and support to paying customers.

6. There Is No Free Pass on Compliance

Some businesses made some concerning compromises to compliance to keep business running during the lockdown. Clinics and doctors turned to free, unsecured, non-HIPAA compliant services like Zoom to quickly deploy video telemedicine. A new normal means considering the compliance requirements anew. Government regulators won’t turn a blind eye to compliance requirements.

Lesson: Resolve compliance risks created during COVID. The longer you linger with non-compliance, the more trouble you invite.

7. The Days of Getting a Pass on Security Are Over

Now is the worst moment to have a breach. Sales are down for many businesses. Consumers are worried. Additionally, hackers have now had plenty of time to develop COVID and work-from-home-specific phishing attacks and have deployed them with great success.

Lesson: Train your team on cybersecurity now. Your employees are on the frontline in protecting your business against cyberattacks. Conduct regular cybersecurity training and update your training to account for current threats.

Look Forward But Don’t Ignore What We Just Went Through

As you reopen your business or transition your employees back to the office, take some time to review what worked and what didn’t during these past few difficult months. Work with an IT expert to make sure you have your bases covered.

VersaTrust is a security-first managed IT provider that can help map out your sustainable new normal. Call 817-595-0111 or contact us online.

6 IT Essentials You Simply Can’t Cut – and 3 You Can

During good times, businesses usually operate IT on the just enough and just in time standard. Often, this includes putting off upgrades and license renewals until the last moment in favor of cash-on-hand or other investments. However, much like a hospital that routinely operates at 98% of their bed capacity, when a downturn hits – like a global pandemic – there’s no surge capacity on hand.

When that happens, you find yourself playing a game of cash crunch. It goes like this: you’re tightrope-walking your budget while juggling priorities like thrashing chainsaws.

Though you might be tempted to cut all of your IT spending cold, doing so will end up costing you more than you aim to save.

CUTTING BUDGETS? DON’T CUT ESSENTIALS LIKE NETWORK SECURITY

Prevention and preparation are the best cure. In healthcare, that means vaccination and quarantine. In IT terms, it means:

  • Avoiding surprises – plan for updates and budget for your needs to avoid shocks and outages
  • Keeping warranties and licenses current – do not let these lapse
  • Installing the latest patches
  • Building out your infrastructure with a 30% cushion to accommodate surges in bandwidth needs

When your Fort Worth-area business faces a downturn, cutting the budget is usually necessary and there are some reasonable, risk-appropriate ways to reduce your IT costs. However, some IT assets should be protected at all costs because the risks are much higher than the savings.

These are the risks that a project-based client neglected to weigh before suffering a nightmarish ransomware attack that, while tragic, perfectly illustrates why you need network security.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF CUTTING THE WRONG IT ASSETS FROM THE BUDGET

The client, a 300-employee bank with $1B in assets, was struck with ransomware shortly after Texas enacted shelter-in-place orders. In the months leading up to the lockdown, we advised the bank about their expiring backup contract and urged them to renew before they lapsed. Feeling comfortable that their files were already backed up, they opted not to spend the money – with severe consequences.

One click causes big trouble
Amidst the flurry of legitimate COVID-19 related emails the bank received, an employee clicked on a phishing attack and the hacker got ahold of 30% of the bank’s data and demanded a ransom. As proof of their successful breach, the hacker posted a spreadsheet from the CFO’s system that contained all of the bank’s vendor passwords.

Insufficient data backup exacerbated the damage
Immediately upon identifying the breach, VersaTrust took measures to lock down the bank’s systems and access their data backup. With their storage contract lapsed, the vendor did not have all the backup data available. Days would go by until their support would handle the case.

A very costly click, indeed
As a result, a breach that shouldn’t have happened produced a system outage that lasted 24 hours. During that time, no ATM transactions, loans or other sources of revenue could take place for the bank. Moreover, with their vendor password list fully exposed, they had no choice but to pay tens of thousands to ransom their data.

6 IT ESSENTIALS YOU SHOULD NOT CUT – NOW OR EVER

When budgets do need to be thinned out, we strongly encourage you to engage your managed IT services provider to work with you to consider all the risks and make a new IT plan without leaving you exposed. The real-life example of our regional bank client illustrates how missing just one of these IT assets is too big a risk to take while reducing your budget.

  1. Firewalls and internet connections
    During the tumult of the COVID-19 crisis, connectivity infrastructure has proven to be very difficult to ramp up. Many vendors and service providers are short-staffed and overwhelmed with requests while, at the same time, businesses shifting to remote work setups usually require a substantial expansion in bandwidth and connectivity hardware.
  2. Warranties and service subscriptions
    Allowing the warranties and essential subscriptions to lapse on critical devices is extremely risky during a downturn and crisis. Servers, critical computers, core network components, and main switches are essential to maintain business operations. Running these devices without a warranty is like driving without insurance or headlights during a midnight hailstorm.
  3. Upgrades and patches
    Outdated systems are more prone to crashes. This is precisely what happened to a healthcare prospect of ours. It caused an outage that prevented them from seeing patients, and they lost desperately needed revenue during the coronavirus crisis.
  4. Basic network security
    Disruption of any kind creates an opportunity-rich environment for hackers. In these moments, they nearly always go after the easiest targets, not the most cash-heavy ones. That’s why downturns and periods of disruption are the times to tighten your cybersecurity measures, rather than cut them as our bank client learned.
  5. Backups
    Keeping your network secure requires backups. Our bank client lost an entire day of revenue because of not having a current backup service plan which would have allowed them to immediately recover from the attack and keep their revenues coming in.
  6. Employee cybersecurity training
    Most breaches happen or are exacerbated by a lack of cybersecurity training for employees. During a disruptive event like a global pandemic, employee cybersecurity training becomes even more important because employees are distracted.

It’s clear that a little bit of cybersecurity awareness training would have gone a long way to stop the bank’s tellers, clerks, and loan officers from opening an unexpected PDF attachment from the CFO, who had previously never emailed most of them. Few had the training, and most were preoccupied like so many of us are. Consequently, many employees clicked the link and were exposed.

3 AREAS YOU CAN REDUCE YOUR IT SPEND RIGHT NOW

These are the times that any good business knows to tighten the belt and avoid unnecessary expenses.

  1. Don’t support people who aren’t there
    Engage your IT provider in a review, or true-up, of your IT situation. You’re paying your IT services for a certain number of employees – and if you’ve let some go, or furloughed any, you don’t need to support that same number. A reputable IT partner will work with you to reduce your support costs accordingly – at least temporarily.
  2. Eliminate extra licenses
    Similarly, if you’ve reduced your workforce, then you may have software licenses that you no longer need to pay for. If you’ve increased your workforce, there may be a more affordable per-person price you are entitled to.
  3. Defer network upgrades – but extend warranties
    Though we normally recommend a lifespan of 5 years for most equipment, we’d be the first to advise that if you don’t have an IT budget, this isn’t the time to upgrade otherwise functioning and warrantied equipment. A temporary, but low-risk option, might be to defer the upgrade while extending the warranty on the existing hardware. If the warranty is going to expire without renewal options, plan to replace the equipment.

PREPARE FOR THE NEXT CRISIS AND A COVID-19 SECOND WAVE

You never know when a global pandemic might come out of China. Even though we’re all getting back to work, we recognize that many businesses are figuring out how to stay solvent, and we’re all wondering what impact the extended shelter-in-place orders will have on the economy.

Don’t cut anything from your IT budget without the support of a trusted security-focused IT professional first. Call us (817) 595-0111 or contact us online. We’ll help retool your IT budget safely and strategically.