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Tips for Trouble-Free Online Meetings

Posted & filed under Networking Solutions, Tech Tips.

Online meetings are the new norm for many, but that doesn’t mean people magically know how to enjoy a trouble-free online conference experience. These tips can power more successful meetings.

Many businesses today are working from home with a reliance on Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or GoToMeeting. But even with these platforms offering voice or video capabilities, there can be tech problems. These tips can minimize the trouble and enhance business collaboration.

Online Meeting Tips

1. Go Wired

Connecting to Wi-Fi offers flexibility and mobility. Yet when it comes to an online meeting, prefer a wired connection. Enjoy a more reliable meeting connection by plugging your laptop or desktop into the internet router using a network cable.

If you need to use a mobile device and can’t connect via cable, reduce Wi-Fi obstacles. Call in from as a close to the wireless access point as you can. Wi-Fi signals are a form of radio wave, which means they can be hindered by:

  • large metal objects near the router
  • thick walls
  • other electronics
  • Wi-Fi congestion from your neighbors’ access points

So, that important meeting is not the one you join from a cement-bricked basement, not when your Wi-Fi router is in an upstairs bedroom and your neighbors are all relying on Wi-Fi signals, too.

2. Prioritize Your Meeting

When you have a scheduled meeting, announce it to the rest of the household. Ask kids not to get on Xbox or stream movies at the same time as you connect to your meeting. See if you can’t persuade your partner, who is also working from home, not to download large files or new software at the same time as your meeting.

Program your devices to back up at times that won’t compete with your work hours. In the office, your IT team scheduled updates or security patches outside of business hours. Now that you’re doing it all at home, be smart about when you do upgrades. Depending on your home internet speed, trying to do too many things at once can cause trouble for everyone.

3. Test Connections Before the Meeting

You may feel that all you’re doing is meeting online right now. Why would you need to test audio and video each time? Well, every time you unplug a device such as a microphone or headset the settings will return to the default. That means the next time you connect you aren’t set up the way you want to be. You were expecting to listen in using your USB headphones, but the last time you unplugged them your computer switched back to the next available audio input (e.g. your monitor or built-in laptop speakers). 

By checking the connection first, you also make sure you have the most up-to-date platform software. You don’t want to be late to a call because your device has decided it needs to re-install Skype right at that moment.

4. Use the Right Equipment

Headsets and external microphones limit the ambient noise. You’ll hear better. Plus, it will make your contributions easier to hear, too.

Muting your microphone when you’re not talking also helps – it reduces the noise pollution. Problems can arise when your mic picks up other people talking through your speakers. This precaution also saves you from apologizing when your dog barks ferociously at the FedEx delivery person.

5. Pick the Best Setting

Plan the best place to take that online meeting. The closer you are to your wireless access point, the better your connection.

Plus, you want to avoid high-traffic areas, as you’re more likely to be distracted. A child or furry colleague could make an unplanned appearance.

Select an area with a simple background, too. Sitting in front of a window may seem like a good idea, but it makes your face darker and more difficult to see on video. Ideally, you want to be in a well-lit room with a plain wall as your background.

6. Take Full Advantage of Online Meeting Features

You may have done conference calls in the past. Everyone called in, spoke when necessary, and that was that. But much of the top business collaboration software offers added features:

  • Call recording provides a record that can be checked later.
  • Call transcripts give you an efficient way to capture all that happened in a meeting.
  • Some platforms let you add virtual backgrounds to video calls.
  • You might also enable an interactive shared whiteboard, presentation slides, or co-browsing.

Online meetings are efficient and cost-effective. With the current health crisis forcing many of us to adapt to connecting virtually, implementing these ideas can help.

Need help setting up your online meeting platform or deciding on the solution that’s right for you? We can help.Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.

How To Keep Your Tech Squeaky Clean

Posted & filed under Tech Tips.

Our tech is something we use every day, but did you know it’s also the most disgusting? Your screen may look clean, but studies show that a mobile phone can be 18x dirtier than a public restroom – ew! It gets worse (sorry)…that keyboard you tap at while eating your morning toast? It’s probably the biggest bacterial threat in your house, with about 20 000 times more germs than a toilet seat, more if you share it with children.

It’s not just sickness we’re up against, because as dust builds up inside gadgets, they also slow down, malfunction or overheat. Your device essentially chokes on ick, as vents and filters are clogged by sucking in pet hair and floating debris.

Cleaning Tech

Here’s how to clean your essential tech items without damaging them:

1. Skip the household cleaners: Most cleaning products are too harsh for our technology and can end up causing permanent damage. You want something that can kill germs and remove everyday grime, without scratching or leaving behind a scented residue. Your best bet is Isopropyl Alcohol. You’ll find it in the first aid section of supermarkets and pharmacies, or at the hardware store.

2. Power down completely: Turn your tech off all the way, not just sleeping, and unplug from any power sources. Switch wireless keyboards, mice, etc off underneath or remove the batteries.

3. Remove any cases or covers: Undress your device as much as you can, but leave screen protectors on (unless there’s grime underneath). If your screen protector needs replacing, have a new one ready to apply.

4. Grab a microfiber cloth: Dampen the cloth with Isopropyl Alcohol and wipe screens and external surfaces gently. Older build-up may require extra effort.

5. Go deep: You can use a toothbrush or cotton tip to clean between most crevices, but some areas will need a bit more ‘oomph’ to clear. You’ve probably seen people use vacuum cleaners on their keyboard, but these are often TOO powerful and may suck keys or internal parts loose. They also generate damaging static electricity. Another option is to use a tech-specific vacuum, but these are usually underpowered.

Insider tip: Use a can of compressed air to blow the dust out. You can get these from many stores and they come with a long nozzle so you can really get in and direct the pressure. You’ll be surprised what flies out, so it’s best to do this outside! We don’t recommend using compressed air on your computer’s internal fans though, as this can make them spin too fast and damage them.

How often you clean your tech is up to you and your lifestyle. But it’s a good idea to blow out computer internal dust at least twice a year and wipe your tech down 1-2 times per week to reduce germs and grime.

Remote Working with G Suite

Posted & filed under Networking Solutions, Software.

Migrating to the cloud is no longer a “maybe” solution for many businesses. With many countries mandating staying home, remote working requires a fresh look.

The good news? There are great solutions available, and you’ll see benefits not just today but also when you’re back in the office in the future. We recommend Google’s G Suite to enable business collaboration and communication while working remotely.

G Suite for Remote Working

Advantages of a G Suite Solution

G Suite offers enhanced productivity, flexibility, and transparency, all without sacrificing security.

Productivity

G Suite provides access to Docs, Spreadsheets, Forms, Websites, App Scripting, and more. Using G Suite, internal and external users can collaborate and see changes made.

This simultaneous, real-time collaboration saves on emailing documents back and forth. Avoid the inefficiency of someone having to correlate different versions of a document.

Further, G Suite provides a single dashboard. Users can access the creation tools, as well as email, calendars, and Google Hangouts. People don’t have to keep several different applications open. It’s all available in a single, integrated solution.

Flexibility

G Suite is available on any device, iOS or Android. All your remote workers need is a working internet connection. With this cloud-based solution, you can let them log in to G Suite and get everything done in one place.

Everyone can:

  • share access to the business Google Drive
  • use Google Cloud Search to find the needed files
  • synchronize work calendars on Google
  • easily hop on video calls or chat in Google Hangouts

And they can do that from wherever they are, whenever they want.

Google even touts a “99.9% service level agreement.” Google maintains its systems while making its applications continually available, which means “no scheduled downtime or maintenance windows.”

Transparency

With G Suite, all the business data lives in one place. Users can share files but still control access. Your IT admins can decide what access to allow remote or guest users, and they can secure that access from within the G Suite Admin Console.

With G Suite audit logs, IT admins can review actions taken by users. The logs provide information about what resources were used, by whom, and when. This can help with cybersecurity, plus it provides peace of mind that people are complying with procedures remotely.

G Suite offers reporting for international information security controls, accounting, financial services, health privacy, government, and payment card industry standards.

At the same time, although you are using G Suite’s services, your data doesn’t belong to Google. All personal information and intellectual property remains your own, even that meme you made about the “joys” of home schooling.

Getting Set Up on G Suite

Google offers many of these solutions separately for free (or ad supported). Still, G Suite is worth the investment: you pay per user for a more comprehensive solution which adds:

  • professional domain name – instead of jenny@gmail.com she could send from jenny@yourbusiness.com;
  • unlimited cloud storage and archiving;
  • administrative control to manage all user accounts in a single dashboard;
  • better management of mobile devices;
  • the ability to set up two-factor authentication for greater security.

A cloud solution helps your remote workers work smarter and faster. G Suite is a secure, simple-to-use cloud platform. Our tech experts can help you effectively migrate to G Suite or another cloud-based solution. Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.

Remote Working with Office 365

Posted & filed under Software.

Working from home is a big change in an already tumultuous time. Yet there’s a bright side. The quarantine could be your opportunity to reinvent how you work — for the better. Migrating to Microsoft Office 365 has benefits now. Plus, when you’re back to business as usual. 

Office 365 is the cloud-based version of Microsoft Office. With a subscription, you get both the desktop and online versions of apps you already know. This includes Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint, Teams, Yammer, and more. 

Office 365 enables collaboration in many ways, on desktops, tablets, and smartphones. For example: 

  • Outlook — primarily associated with email, but also lets you share notes and files 
  • Teams — a hub for instant messaging, video conferencing and calls   
  • SharePoint — an internal content management platform. SharePoint lets you customize team sites where you automate workflows and share resources 
  • Yammer — a social network connecting all the users in your organization 
  • OneDrive — allows users to share and co-author documents securely 

Working in Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and other Office Apps you can collaborate simultaneously. There’s no need to email back and forth. In fact, you can even see different people creating and editing together in real time. 

Remote Work with Teams 

Microsoft teams at its core is a chat program.  But it does so much more. On all your devices, both iOS and Android, Teams allows “channels”. You can have company-wide or small task group channels. Or use a separate channel to instant messaging to a single person. 

You can also invite clients or customers into channels to join the discussion. Additionally, you can set up security features that filter what they can access. You don’t want them to know the ingredients to your secret sauce! 

Within Teams channels users can share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Teams also integrates with other software. The options include Zendesk customer support, Asana project management, or Zoom video conferencing.  

Using Teams in Office 365 creates a streamlined platform for remote work. 

Remote Work with OneDrive 

Working on premises, your users always had access to the business file server. OneDrive is the cloud equivalent. Yet, since it’s online, it’s always accessible. Microsoft’s hosts the file storage to let you access and share work files from all your devices. 

Employees can even work offline. Any changes or edits to files automatically upload when you next connect. 

Share OneDrive folders or files with external partners as well. Again, you can secure access with limits on who can see what and specifying what actions they can take. You can even set up automatic revoke access after a set time limit.  

Office 365 & Business Security 

An Office 365 subscription protects from viruses and cybercrime. It also offers ways to recover your files from malicious attacks. 

Office 365 apps update with security patches without any effort on your part. Plus, Outlook scans email attachments and checks links for viruses or phishing scams. 

OneDrive helps you restore files, so they’re not held captive in a ransomware attack. Office 365 also lets users encrypt email, prevent forwarding, and secure sensitive files.  

Office 365 lets your business communicate and collaborate in real-time. Work on any device, anywhere, at any time. Enjoy business agility and flexibility with internal and external users. 

Migrating to the cloud isn’t as simple as pressing the “start” button. Still, our tech experts can get you up and running quickly and with ease.

Let us help you go online and get back to business as usual, even working remotely.Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.

Setting Up Your Work from Home Tech

Posted & filed under Tech Tips.

You’ve been told to stay put and work from home. You’re looking around your home or apartment and thinking, “uhm, work where?” You’ve never set up a home office. Here’s help getting you organized to go online and get things done working remotely.

The first things you’ll need are a computer and a cell phone. You may even need the phone if your computer is set up for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communication, but at the very least, you will likely need to be able to talk to people and get online.

Work may have provided you with a laptop. Or perhaps you already had one or a desktop that everyone in the house has been sharing for years. So, you’ve got a computer on which you can log in to necessary business applications.

But wait; we said log in – you’re going to need an internet connection. Most homes do at this point, but you may have a pretty barebones router. Like you, your internet service provider (ISP) wasn’t expecting business traffic from your home.

To work remotely online you’ll need the internet speed and capacity to handle video conferencing and running business software. If it were just you, that wouldn’t be an issue. But you have a partner or roommate working from home now, too. Or perhaps there are kids out of school who are avoiding e-learning by streaming shows or playing video games.

It may be time to upgrade. Newer routers often offer both the older 2.4 GHz and the faster 5 GHz frequency, which has less interference. Additionally, since 5 GHz isn’t as common, you’re less likely to compete with neighbors for Wi-Fi signals (since they’re probably stuck at home, too).

Being Productive Working from Home

Once you’re connected to the internet, you’ll also have to log in at work. Some businesses will have set up virtual private networks (VPNs) for added security. A VPN connects a computer, smartphone, or tablet to a shared or public network as if you’re connecting to a private network.

If not, the responsibility for securing your online activity is yours. It’s always a good idea to make sure your operating system is up to date. Plus, run the latest antivirus and software with the most recent security patches installed. This is required if you’re working from home with an industry that has compliance standards, but it’s a best practice for everyone.

And please don’t use Windows 7 any longer. If you haven’t upgraded your OS since you bought that software, it’s definitely time to update. Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows 7, which means it’s also not doing anything to patch vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals know this, so don’t leave your home computer open to attack.

Knowing that you could be working from home for the next few weeks, take the time to actually establish and organize your workspace. Try to find a place away from distractions or that has a door you can close to keep distractions to a minimum. Also, think about being somewhere in the home that gets natural light. This helps people be happier and more engaged in their work.

You’ll also want to think about how far you’re setting up your workspace from the router. Depending on the power of your hardware, you could encounter a reduced signal the further away you go. You could consider a network cable or Mesh Wi-Fi for your home. Traditional Wi-Fi relies on a single router, whereas a mesh system helps you reach many, spread out areas in your home.

Need to get up and running from home quickly? A managed service provider can help you connect, upgrade, or troubleshoot your home office setup. Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.