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Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

Working from home is now standard practice for office-workers around the world and there are so many obvious benefits — less of a commute, more opportunity for work/life balance, and increased comfort… just to name a few. While critics of WFH have typically been opposed because they feel it would reduce productivity or break-up teams, it’s safe to say that the world has adapted in a positive way.

Now that we’ve had a taste of the work-from-home convenience, few people want to go back. In last month’s Contractor Quick Poll, we asked where you’d prefer doing most of your work and, while there’s a fairly even split among those who’d prefer all at home or a 50/50 split, it’s clear that few independent contractors are interested in returning to a routine where they go to the client’s site all the time.

Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

When the COVID-19 pandemic really became a reality for Canada in March, millions of Canadians were forced to work from home on a full-time basis, and many were setting up home offices for the first time. It was a big change, and understandably, productivity was expected to slip as we adjusted to a new way of doing this.

Eagle’s COVID-19 resources have had no shortage of work-from-home advice to help you get set-up and the Internet in general is overflowing with information to help you out. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that three months later, clients and employers expect that you should now be working at full capacity. If you’re not there yet, then it’s time to build a routine to get yourself moving. And you need to do it now.

Routine will bring a sense of normality back to your day. It helps you build a regular schedule and to-do lists which are going to prevent procrastination and help you avoid bad habits overall. You’ll also begin to develop some great habits and your productivity will return to a level you can be proud of.

Having a routine in place is also critical to your own health. Indumathi Bendi, M.D., a physician at Piedmont Healthcare recently told Apartment Therapy “Carrying out routine activities reduces stress by making the situation appear more controllable and predictable. Preparedness is a key way to prevent stress.”

If you seek out expert advice on “the best morning routines” or “#1 work from home routines to make you a star” you’re going to be overwhelmed with different opinions and theories. The truth is, your routine is going to be different from anyone else’s. It will depend on your personal life (do you have kids hanging around the house?), your personal productive periods (everybody is more productive in different parts of the day), and hundreds of other variables unique to you.

Your best routine is going to mirror the regular work day you used to have — from waking up to commuting to working hours — as much as possible. Here are some elements to consider when creating your work-from-home routine:

  • Your Workspace: Your bed or the couch is not going to cut it. Even if you live in a small apartment without a private office, you still need a small area with a desk/table to keep organized.
  • Start/End Times: Setting specific “office hours” for yourself helps you build work/life balance and clients will know exactly when you’re available.
  • Breaks: Plan a regular lunch break and coffee breaks throughout your day, just as you’d have at the office.
  • Exercise: If you used to go to the gym in the morning or after work, continue to build those workouts into your routine at home. Don’t forget that walk you used to take from your car to the office. Even that void can be filled with a quick walk around the block.
  • Sleep: It’s easy to get into the habit of sleeping in a bit longer when you no longer have to worry about a commute or spending so much time getting ready. But that will creep up on you and, when the time comes, returning to regular office hours is going to be extremely difficult. Continue to wake up at the same time you used to and use that new-found time for yourself. Exercising, meditating or connecting with people are all amazing things we didn’t used to have time for but now the opportunity is there!

Your daily routine doesn’t need to be written down in stone and followed aggressively, but some sort of structure and predictability will do wonders for your productivity and mental health combined. What does your daily work-from-home routine look like?

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

This guest post was written and submitted by TechWarn

These are very strange times we are living in. Many governments have implemented a stay-at-home order meaning more and more people are working remotely. Studies show that in mid-March 2020, more than twice the number of North Americans were working at home compared to the same period in 2019.

Companies spend thousands of dollars a year on security measures to protect their systems from cyberattacks. But with employees turning their kitchen table into a home office and working on a home network, how can they follow company protocols and protect sensitive information?

Encrypt Data

One of the best security tips for staying safe when working remotely is to secure devices with a VPN. A virtual private network creates a secure connection and encrypts data, making it unreadable to prying eyes. VPNs can be installed on individual computers and smart devices, which also helps protect and shield online activity when using public wifi.

The Internet of Things (IoT) now means that many devices are connected to a home network. Think gaming consoles, security cameras, baby monitors, and AI-powered virtual assistants. It can be difficult to install a VPN directly on these devices, so protect everything connected to the home wifi with a VPN router.

Antivirus

Your home computer is now being used to store and amend work documents that, without installing the proper security, are easier for hackers to steal or destroy. The antivirus software available for home installation may not be as powerful as those used by businesses but it can prevent malware from attacking devices. Even free antiviruses significantly reduce the risk of attack and should stop you from getting in trouble with the boss.

Update Programs and Operating Systems

The security risks to operating systems, programs, and applications continually change as cybercriminals look for new ways to overcome protocols. Unfortunately, this is often easy as users are too lazy to update software.

In 2016, a ransomware attack known as WannaCry affected 200,000 computers running an out of date version of Microsoft Windows. Ensuring devices and software, especially those used for work purposes, are up-to-date with the latest security patches, should help prevent these kinds of cyberattacks from happening in the future.

Use Strong Router Passwords

Default passwords for routers are often very weak and a quick search on the internet is all it takes to find them. Hackers use these defaults by writing them into the code of malicious software. If a router becomes infected, it becomes a bot, allowing criminals to read all data sent over the network. Always change the default password to a minimum of 12 characters with a mixture of numbers, letters, and symbols.

Always Use Corporate IT Services

Many companies have IT services set up for employees to use while working from home. Corporate email systems, internal messaging platforms, and video conferencing tools have all been vetted and secured by IT departments and provide colleagues the tools to communicate.

It can be tempting to use instant messaging and video meeting platforms outside of the corporate setup. Zoom has become a popular platform for holding virtual meetings but a breach in its security lead to Zoom bombing, with uninvited guests accessing meetings and posting pornographic images. Always use the systems that are already in place to avoid unauthorized assess to company and personal data.

Working remotely may be the new norm and no one knows when employees will return to the workplace. In the meantime, stay home, stay safe, and be sure to work as securely as possible.

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

Over the past months, businesses across Canada have adapted to having entire teams working remotely. It’s presenting new obstacles, but it isn’t stopping projects from moving forward nor is it preventing IT contracts from starting. Consequently, we’ve had a number of consultants express challenges of their own as they start new gigs with new clients while working remotely, specifically because they’re getting a completely different first-day experience.

There are always difficulties that can arise on the first day of your contract, but the current situation has brought some brand-new ones. Here are 5 challenges some of Eagle’s new contractors have experienced, as well as some suggestions on how you can approach them:

Getting to Know the Team

Who’s who? Who does what and how do they fit into this project? The first few days of a new contract usually include a lot of time meeting the team and understanding each individual’s role — a task that’s generally easier to do in-person. Now, you’re confined to web conferencing and collaboration tools, which makes it difficult, but not impossible. You’ll need to go above and beyond to get to know people since you won’t have those watercooler or lunchtime conversations. Use your webcam when possible to make a more personal connection and so you can put faces to names. Also, follow them on LinkedIn and reach out to people individually, asking questions and learning about who they are, what they do, and what makes them tick.

Setting-Up on the Client’s Systems

Be prepared to have certain software already installed on your computer (which conferencing tool do they use?) and you’ll probably also need the ability to log into their system. Don’t wait until the last minute to get set-up or you can lose an entire day of productivity. Reach out to your client before the start date to understand all of the requirements and try to get your credentials early. Then spend some time a few days before to set up your workspace. Make sure you have the right equipment and applications downloaded and test them to make sure that they’re working. It’s also wise to be up a little earlier on your first day so you can get connected and get off on the right foot.

The Client May Not Be Prepared

Some clients aren’t ready for you on the best of days. Now that they’ve been thrown into managing their teams remotely, you can bet they are also dealing with more challenges. We shared a similar post on this topic a couple months ago and much of the advice still applies. Be prepared to take matters into your own hands and ask for some reading material to familiarize yourself with the organization and the project. It’s also a great opportunity to quickly reach out to a few people to get to know them.

Proving Yourself is More Challenging

Not just the first day, but throughout the contract, showing the client that you are working and providing value is going to require more effort because they will not physically see you being productive. On that first day, ask questions to understand and define your goals and targets. Then you can prepare detailed reports throughout the contract that match-up. You’re still going to need timesheet approval to get paid, so this will help minimize disputes with a client who is reviewing all spending with a little more scrutiny.

Building Your Work-from-Home Routine

Forget it being the first day or that this is might be unchartered territory for both you and your client, people working remotely have been trying to balance their routines for years. You need to consciously develop a plan that prevents you from either not being productive due to all of the distractions around your home, or the other extreme, working too much because it’s always right there. Build yourself a distraction-free workspace where you know you can focus on work and, if possible, close it off to yourself outside of working hours. You can also set specific work times, including breaks, that will ensure you get the right balance of work and personal life at home.

Have you discovered any new challenges as organizations adapt to a new way of doing business during the COVID-19 pandemic? We’d love to hear about your experiences and how you dealt with them. Please share in the comments below.

Contractor Quick Poll: Where do you prefer to be working?

It’s now been about two months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Canadian economy to shift in a way we’ve never seen before. While some companies had to shut down projects and cut contracts almost immediately, others saw the opposite effect where demand for IT talent couldn’t be greater. Across all organizations, nearly all staff and contractors have been asked to work from home and that has been a major change for many of us.

Now, we’re weeks into the pandemic and slowly starting to see the economy open up. While few offices are bringing their teams back, we are at a point where we can at least start talking about it. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we’re curious to know what you think of working from home, especially after being forced to do so for so long.

5 Tips to Make Working Home with Your Spouse Actually Work

5 Tips to Make Working Home with Your Spouse Actually Work

You love your spouse. We know you do. But how many people have ever worked from home with their spouse more than they have in the past few weeks? Twitter has exploded with comical one-liners of people sharing their experiences and they’ve been fun to read. But there are real challenges that families are experiencing. Dealing with them up-front is what’s going to ensure you can remain productive for your client while maintaining a happy household. And, given you’re probably confined to the home for a little while, that happiness should be a high priority. Here are a few tips we compiled to help you out:

  1. Try and work in separate spaces. Not everybody’s home can accommodate this, but if you can work in a separate room from your spouse, it will help you focus, minimize distractions, and prevent you from stepping on each other’s toes. Just make sure it’s a productive office (Hint: bedrooms tend to be a bad idea)

  2. They are not your colleagues. As tempting as it is, refrain from using your spouse to brainstorm work-related ideas or rant about office politics. This is distracting to them and brings them into problems that they really do not need.

  3. Still respect them like your colleagues. If you work in an open-office, then you know how annoying it is when somebody takes phone calls too loudly, listens to music without headphones, or starts talking to you while you’re in the middle of working on something that requires focus. Don’t be that person at home.

  4. Accept and embrace the inevitable distractions. It’s alright to want to socialize with your significant other through the day, so set some ground rules. Decide on specific times when you will take a break together and have signals when distractions are or aren’t alright. For example, a closed door might mean you cannot be disturbed or working at the dining room table instead of the office could mean some chitchat is alright.

  5. Take a few minutes each morning to discuss. Evaluate the prior day and review today’s schedule. Did anything happen yesterday that prevented you from being productive? Do you have an extra busy day today or are things a bit more relaxed? Discuss these topics each morning before going on your separate ways.

If you haven’t already, take a minute to acknowledge the challenges that you might face with both of you working from home and solve them up-front. Build your routines and plans that work for you. How are you surviving working from home with others around?

8 Ways to Make Your Home Office More Secure

8 Ways to Make Your Home Office More Secure

Millions of people around the world have found themselves working from a home office over the past month, and many of them were not prepared. You might have a home office set-up, complete with a comfortable workspace and the right equipment, but is your client’s information well-protected? You may need to step-up your security game.

We’ve shared tips before on how you can guarantee your individual device is secured, and there are more steps you can take to ensure your client’s assets remain safe. Here are a few steps you can take to move closer to that final goal.

  • Remember Basic Security: Let’s start with the standard practices you’re (hopefully) already doing. Install quality virus protection on your computer and work only on a secure Wi-Fi that’s backed-up by a safe password. Speaking of passwords, stop writing them down where anybody can find them. There are a number of affordable password managers available that will make your life easier and more secure.
  • Be Aware of Online Dangers: There are reports of more email attacks during the COVID-19 crisis. Now more than ever, be extra diligent before downloading an attachment or responding to an email that seems the least bit suspicious. Even if it appears to be coming from a co-worker you trust, if it seems out-of-the-ordinary, double check with a phone call to the supposed sender.
  • Don’t Ignore Security Updates: When your computer or software says that there are updates available for security purposes, take the advice and run the updates. Of course, given the previous point, if any update is suspicious, do your research before clicking the “Install” button.
  • Be Careful When Using the Cloud: Saving files to a cloud service such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive is a helpful idea for sharing files with coworkers, and often securely. Before doing so, ensure that it is an approved service by your client’s security team and that your credentials to that service are also secured.
  • Be Aware When Making Calls: The weather is going to become nicer which means your windows are going to be open and you may be in a fortunate situation where you can work on the back deck. Keep your phone conversations quiet because you never know who is listening.
  • Lock Things Up: So far we’ve been talking about electronic security, but physical items such as documents should also be considered when securing your home office. Break-ins happen and kids can get nosey. Set-up locks on your office and invest in a cabinet that locks to help keep client documents safe.
  • Keep Organized: Forget kids and burglars, your own disorganization could be the reason you misplace important documents or passwords get into the wrong hands. Spend a few extra minutes each day to keep your workspace clean and organized.
  • Shred Paper: If you print any documents that have any sort of private information, you should have a paper shredder in your home office. Your client depends on you to dispose of waste responsibly.

There is a lot of change happening that’s causing all of our lives to be a little more out of order. While some things will justifiably be missed, when working from home, it’s imperative that your client’s security remains at the top of your priority list. Could you improve the security in your home office?

Implementing a Business Continuity Plan That Includes Working from Home

Implementing a Business Continuity Plan That Includes Working from Home

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

When disaster strikes (not too hard to imagine these days), most people enter “fire-fighting” mode, change their priorities and deal with it. As a contractor you are a business owner. And businesses require a bit more pre-planning than that. Sure, your business may have only a single employee but that makes this employee pretty important to the company! Even small businesses have suppliers, customers and partners that count on them. A Business Continuity Plan ensures that you know what to do in what order should something unforeseen come up.

Elements of a good BCP vary upon which source you check. In general, they contain these main components:

  • Understanding what is critical to your business’ operations
  • Determining the most important functions within your business
  • Identifying how long these functions can continue to operate during an emergency situation
  • Assigning some measure of risks to each based on your analysis
  • Coming up with a plan that addresses these risks (heavy emphasis on open and timely communications with your stakeholders)
  • Some suggest a final point – Testing the plan. But, depending on your situation, this may not be possible.

There is no shortage of advice online about how to tackle this business planning.

A big part of Eagle’s business continuity plan is how we leverage technology. It’s been over 10 years now, that we adopted technology that fully enabled our workers to work remotely should it come to that. In 2013, the Calgary flood closed the downtown core for many days. No one was allowed in or out and many businesses ground to a halt. Eagle’s BCP kicked in and we continued to service our clients and work with our contractor partners without any significant impact. Key aspects to our technology included cloud-based ERP/CRM, Digital Communications (VoIP, etc.), internal messaging systems and ensuring that all employees have a proper workspace and equipment to be able to be productive and effective from home.

Best Practices for Working from Home

Today, more and more of our clients are directing their staff to work remotely to encourage “social distancing”. As a contractor, this would be required of you as well. Besides the security concerns that would need to be arranged with the client, working from home requires some best practices/skills in addition to having the technology in place that would allow your work to continue when clients shut off access to their offices. Here are some links to past Talent Development Centre posts that share ideas with respect to telecommuting, or as we call it at Eagle, WORKshifting (working wherever you are most productive):

These are strange times and uncharted waters! Hopefully, you have a BCP and are implementing it now. And, if not… well, as the old saying goes… “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is today.” All the best to you as the world works through these health challenges! Take care – stay safe.

The TRUTH About Remote Work (from a Programmer)

In an age where everything can be delivered to your doorstep or done at more, more and more companies are allowing workers to work remotely. The dream, right? Maybe not.

In this video by programmer Andy Sterkowitz, which he recorded while working remotely in Playa Del Carmen, he explains the obvious benefits but as well the challenges that come from working remotely.