It seems to dominate the news around the world at the moment. I’m talking, of course, about this horrible Coronavirus pandemic.
Touchwood, my family and I are all well at the moment. Although we did cut short our trip and came back to Israel early. We are in Self Isolation at the moment as the rules here are anyone coming home from abroad must quarantine for 14 days. Our neighbours have been amazing dropping off essential supplies and I have done my online shopping here for the first time too.
Please do follow the advice given by the health experts and do all you need to do to take care.
It may not feel as if there’s much good news around but life and business do go on.
And in a curious way, the response to the outbreak of COVID-19 does create opportunities for the VA who has got to grips with all the collaborative power that Microsoft Office offers.
As you may have seen on the news, many big brand companies – including Apple, Amazon and Google – are encouraging employees to work remotely.
Their corporate lead will be followed by smaller businesses, for sure.
To be successful, remote working requires excellent communications and access to collaborative tools.
Microsoft Teams is one of the solutions to that challenge. It offers:
Secure flow and storage of information in one central place
Voice or video calls and meetings, linking inside and outside the organisation
Chat messaging between groups or teams within the company
Real-time and easy collaboration on documents
Flexible channel and project setups for how you work best
In a world where agile working is one of the hottest trends, companies are looking for reliable solutions to help get the best out of their teams.
Because of this virus outbreak, we’re going to see – for many, many months ahead at least – businesses using fewer in-person huddle, scrums or micro meetings.
As increasing numbers look to remote working, they are going to be making more use of the collaborative functions provided by tech giants like Microsoft.
That means there’s likely to be a sudden spike in the demand for and use of the Teams tool.
If you are a VA who is already using it – and knows it inside out – you are going to have a ready advantage in the market.
Not only will you be able to demonstrate to prospects and clients your expertise in working with Teams. You will also be able to help less-confident clients set things up, and maybe even train some of their people.
Because Teams is also a great productivity tool, you and those you serve will both benefit.
If you haven’t done so already, ensure you highlight your Teams credentials on your website, in your marketing and during your conversations.
Don’t assume people know what you do or what you know. Tell them.
I’m not making light of what’s going on out there in each country, it really has shocked the world. But to survive and thrive in business you do have to see opportunities and take action.
Not in an unethical, money-grabbing or selfish way, of course. That’s not how a professional VA would ever act.
When you operate in service of others, you can put your hand on your heart and say you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Businesses need our help. Go serve them the best way you know-how.
If you’re not yet familiar with how to use Microsoft Teams you can always get up to speed with my online course.
It covers all the essentials you need to get started and use it with clients. How to set it all up, how to use ‘channels’, how to use the chat, how to run meetings, and how to collaborate the smarter way with documents.
Learn at your own pace, where you want, when you want. The course is yours for life so you can pop back in whenever you need a quick refresher.
As a Microsoft Office user, you will know that regular updates are part and parcel of the service.
Applications are refreshed and improved – often based on customer feedback.
It’s reassuring to know the software is up to the job.
But what about your computer?
If you’ve recently bought one, that should be fine. It should serve you well for a good few years.
But what if your laptop, desktop or business tablet is getting on in years? Are you confident it is going to last the distance?
I know people who have an ‘ancient’ MacBook just about on its last legs. Solid and stylish ‘workhorse’ machines that have been hammered very hard, week in week, out for many years.
The laptops take longer to start. The hard drive grumbles or crashes. They re-start without warning because of an “issue”.
And it’s no different with Windows machines that have also given great service over the long years.
They start to feel the strain, too.
Or you may have started out with one of those cheaper computers to keep initial costs down. That was probably a sensible move at the time. Butsomewhere along the line,the machine may not have the power or speed to match your professional needs.
At some point, you are going to have to consider investing in a replacement, either new or refurbished.
And naturally, ensure you keep or add the latest version of Microsoft Office with it.
When looking at what computer to buy it’s best to think about how you will use it – now and as your VA business grows.
You might want to consider the following.
If you are doing a lot of design work – for example, graphics, logos, infographics, simple video editing, e-books or PDF guides – you may want a desktop or laptop with a larger screen. Typically that screen is 15 inches or more.
If you love the versatility and portability of a smaller laptop or tablet, you could connect it to a large screen monitor instead. It makes detailed design work so much easier on the eye.
This is an area where you might want to get some advice, from a computer store, online or from a friend who’s into their tech.
In simple terms, the more you need your computer to do, the more ‘power’ you want it to have. This is made up of the RAM, storage capacity and processor speed.
The higher the numbers, the more powerful (and therefore pricier) the machine.
Take into account that if you use more cloud-based storage you may need less physical hard drive space.
Best to go for the most power you can afford. There’s nothing worse than having your professional efficiency held up by the hardware dragging its heels.
If you are a touch typist, you will appreciate a good quality keyboard. It can make the difference between smooth, efficient and seemingly effortless typing – and slow or clunky operation.
If possible, pop into a store and try out a few keyboards so you can feel the difference and get to know which brands suit your style.
Some cheaper set-ups can look and feel very plasticky. You have to wonder if they will last the distance.
If you work almost entirely from home or have an office desk space, you may be happy with a Windows desktop or iMac.
You may find you work a bit from home, a bit using hotdesking and maybe even a bit in cafes. If that’s the case, you may be more likely to prefer a laptop or a serious tablet.
Size and weight may be factors for you but also remember you want a machine that can handle the tasks you do (or are likely to do) with ease.
And if you love compact style for carrying around but want a larger screen for working at home, you can always invest in a computer monitor to link to your laptop.
New Versus Refurbished
Years ago there would only have been one choice. Replace the old with the new.
But today you have another option – go the refurbished route.
Whether you are Apple or Windows, you will be able to find a computer with great specs at a reduced price.
You choose what level of ‘used’ machine you want. Some will have dents or scratches. Some will look like they have just come out of the box.
The important thing is to trust that the computer will be reliable and work as good as new.
As with any other important purchase, it’s a case of buyer beware.
Do your research.
Check out the company’s credibility.
See what others are saying about the refurb retailer.
Ask questions if you’re unsure about anything.
Compare prices – if something seems like it’s ‘too good to be true’, it probably is. There are many legitimate retailers out there but it pays to be careful.
That advice applies when you are buying new, too, of course.
If you know your price range and you know you’re going to replace your current computer in five years, you can work out a ‘saving-up-for-it’ plan.
Alternatively, you could look into leasing and monthly repayment options to spread the cost.
And with a new computer, it’s always a good time to review your Microsoft Office skills.
We all have wireless devices that need the internet, so it becomes something that we expect wherever we go. We expect to be able to connect to a someone’s WiFi for the internet, especially when we visit a friend’s home. But are there any risks to that? It’s quite interesting we’d never dream of getting a laptop out at a friend’s house and connecting to their router with a cable, but wirelessly we expect to be given the password, and we give it, as if its not a real connection to our network as there are no physical wires. The problem is that it is exactly the same as being connected to your network with wires. When you have guests connect to your WiFi, they are connected to the network where all your business computers are.
What risks does this bring?
The biggest risk is internally shared data and devices. The person connecting to your network can communicate with all of those devices on that network, your computers, printers, NAS drives, lights, sound system, heating and possibly your fridge or kettle. All of which have varying degrees of security, from within the network, after all, the only people connecting to your network would be someone you trust.
However, what if it is a client? A friend of your child? Friends of friends over for a party? Who would you say “No you may not use my internet” to? If these strange devices you have no control over are on your network, do you know how security conscious the “guest” is? The NHS Ransomware of 2017 spread because 1 computer got infected within the network and none of the others had any protection against it from an attack within the network.
The next issue is that we never change the password. So, while we’ve given it out to everyone who comes into our house or business, their devices remember this password so they can use our internet whenever they are in our vicinity again, and never need permission. Why don’t we change the password? Because we then have to update our Laptops, printers, several phones, several tablets, TV’s, consoles, light systems, heating systems, fridge and kettles and so on….
What can you do?
The answer is simple. Create a guest WiFi. Most routers have this ability inside their settings, it just needs to be activated. A guest WiFi creates another WiFi network which normally ends with the word “-Guest”. It is a completely separate network where each device is isolated and can only see the internet, nothing else.
You can then freely share that password with anyone, and even change it often, so that those devices can’t be sitting outside our home or business using our internet. You can change the password easily and frequently, because you will not have to update all your devices, When your guests come back to visit you can give them the new password. You won’t need to reconnect all your own devices, as you are connected to the main network and the passwords are different for both WiFis.
This is all done from the router. You will need to access the web interface of the router to see if it is a feature you have (please note Internet Providers give a free router, and routers can cost from £20 to £350), some times it is worth investing in your own router as it will be better quality and include these extra features. For a home user approx. £100, for a small business office £150-£250 depending on their specific requirements. The router will work with all internet connections as long as the same type. i.e. Fibre/ADSL/VDSL – going from Talk Talk to PlusNet isn’t a change of technology. The only time there is a change of technology is moving from phone line to cable (like Virgin).
Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Tristan from TLMartin Ltd – Tristan loves looking after Virtual Assistant businesses of any size. He truly understands the IT issues they face and offers lots of guidance to help them keep their data and the data of their clients safe. Tristan will be sharing a regular tech update with us every month – I am really looking forward to learning from him!
If you want to find out more about setting up a guest WiFi network rather than doing it yourself then I highly recommend speaking to Tristan who will definitely be able to help and advise.
I often hear “I have OneDrive/Dropbox, so my data is backed up”. Yet no where do these tools say they are “backup tools” they are known as “Cloud Storage” and “Synchronisation” tools. In the Terms and Conditions, you will see they say “you should ensure you backup your data”, but surely if they were a backup tool you wouldn’t need to be backing up your data? It is because they are not backup tools – they are synchronisation tools.
Yes, One Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive have many properties that backups have, and they are improving all the time. However, they can only protect you against up to 90% of the things that can go wrong. A backup up is by definition a copy of your data in a different location that is only used for recovery purposes, and the data you have in these tools is the active data you are working upon.
Why do you need a backup?
Accidentally delete a file, edit a file incorrectly and need to go back to how it was, your computer suffers from a hardware issue, the hard drive fails or your computer is stolen. All of these the Synchronisation tool usually can recover from.
What if you are infected with Ransomware? At the time of writing this I am only aware of One Drive that has integrated a roll back feature to a previous date, the others you must restore each file to a previous version. As the Ransomware will encrypt your live data, which will get synchronised to the server, the servers data will be encrypted. How well this works, time will only tell.
What if you have someone maliciously delete your data, and have access to delete it from the “undelete” area of the cloud storage? i.e. a hacker or a hacked off ex-employee, or what happens if the service closes down? This is where all the tools can fail, and this is why you do not have a backup.
Remember a backup is a copy of the data in an alternative location that can only be accessed for the purpose of recovery. So the hacker or ex-employee has no access to this backup so can’t delete it. If the Cloud Storage service closes down and the live data becomes inaccessible your backup stored elsewhere will still be accessible.
Backups do not need to cost a fortune, a user’s complete Office 365 account (Exchange, Sharepoint, One Drive) can all be backed up from as little as £2.50 a month.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
Remember “Do not keep all your eggs in one basket”
Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Tristan from TLMartin Ltd – Tristan loves looking after Virtual Assistant businesses of any size. He truly understands the IT issues they face and offers lots of guidance to help them keep their data and the data of their clients safe.
If you want to find out more about backing up raher then just synchronising your data – I highly recommend speaking to Tristan who has a range of solutions to suggest!