Online meeting etiquette

There’s nothing like a pandemic to ‘help’ people use new technology, but whether you use it effectively or not is a different matter.

We’ve been helping companies implement Microsoft Teams for quite a while now, but in the last few weeks there has been a tsunami of people and companies who’ve suddenly realized they need to use Office 365 and Teams in particular. It’s been reported that Microsoft saw an increase of 37% in just one week as people were told to work from home.

There are plenty of free online training courses available to help people get started, here’s a link to the Microsoft Teams help and learning centre https://support.office.com/en-gb/teams

One of the great features in Teams is the ability to hold virtual meetings – a life saver right now! You can schedule meetings from Outlook, or from Teams, but if you want the meeting to show in your Posts timeline it needs to be set up in Teams and reference the channel.

Zoom is another great meeting app with some features that Teams doesn’t have like the ability to see more than 4 people on video in a meeting. But what I wanted to talk about isn’t the application, it’s the use of it.

When you have a virtual room full of people who are not used to interacting online, they may not be aware of how they’re viewed. By this I mean that when you are in a physical meeting and you yawn, people don’t notice so much as they can see much more than your head. When you’re using a mobile phone or webcam, it’s focused entirely on your face, so if you yawn everyone gets a wonderful view of the inside of your mouth. Lovely. And if you pull a face at what someone says, every single person in that virtual meeting can see very clearly what you think. It’s a good idea to think about the impact you want to have and how you want others to remember you. Plus with so many more people using home broadband that’s not always great, you may find your yawn or facial expression frozen in time for everyone else to enjoy. There have been several times I’ve wanted to take a picture and send it to the person but I’m not that brave!

To reiterate a point I made yesterday, if you need to type something when on a call, please mute your mic so it doesn’t pick up what you’re doing, but don’t forget to unmute when you need to speak! By the way, Zoom has a great feature for hosts that can tell if participants are doing other work and not paying attention to the call window. And when it come to camera position, particularly when you have several screens, put your online meeting and webcam on the same screen preferably one you look directly at, not one that’s high up, and please don’t put your online meeting on a high up screen when you’re webcam is lower. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Taking back control

It’s the little things that start to irritate when you suddenly find yourself AND everyone else having to work from home. Whilst I’ve had jobs over the years that involved working from home part of the time, and I set my business up from home before we had offices, there’s never been a time when all the people I interact with are having to work from home. I am getting calls from the office number, my mobile phone and Teams, plus emails, messages from Messenger, text, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook and Slack. Not to mention the chats and online meetings in Teams, Slack and Zoom. And I’m supposed to get work done when?!

Several years ago I went on a Personal Productivity course run by @Mark Tonks during which he taught us to ‘chunk’ time to get the most out of it so, after a week of feeling like a rabbit in headlights, I’m going back to some tactics that have served me well in the past, and I’m making changes to improve my sanity and productivity thank you #COVID-19.

The first thing I’m doing is turning off distracting sounds on my computer. I don’t need to know when a news article has come in and I don’t want to know when an email has arrived. Similarly, I don’t need to hear another WhatsApp message arriving to add to the 120 unread ones already there, so I’ve turned the volume off on my phone too. This way I have a choice about being able to concentrate when I need to, versus when to read, catch up and respond to others. It’s really no different to my ‘old normal’ day where I would be at a client or in a meeting and not able to be interrupted.

Some of the places you can control sound are in Control Panel (search sound) from the task bar on a Windows PC. And in System Settings, where you can untick ‘Play a sound when a notification arrives’ from the Notification & actions menu.

Whilst I’m here, some online meeting #etiquette when it comes to sound. Working from home brings all sort of additional hazards in the form of the rest of the family, pets and appliances from kettles to vacuum cleaners. Most people are understanding of the fact we can’t stop things from happening in the background at home as our family have nowhere else to go. But we can appreciate that being on a group call with unmuted microphones can make it very difficult to hear what the speaker is saying when microphones pick up background noises, including people tapping away on their keyboard. Out of courtesy to others on a call or group meeting, please mute your microphone until you need to say something. It makes for a better quality call and stops all the ‘who’s making the noise’ comments!

Tracy Pound Heads to DC to Advocate for the Tech Industry

Workforce Development, Cybersecurity, Privacy, Tax Reform, Broadband Access, New and Emerging Technologies and Global Trade are central to our industry

woman with open doors

This week, our MD Tracy Pound joins the CompTIA DC Fly-In to advocate for technology sector priorities on Capitol Hill during the association’s annual fly-in to Washington, D.C. CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, through its advocacy arm, champions member-driven business and IT priorities that impact all information technology companies – from small managed solutions providers and software developers to large internet companies, equipment manufacturers, and communications service providers.

As a CompTIA DC Fly-In participant, Tracy will meet with Congressional representatives to focus their attention on policies that develop skills for the 21st century workforce; advance tax and regulatory policies that spur innovation; establish U.S. leadership in secure internet-based platform technologies; support new and emerging technology platforms; address availability and delivery of broadband communications; and expand markets and advocate for sensible rules of global trade.

“Innovation in the tech sector is a key force behind a strong 21st century economy. One of the most important issues facing the technology industry today is the availability of a skilled workforce. CompTIA has been strongly supportive of the CHANCE in Tech Act, that streamlines the skilled apprenticeship program for the technology industry. We will share with our elected officials the importance of internships and apprenticeships as an avenue to train the next generation of IT workers and incentivise educators, students, and employers to adopt alternative education models that will spur economic growth.”

“We look forward to the 2018 legislative agenda and remain encouraged by the conversations on Capitol Hill about issues critical to our membership,” said Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA. “We will work closely with congressional leaders to push legislation that boosts the digital economy and fosters American innovation.”

The Fly-In runs February 13-14, 2018. For more information on CompTIA’s advocacy efforts, visit https://www.comptia.org/advocacy.

Tracy Pound is a member of the CompTIA Board of Directors, owns and runs Maximity Ltd, an IT Training and Consultancy firm in the UK, and is a passionate advocate for encouraging people to consider a career in tech especially women, who remain underrepresented in the industry.

CompTIA: Building the Foundation for Technology’s Future

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is the world’s leading technology association, with approximately 2,000 member companies, 3,000 academic and training partners, over 100,000 registered users and more than two million IT certifications issued. CompTIA’s unparalleled range of programs foster workforce skills development and generate critical knowledge and insight – building the foundation for technology’s future. Visit CompTIA online, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About CompTIA Advocacy

Through its advocacy arm, CompTIA champions member-driven business and IT priorities that impact all information technology companies – from small managed solutions providers and software developers to large equipment manufacturers and communications service providers. CompTIA gives eyes, ears and a voice to technology companies, informing them of policy developments – and providing the means to do something about it.

Can Payroll software really save you so much time?

Are you up to date with all things Payroll?

All employers are required by law to keep records of pay, tax and National Insurance contributions, no matter how large or small the company is. Failure to keep accurate records could result in penalty charges. Workplace pension law has changed and now all businesses should be helping their workers save for retirement.  In April 2018, the minimum pension contributions will be increasing across the board in order to ensure that workers are saving more money in time for their retirement.

Who would use Payroll software?

In a small business environment the task of paying employees is often undertaken by the business owner or is allocated to somebody else within the business such as an Office Manager or Administrator who may have limited or no experience of how to calculate tax and National Insurance Contributions. As a business grows the likelihood of a fully functioning payroll department or full-time payroll role increases.

What are the benefits to using Payroll software?

  • Save time and reduce errors with automatic calculation of PAYE, NIC and statutory payments
  • Keep up to date with legislative compliance
  • It gives complete control over paying your employees and submitting information to HMRC
  • It provides easily accessible and up to date information
  • It gives the ability to analyse information and make informed decisions about staff costs.

So, if payroll software can deliver on all the above benefits, it seems very clear that there will be less worries, more reassurance that legislation is being adhered to, no need to double/triple check entries and more time as a consequence.

Sage 50 Payroll gives you the confidence that you’re paying the right person, the right amount of money at the right time – automatically working out payment and deductions, including tax, National Insurance, pensions and sick pay.

Maximity are holding a FREE Payroll seminar on Friday 26th January 2018 in Tamworth, Staffordshire to keep you up to date with all of the changes occurring that affect payroll and answer any questions that you might have.  To book your free place please click here.

 

Scared of Excel? Have to use it anyway? Read on…

Spreadsheets?  Excel?  Eeeeek!

I sit here typing this blog as someone who previously said to all who mentioned the dreaded ‘Excel’ word that I was allergic to Excel and that numbers make me break out in a rash.  For anyone who experiences allergies, like me, you can understand that this is a pretty strong statement and I had no interest in changing my opinion.

Then, I started building a business as a virtual assistant (VA).  I love technology and so I offered out my services on many platforms.  While there was plenty of

work to do with digital marketing, CRM updates, presentations and Word files, there were also plenty of requests for help with Excel spreadsheets…ARGH!  I would take on the easiest tasks possible and fumble my way through, googling and YouTubing when I got stuck, but generally I passed on that work to other VAs.  I soon realised that many people use and need help with Excel files and unless I wanted to continue losing money or worrying that my work wasn’t up to scratch, I was going to have to do something about it.

Thankfully, I had been networking with Tracy Pound, the owner of Maximity, for some time and I knew that they helped people with Excel training.  Prior to approaching Tracy about training I had even signed up to a cheap online Excel course (don’t tell her) but then I quickly realised that online learning wasn’t for me.  I had no accountability and no personal contact so I’m not sure if I got past the first lesson!

 

I signed up to an Introduction to Excel course and it completely changed my attitude.  Imagine my surprise when Tracy told me that she hates maths too.  Say what?  I told her that I prefer logic.  Tracy agreed and told me that this is exactly how Excel works, on logic!  Sage does the maths for you, you just have to learn how to ask the right logical questions.  I completed the practical half-day course, under the tuition of Sue Green and have willingly used Excel ever since.  I still need help at times and I’m no expert but that’s the way we start with all things, isn’t it?

The funny thing is that since then I have joined the team at Maximity!  Apparently you can be forgiven for having a passion for technology with Excel as the exception (trust me, they’re working on it!)  However, I like to think that I represent the people that don’t like certain aspects of technology but still have to use it and needed the right approach to change my attitude and begin to learn, rather than avoid.

 

If this sounds like you, or someone in your team, then do give us a call.  We’ll be happy to help.  We also have our Introduction to Excel course running on Wednesday 10th January in Tamworth, so if you are struggling and are making plans to address your training needs for 2018 then get in touch or book on using this link!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ms-excel-introduction-tickets-30917478009

How to Hack-Proof Your Home from Cybercrime

 

Did you know that even our homes and businesses are vulnerable to cybercrime?  Find out here how to take the basic steps to hack-proof your home.  It may sound very far-fetched, but with the continued progress in technology in our homes it is starting to sound like normal practice to control your heating via your phone and even unlock your front door. Homes and businesses across the nation are starting to contain more smart sensors, thermostats, security equipment, even baby monitors and getting them online via wi-fi. These gadgets are known as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) and they are ever on the rise across the world.

They are gadgets designed to make our lives easier and more convenient, such as switching alarm systems on and off from another location or turning up the heating on a chilly day from your phone. The question is, are these methods secure from somebody else’s control? The unfortunate answer is no. There are a whole manner of ways for criminals to intercept personal information, bank details, take control of the technology that is designed for your security e.g. door locks and alarms. It is no secret that whilst technology development is accelerating onwards, so is crime adapting to new opportunities and challenges to wreak havoc and feed their funds.

How does cybercrime affect me?

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? What happened to good old keys in locks or actually standing in front of the thermostat like the good old days? Whilst there are arguments for and against the developments in technology, there is no escaping the fact that it is happening and the number of people and businesses that embrace it are increasing. Also, the idea of criminals seeking to hack into these systems is very real. According to an article in The Sunday Times last week, in October 2016, a large cyber-attack took many prominent sites offline for a day, including giants like Twitter and Netflix. This attack was launched from a network of thousands of connected devices, which you would think were PCs but this was not the case. The gadgets used were smart fridges (yes, there are even smart fridges), TVs, smoke alarms and other smart gadgets that had been sold with little or no security in them.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this would not affect the rest of us when such big giants like Twitter and Netflix are being targeted. However, domestic homes and smaller businesses with less security measures are quite open to cybercrime in comparison, and for cyber criminals there is much to be gained. The increase in voice-controlled artificial intelligence (AI) is widespread, thanks to the many devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. It has recently been discovered that criminals can even use ultrasonic voice commands to smart speakers, named a ‘dolphin attack’ as it is inaudible to the human ear. These voice commands could be used to open a front door, turn off an alarm system…you can see how this would be of benefit to a criminal! Smart speakers have already been known to order products that the owner didn’t ask for following hearing the information on television.

What can we do about it?

Okay, so not everyone will be opening their front door with a magical Harry Potter spell and a swish and flick, but there are so many other ways that criminals are smartening up to that it is important to make sure you’re ahead of the game. Here are a few tips to help you:

  •  Use the built-in voice training options with your smart speakers so that they should hopefully only respond to your voice and nobody else’s.
  • A huge tip for all other devices that use wi-fi is to change your wi-fi passcode. Routers come with set passwords that look quite complex but they are actually much easier for criminals to decode as they have a set link to the brand and type of device. Always change the password for your router to one of your own, but of course make sure that this one will be hard to crack too, no passwords with your favourite football team or your address/date of birth for example!
  • Create a guest network, which involves using a second wi-fi hotspot, either a wireless extender or some modern routers can do this. Connect your devices to this second network, which keeps them further from criminal reach as they are not directly connected to the primary network.
  • Use a password manager, such as LastPass to securely generate and store your passwords across devices.

In summary, our homes and businesses are starting to fill up with smart technology, some more than others. Criminals are also evolving with the times and taking these new opportunities to access and control our data. Whilst the bigger attacks will be reported in the news, these are not the only cases occurring and it is important that people exercise the most basic but effective layers of defence available to them.

If you are concerned about vulnerability to attack for your business then give us a call on 01827 31 22 78 to see if we can help you, or email christina@maximity.co.uk.

Credit goes to Matthew Bingham of The Sunday Times for the information in this blog.

Sage updates to Version 24! What’s new?

On Friday 22nd September we launched our new partnership with Sage and celebrated this with an event at our offices

We had Ian and Nick from Sage Head Office come down to show us who Sage are, where they are heading and how they now compare to other services out there.

There are many exciting new developments occurring and it is clear how they are passionate about the consumer’s opinions and needs and are responding effectively to make a difference.

An interesting and important detail to note is with regards to the changes to the HMRC Gateway next April.  The only version of Sage that will allow you to automatically upload your VAT returns will be Version 24.  Of course, returns can be uploaded manually when using older versions.  It just all depends on the method that would make life easier when the time comes next April.  Speak to us if you need further clarification and help with this.

Other changes include:

  • Go-Cardless Direct Debits
  • New Bank Feeds Rules
  • Function to hide inactive nominal records
  • Excluding DD suppliers from the suggested payments screen
  • Compliance changes with SagePay Protocol and HMRC Gateway

We are more than happy to discuss all of your needs and queries regarding upgrading your Sage software and training.  If you’d like more information then please email christina@maximity.co.uk or give us a call on 01827 31 22 78.

Maxing Tax Digital – the latest news on your tax returns

Making Tax Digital – How will you prepare?
On the 13 July 2017, HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs published its second Finance Bill of 2017, which includes changes to the proposed Making Tax Digital initiative.

The government has said it believes that introducing a new digital tax system is still the right direction to move in. However, it has made amendments to the businesses this impacts and the timescales for change. The amendments to Making Tax Digital now mean:
• Only VAT registered businesses will need to keep digital records and only for VAT purposes.
• They will only need to do so from April 2019.
• Businesses will not be asked to keep digital records or update HMRC quarterly for other taxes until at least April 2020 (the original dates had implementation from April 2019).

What does that mean for businesses?
If you are VAT registered then you will need to move to digital record keeping (i.e. use software to record all your VAT invoices and receipts). If you are not VAT registered then digital record keeping is optional. However, these business owners can gain updated income tax estimates whenever they want, which will help with cash flow forecasting.
If you are VAT registered and do not yet use software to record your VAT information (invoices to customers and from suppliers) you need to start planning for MTD. The new implementation date is April 2019. More information can be found on GOV.UK.

Making Tax Digital support from Maximity and Sage.
Here at Maximity, we sell, install, configure, train (all levels) and support Sage solutions. Call us on 01827 312278 for advice on what solution might be best for you and your business. We are committed to helping small businesses adapt their technology to ensure that the transition to the new digital tax system is a smooth one. We will support our customers every step of the way and continue to  help clarify exactly what Making Tax Digital means for you and your business.

Thanks for the great response!

I was recently featured in Standard Issue’s (link   http://standardissuemagazine.com/))  ‘Glass ceiling smashers’ series of interviews with women who are blazing a trail in different sectors.

The online publication was launched by comedian Sarah Millican. It’s a fresh, new, sassy read with a host of features to make you think, laugh and learn.

So it was brilliant to be included.

Part of the interview offered an opportunity to pay tribute to inspirational women. This was too good a chance to miss to name Nancy Hammervik, vice-president for industry relations at CompTIA. (link: https://www.comptia.org/about-us/executive-staff)

You can read the interview here:

Glass Ceiling Smashers: Pounding her way to the top

Hazel Davis talks to IT industry leader Tracy Pound about being told what to do and taking the locks off the IT world. (http://standardissuemagazine.com/lifestyle/glass-ceiling-smashers-pounding-way-top/)

Since the article was published, we have been thrilled with the very positive response. Sarah Millican herself urged people to read about Tracy’s achievements and re-tweeted a link to her almost two million followers.

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch to say how much they enjoyed the interview. And thank you to the Standard Issue team for featuring me in such auspicious company.

Could women be the answer to the IT skills gap?

Tracy Pound, CompTIA Board member and MD of MaximITy, pens a guest blog for PCR Online speaking about the struggles facing women in the IT industry and what can be done to get more women involved……

“The IT & Tech industry is facing an unprecedented skills gap that could be detrimental to both business and the UK economy. It was reported by the Institute of Engineering and Technology that in 2015 the skills gap increased for the ninth year in a row. It isn’t a surprise that employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find the right talent, with many employers seeing this as significant threat to business.

One area that demands significant attention, is the appeal and diversity of the industry to women. Speaking last year at the Microsoft Future Decoded Conference in London, Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of lastminute.com noted that only 4% of the world’s engineers and 10% of technology company founders are women. It is clear that more work needs to be done and this could present an opportunity to plug some of the skills shortage.

I have been in the IT industry for over 30 years, and am passionate about encouraging more girls and women to look at tech roles. This needs to be addressed, not only from a business perspective with women being given the opportunity to have more senior roles, but also at a grass roots level through education and STEM subjects in school. ….”