How technology can help our productivity and wellbeing

Working from home is now the ‘new normal’ for many of us.  This can be quite an adjustment and being in the home environment, it can take some time to get the work/life balance right so that the lines don’t blur and that we are being productive and also taking care of our general wellbeing.  The Mental Health Foundation says “The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.”

So what can we do to make sure that we are productive during our working hours and taking care of our general wellbeing in our personal time?

It is important to create a routine, wake up at the same time every day and give yourself enough time to do everything you need to do before starting work.  Set an ‘end time’ and finish work at the same time every evening so that you can relax before going to sleep.

Block off time for specific tasks.  If you find it difficult to concentrate, try working in 25-minute chunks (the Pomodoro Technique is one such method).  We are very lucky to have so much great technology at our fingertips and there are many other apps which can help you with productivity.  There are a variety of options available, such as Microsoft To Do, Todoist, Trello, Toggl and Things to name a few, which can help you with productivity, organisation and project management. Find out more about the Top 12 Best productivity apps.

Have a lunch break and regular screen breaks.  If you work in 25-minute chunks, you can take a screen break at the end of this on a ‘scheduled’ 5-minute break.

Make time for exercise whether it is 10 minutes or 60 minutes.  Go for a walk and get some fresh air whilst making a call, do a short yoga practice or stretching or do a quick workout.

It is easy to keep snacking during the day but plan healthy and nutritious meals and stick to designated mealtimes.

Celebrate your achievements throughout the day, for example if you tick something off your to-do list, celebrate it, if you complete a difficult task that you have been putting off, congratulate yourself.  This will keep you motivated to keep powering through your to-do list!

Tidy up after the day and create to-do lists for the next day.  Find an activity to do which signals the end of the workday.  Why not try meditation, this technique can really help to keep you calm, manage stress levels and sleep better.  Popular apps such as Headspace or Calm are available.  There are many other apps available to support us with our Mental Health and the top 7 Best Mental Health Apps of 2020 are listed here.

2020 has certainly been a year that will not be forgotten any time soon and the pandemic is set to continue into next year.  It has been a trying time even for the most resilient of people and it is so important, now more than ever, that we take care of our physical and mental health.  Microsoft has announced that it will be bringing out wellbeing and productivity insights into Microsoft Teams.  We have also written previous blog posts about the integration of Microsoft Planner and SharePoint Lists with Teams which helps to improve productivity, efficiency and collaboration for you and your team.  If you would like to discuss any of the content of this blog further, we would love to hear from you and have a socially-distanced coffee.

Five uses of OneNote you need to know

‘Quick Notes’

Why not try these handy features from OneNote to save you valuable time:
Windows+N opens a ‘quick note’ without opening the programme itself
Windows + shift +S allows you to screenshot any area of the screen

Shortcut Musts

Ctrl+alt+1 (2 or 3) create new headings
Ctrl+1 create new checklist
Ctrl+2 create a custom tag
Ctrl+ . create a quick bullet point
Ctrl+K insert a link

Embed (almost) anything

One of the most impressive features of OneNote is its ability to embed almost anything, including remotely recording audio and video from desktop. So don’t be shy with the insert menu, be adventurous!

Change the view

Selecting ‘Normal View’ gives you full toolbar access, ‘Full Page View (F11)’ maximises the workspace by limiting distracting tabs and pages, whilst ‘Dock to Desktop’ mode enables side-by-side browsing and note making.

Microsoft Office Integration

Seamlessly embed excel tables into OneNote and edit Excel spreadsheets within OneNote. Flag text in OneNote to create a task in Outlook and easily email entire pages from OneNote instantly without damaging the page formatting.

keeping tabs on employees

Keeping tabs on the way your team use email and the web

Our clients sometimes ask us for the best ways to keep tabs on how their staff use the web and email. Increasing numbers of companies are keen to monitor internet and email use and with this in mind, we thought we’d give you some information on how to do this.

If you’re an employee reading this, the best plan is to always assume that everything you do on your computer at work will be audited and logged to ensure internal compliance. On the whole you’ll never know that this is happening, whilst on the other hand it’s almost impossible to be certain that it isn’t! So this might be a good time to stop browsing your social media feed and start reading…
Employers, on the other hand, often find the most effective strategy is to think about how much work their employees have to do, rather than trying to monitor or control what they’re doing online. If they don’t have enough work to do, the simplest option is to give them more!

In addition, one of the simplest, easiest steps to take is to restrict what you’re employees can do; you’ll find that even cheap routers can be set to restrict websites and/or their content. This would, for example, give you the option to restrict access to certain websites at certain times of day. We have one client who blocks the access his staff to Facebook between 9am – 5pm, allowing access before or after the office working day. This is a great way to ensure your employees don’t spend valuable working time chatting online.

The monitoring of emails is a little more contentious and if this is a route you’d like to go down, it’s vital that you check the legality behind it first. In the majority of cases, making monitored employees aware of what you are doing is of paramount importance. You don’t have to necessarily tell them why – just make sure that they’re aware that it is happening.

Monitoring staff emails

If you’d like to know what your staff are sending or receiving through email then you’ll need to have a server. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an on-site or a cloud-based server; almost any server will give you the capability to open your employees’ emails.

To read your employee’s emails you’ll need to obtain permission from whoever maintains your server; however once this has been provided you should be able to have access fairly easily. On the other hand, if you don’t have your own server then monitoring emails will be very difficult. The majority of the time any record of the email will be on the individual employee’s computer and if they delete it, getting it back will be almost impossible.

A number of email servers such as POP3 don’t allow monitoring but those that can include GoogleMail and Exchange. If you’re not sure what kind of email you have and would like further advice, we’d be happy to help so please get in touch.

Instant messaging systems

Although instant messaging is a very useful way for companies to encourage communication between teams, they can be a nightmare to audit. Conversations can become locked within an employee’s personal account or specific machines, or simply lost in the ether.

If you and your team can’t manage without IM, you’ll have to start thinking about setting up your own system as this is the only way to ensure an audit trail. However, if your team use personal accounts on Facebook, for example, tracking what they are saying to each other is going to very difficult indeed. It’s worth checking out instant messaging platforms such as Microsoft Lync, Sazneo or Brosix as they all offer full audit trails.

How to monitor office web use

This is comparatively easy although it does come at a price. To get started you’ll need a reasonable quality router or server. Microsoft TMG is expensive at more than £2500 for the hardware and software alone, but it does produce user-friendly reports. Some routers will also generate reports of web use but these also cost into the thousands.

If you are having problems with your staff spending too much time browsing the internet, this doesn’t necessarily have to be solved through monitoring. Bear in mind that restricting content will help ensure security; routers can be used to filter traffic and to safeguard against malicious software being downloaded onto your company’s computers.

Taking things up a notch

If certain members of your team are causing problems there are a number of steps you can take to keep tabs on everything that happens in your network. It is possible to install software designed to provide individual reports, or even reports on your entire team. You could, for example, receive a daily report on how much time is spent on Facebook or even how many words each person typed that day. Software such as this will log everything – from the click of a mouse to every key stroke – before giving you the information in the form of a graph. Despite the complexity, this type of software isn’t prohibitively expensive, usually costing around £150 per employee and is virtually untraceable – even by the most technically savvy.

What do we think?

Provided our team are performing well and meeting their targets, we feel that monitoring is largely unnecessary. We restrict monitoring to two areas: during staff training to ensure that communication with clients is as it should be, and if there is a problem with a particular person and we need to get to the bottom of what has been said and when.

We feel that it’s only in situations where there is a major problem that monitoring should come into play and that there are better ways to find problems. Getting to know your team a little better is a great example and a far more cost effective use of your time. If you do think there’s a problem however, and you’d like us to help, please get in touch and we’ll happily chat things through with you.

Is your data safe in the cloud?

Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in cloud computing within businesses, with recent studies suggesting that revenues for global cloud services are growing by 30% annually.

Of course, cloud computing offers a large range of benefits for lots of organisation, large or small. Instead of having to have all of your servers and software and other IT infrastructure in-house, cloud computing allows businesses to implement resources on-demand and customise them around their requirements, which is part of the reason Ilkley IT Services recommend Office 365 among other cloud based solutions for our clients.

So what are the main cloud computing concerns?

With all software and cloud based solutions, the current concern for all businesses is security. With Cloud Computing not being a physical entity – how can you be sure that your systems are secure from cyber-attack?

The answer is encryption.

To keep data secure, the front line of defence for any cloud system is encryption. Encryption methods utilise complex algorithms to conceal cloud-protected information. To decipher encrypted files, would-be hackers would need the encryption key. Although encrypted information is not 100% uncrackable, decryption requires a huge amount of computer processing power, forensic software, and a lot of time. Can it be done? Yes, the only way to keep your data safe for certain is to lock it up in a safe beneath the ground. That being said, your cloud-stored data is generally far safer than your locally stored data. Cloud services utilise more complex security methods than the average computer owner is able to devise, giving your cloud-stored data an added level of protection.

Keeping your data secure is your responsibility as well as your cloud provider’s responsibility. As hackers demonstrated through the celebrity iCloud breach, poor password security can give cybercriminals an all-access pass to your private data. To keep your password safe, avoid using the same password over multiple platforms; add letters, numbers and symbols to your password, and do not utilise a password that is in any way related to your personal life. Any hacker worth his salt will know your address, your children’s names, the type of car you drive and your favorite restaurant.

Luckily, here at Ilkley IT Services we’re experts in helping our clients set up and maintain secure, resilient and cost-effective cloud computing services. We’ll help you through the minefield of picking the right solution for your business, and in doing so we’ll give you the peace of mind that you’re implementing the best possible security measures for your business – our team is always happy to help!

Ilkley IT Services keep lots of businesses like yours safe and secure so that they never need worry about threats to their IT infrastructure. Please call us on 01943 601601 to find out more about how we can help you, or request a call back – we’ll be happy to help!

password Security Ilkley

Professional IT Support and Security

Online security for businesses and organisations has been very topical in the past week, in the wake of the significant security issues experienced by NHS England amongst other health bodies. This has placed a great deal of emphasis on the security of systems, with many businesses feeling the urgent need to look more closely at how they operate and whether there might be comparable flaws in their own IT set-ups- and rightly so.

With this concern in mind, we thought we’d take a look at the risks of security threats and the benefits of having an experienced team of professionals working along side you when it comes to protecting your business from threats.

The importance of security: what are the risks?

Technology has opened up some great opportunities and possibilities for businesses and non profit organisations alike. Whilst we’re natural appreciators of exactly what this development can offer, we recognise the need to guard against the serious problems which security threats can cause.

Firstly, there is a notable threat to privacy and confidentiality. This was one of the first concerns to be raised by many commentators when the breach of security for NHS England became clear last week. With all the private and confidential information stored on their systems the question was asked as to whether this was now at risk and could personal information become vulnerable? In this case, the attack wasn’t directed at the data storage systems themselves, but instead rendered many individual computers within the set-up as unusable, causing severe disruption. Some malware however, does target seemingly protected data. Whether it is about a patient, a client, or other sensitive information that needs to be protected. Without proper systems in place to guard against invasive threats, information could be stolen or leaked and this is an understandable concern for many businesses.

The loss of data more generally is a real problem for business who need masses of information to operate. Companies which create data models or businesses who rely heavily on statistical analysis in how they operate are especially vulnerable to disruption from malware and ransomware designed to deny access to information or Trojan horse viruses built to delete information and disrupt systems. As well as protecting against invasive malware, another side minimising the effect of such viruses is by having secure backups of data and materials in a location that is separate and insular from the other.

Also to be considered is the potential loss of activity and revenue to your business from downtime due to security breaches. Whether it’s an inability to use machines due to breaches such as those that occurred in the recent NHS threat, or through data loss, the potential productivity of your business is at risk if you aren’t properly protected by a comprehensive system of security. Without the necessary guards in place, many have previously been backed into a corner and had to pay to release their machines from ransomware and there is no guarantee that the word of cyber criminals will be kept.

What does a proper security system allow?

The way we use technology within business is changing all the time and has become increasingly sophisticated. Many companies have now moved into cloud storage for data and documents, as it offers far greater storage capacity, and often better performance, compared with the physical systems previously preferred. This has saved many business a great deal on the costs of maintaining the traditional physical means of storing information and has lowered the barrier to entry to many sectors for younger businesses. A proper security protocol allows for these means of storage to be used safely and easily, so you can get the most out of the evolving technical landscape whilst protecting your business and information assets.

Similarly, it is now possible for team members to work with greater geographical flexibility. Using Virtual Private Networks has made working from home and accessing protected information and materials easier and safer. When implemented safely, such a network allows a great deal of freedom for your team, offering the flexibility that has transformed the way modern businesses operate and share information.

Perhaps equally importantly, having a team of experienced professionals in your corner allows you to work and to plan with peace of mind and the fullest understanding of how best to operate to keep yourself protected against potential threats. Working with ta team with expertise allows for a stronger grasp of the possibilities and arms you against the risks, giving you the assurance that you can develop your business without the constant concern of a security catastrophe.

How do professionals help?

Our lengthy hands on experience has given us a valuable understanding of the online security picture and where threats will come from. Our focus and knowledge prepares us to protect you and your business from threats that you might not have considered every step of the way.

One of the chief advantages of bringing a dependable team of experts in to support you is the way that we can anticipate threats and help to plan against them. To take another look at the well publicised recent NHS security breaches, these are believed to have been caused by using outdated operating systems on many machines that staff were having to use. Whilst much of the professional world is now using Windows 10, many machines being used by staff were severely outdated, and the necessary thought hadn’t been given to maintaining their security updates once Microsoft had stopped offering them automatically.

A well planned system keeps you ahead of the game, this is known as ‘leap frogging’ potential threats by not falling behind the game and anticipating where likely threats will come from. This requires a detailed technical understanding of your systems and any potential weaknesses which could be exploited which is an area of speciality for those of us who provide security professionally.

Remember that we’re always at the other end of the phone to advise and provide and guide you through the process when needed and have the solutions in place to prevent unauthorised access and modification. With firewalls and network detection tools, we have the systems in place to really safeguard your network and its assets against the ever changing threats that emerge. The landscape of internet security is always shifting, meaning you need a dynamic team of professionals who understand the territory and know how to protect your business.

Ilkley IT Services keep lots of businesses like yours safe and secure so that they never need worry about threats to their IT infrastructure. Please call us on 01943 601601 to find out more about how we can help you, or request a call back – we’ll be happy to help!

The Heart Bleed Bug – at the heart of current security worries

The Heart Bleed Bug – at the heart of current security worries.

 

You have probably heard about the latest IT security scandal to hit the media in the form of the Heartbleed Bug? You may have even read up about it because you were concerned about the safety of your business or personal data.

If you don’t know what the Heartbleed Bug is or whether your data is at risk, read on for some useful information and resources to help you understand the effects and how to protect yourself.

What is the Heartbleed Bug?

The technical definition is that the Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the OpenSSL cryptographic software library (description courtesy of heartbleed.com). Essentially what this means is, the information normally protected by the encryption used to secure the internet can be viewed and stolen. This includes personal and business details and financial information, it allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from services and users, and to impersonate services and users, so it’s important to ensure that your secure your business and personal data against any threat posed.

If you want to find out more about the Heartbleed bug visit www.heartbleed.com for more information.

Will I be affected?

The scope of the websites affected by the Heartbleed Bug is unclear at time of writing this blog, but it has hit well-known social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. LinkedIn and Twitter have so far been unaffected. Other well know names that have been affected include Google and Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Etsy, and Go Daddy.

Mashable has published a very helpful list of popular websites and services and includes details about whether they have been affected and, if so, whether the problem has been resolved. You can access this information here.

What do I need to do to protect my data?

There are steps that you can take to protect your data but the operators of the websites and services affected need to take some action their end first. Fixed OpenSSL has been released and will need to be implemented.

Now you know which sites are likely to be affected you need to monitor them until they confirm that they have resolved the issue. Once this has been confirmed, you can go ahead and change the password to your account. Changing your password before the website or service has applied a fix their end won’t protect your data because the Heartbleed Bug will still be active.

Beware of hackers – If you receive an email which asks you to change your password by clicking on a link or button embedded in the email then, to be safe, exit the email and visit the site in question directly. You can use the website or services online password reset option to change your password and keep your account safe. This will ensure that your password change is genuine and projects your data from hackers.

If you are still concerned about the safety of your data then you can check the website you are worried about using the LastPass Heartbleed Checker. Click here to check any websites you are concerned about.

About Ilkley IT Services

Ilkley IT services have been providing local businesses and home users in the Wharfedale area with reliable and cost effective IT and computer support since 2005. Our aim is to ensure that you IT systems perform to the highest standards possible through our call out and support contract services.

We also offer online data backup, antivirus and Microsoft Cloud Email set up and support.

Over 95% of our new business comes via recommendation and we are proud of our client list which includes big and small businesses alike.

Are you using mobile devices? Make sure that your security is in order

Are you using mobile devices? Make sure that your security is in order Are you using mobile devices? Make sure that your security is in order

Internet Explorer hit by security breach

As news of the Heartbleed Bug was hitting fever pitch we were warned of another security issue that could potentially have far reaching consequences. This time the security breach hit Microsoft’s popular web browser, Internet Explorer (IE). The situation escalated quite quickly, to the point where we were being advised to switch to other browsers, such as Google Chrome or Firefox, until the issue was resolved.

What’s happened?

An unpatched flaw has been found which allows the installation of malware onto your computer without your permission or knowledge. As with the Heartbleed Bug, this leaves your computer and personal data exposed and vulnerable. The malware installed could be used to steal personal data, track your online behaviour, and even gain control of your computer.

How do I know if the Internet Explorer I’m using could be affected?

The unpatched flaw is present in IE version 6 and above.

What is Microsoft doing about it?

Microsoft have responded quickly and have already released a patch which can be installed by running a normal windows update.

Initial fears were that Windows XP users would have no protection against attack, Microsoft stopped supporting the XP operating system at the beginning of April this year. But XP users will be relieved to hear that the fix released by Microsoft also covers the unsupported system.

However, if you are an XP user, it is worth considering upgrading your operating system off the back of this. If anything of a similar nature happens in the future, or if you have any other issues, you will be unable to look to Microsoft for help.

What should I do?

Now that the fix has been released you will need to run your Windows update to install it, your IE browser will then be safe. If you are still worried about using IE, the easiest and safest thing to do would be to switch browsers.

Ilkley IT Customers

If you have a managed service contract with us we have already started to roll the patch out to our customers. However, if you have any questions, or would like to talk to us about taking out a service contract, please call 01943 601601 and we’ll be happy to help.

About Ilkley IT Services

Ilkley IT services have been providing local businesses and home users in the Wharfedale area with reliable and cost effective IT and computer support since 2005. Our aim is to ensure that you IT systems perform to the highest standards possible through our call out and support contract services.

We also offer online data backup, antivirus and Microsoft Cloud Email set up and support.

Over 95% of our new business comes via recommendation and we are proud of our client list which includes big and small businesses alike.

How to reduce back pain at work

With many of us sitting at a desk for long periods during the day, staring at a computer screen, it’s no wonder that a high percentage of office workers find themselves suffering from back problems. Not only do we sit all day at a computer, but we often go home and spend our evenings and weekends doing the same. Even children at school now spend hours of their time sat in front of a PC or laptop

According the NHS, around 7.6 million working days were lost due to work-related back pain from 2010 – 2011. Back pain for office workers is a real problem.

The way you sit, the position of your computer, height of your chair, and how often you take breaks, can all help lessen the chances of suffering from back problems now, or later in life. Sitting at a computer for long periods causes compression in your lower back and at the point where your neck meets your shoulders, leading to stiffness and pain. This only gets worse over time if you don’t take steps to look after yourself.

So what can you do to tackle stiffness and back pain caused by sitting at a desk all day?

  1. Take regular breaks – You need to get up at least every two hours and move around, make sure you stretch out your back, lean forward and touch your toes to separate the vertebra. Taking regular breaks is not just good for your spine, it also gives your eyes and brain a much needed rest.
  2. Take some time to exercise – This has so many benefits over and above helping with back pain. Taking regular exercise, particularly if it involves a lot of stretching such as yoga and Pilates, can counteract the pressure put on your spine when sitting for long periods.
  3. Your workspace – Is it set up correctly?
    • Does your office chair support your lower back? If not, it might be time to invest in a support pad or a decent chair (depending on the budget available to you).
    • Is your monitor at the right height? If you are looking up or down at your monitor it will be putting a strain on your neck which will radiate down to your lower back. If you are like many office workers today and use more than one monitor, are you able to move between displays without swivelling or straining your neck and putting pressure on your vertebra?
    • Are your feet both resting comfortably on the floor or on a foot rest? Sitting with your legs crossed causes your spine to twist which can cause it to ache.
    • Is your desk large enough for you to rest your forearms when you type? This allows you to balance yourself so that you are sitting up straight while you type, a better posture for your back and neck.
    • Your posture – Are you sitting correctly? Spend some time noticing just how you are sitting, what is you posture like? If you are slumping or leaning over your desk, you are putting unnecessary pressure on your lower back. Sitting up straight restores the natural curve of the spine and lessens any pressure on the vertebra that could lead to back and neck pain and problems.

Many of us spend a lot of time behind a desk at work, so it’s worth taking these tips on board for yourself and your employees. Your health is important and, by taking the simple steps in this post, you can greatly reduce your risk of suffering from back problems in the future.

About Ilkley IT Services

Ilkley IT services have been providing local businesses and home users in the Wharfedale area with reliable and cost effective IT and computer support since 2005. Our aim is to ensure that you IT systems perform to the highest standards possible through our call out and support contract services.

We also offer online data backup, antivirus and Microsoft Cloud Email set up and support.

Over 95% of our new business comes via recommendation and we are proud of our client list which includes big and small businesses alike.