Nov 03 2011

The Office - BizTech Quick Take

BizTech Quick Take is our weekly digital tour of the web, serving up news and notes on IT and business that you need to know — and some things you’ll simply be glad to know.

Is the Traditional Office the Least Productive Place?

With telework initiatives growing in number, more business owners are exploring the benefits and pondering the necessity of maintaining a traditional office. Even if it’s important to have face-to-face interaction in the workplace, the traditional office doesn’t appear to facilitate the level of productivity that most people expect.

Small Business Labs notes that research has shown that teleworkers are more productive than their traditional office counterparts, and the same holds true for research on collaborative co-working spaces. So where does that leave the traditional office?

What makes this really interesting is the amount of research saying most people who work from home are more productive than they are at their offices. For example, the Costs and Benefits of Telecommuting are nicely described by the smart folks over at the Telework Research Network. A major benefit of telecommuting from home, backed up by numerous examples, is increased productivity.

So let's see here. Working from home is more productive than working in a traditional office. Working in a coworking facility is more productive than working from home.

This suggests that the least productive place to work is a traditional office.

Much of the work done in offices has undergone a radical shift in the past 50 years, but the layouts of many offices haven’t changed. Maybe it’s time to make that happen.

Read more about productivity and the traditional office in Small Business Labs’ post.

Changing Passwords Remains the Best First Step to Securing Compromised Accounts

Sometimes the simple fixes are the best fixes. When it comes to protecting their identities from hackers, many users don’t bother to think of one of the easiest things they can do on their own: changing their passwords.

Carole Theriault of Sophos’ Naked Security blog explores the benefits of new sites that allow users to search databases to see if their identities have been compromised. But Theriault is leery of handing over user names to these sites that seem to be springing up. Rather, she advises that if a user is worried that his or her identity has been compromised, he or she should just go ahead and change the account password.

If you consider yourself average, and if you are worried that your password on your email or other accounts might have been compromised, the first thing to do is change your password.

Do you use the same password on several sites? Are your passwords dictionary words? If yes, then maybe you really ought to address that now.

Make your new password long and complex as you dare. You can use a random password generator to help you. If you are worried about forgetting it, find yourself a nice obscure poem from an obscure poet and use a different line for each of your passwords. Mix it up a bit. Use numbers or characters instead of specific letters ("e" could be "&", for instance).

You can even use a reputable password manager that encrypts your passwords to help you remember them as well as keep them safe from prying eyes.

This simple, yet sound piece of advice is definitely something worth reinforcing to all users on the company network.

Read more about IT security and passwords in Theriault’s full post on the Naked Security blog.

10 IT Predictions for 2012

As 2011 draws to a close, many are beginning to pull out their crystal balls and imagine what the future holds in 2012. Chuck Hollis of EMC takes a crack at fortunetelling and offers up 10 IT predictions for 2012.

Here are a few of his predictions:

1. The New “Killer App”: Simplicity Since the beginning of time, it seems that applications designers have been in a mad rush to throw ever-more-functionality into applications that we all had to deal with.

Now, it seems the tide has turned.

We're all demanding apps that are not only easy and intuitive to use, but easy to find, easy to install -- and easy to consume wherever we go. If it isn’t simple, we’re not interested.

Documentation? Training? Forget it.

Think about it: things like Dropbox really don't do anything all that new (e.g. file sharing), it just makes file sharing incredibly simple. Ditto Spotify with music, and so on.

And I think enterprise application developers are starting to realize that apps that are easier to consume will get consumed more -- and thus deliver more value. Those of us who built IT infrastructure products (like EMC) now understand this more than ever.

Expect more single-function enterprise apps, expect them to show up in a variety of enterprise app stores, and expect them to work well with other similar apps you're likely to have or want.

It’s been true for consumers for a while; in 2012 it moves to the enterprise.

2. In the Enterprise, Everyone’s A Consumer: Start Thinking "Mobile First".

More and more of us knowledge workers are completely blurring the traditional lines between "work" and "life". We need to be able to work effectively wherever we might be, and that doesn't mean rooted behind a large screen, mouse and keyboard.

Time for enterprise IT types to realize that good mobile experiences shouldn't be an afterthought; going forward, maybe it should be the first thought.

Unfortunately, there's much more to a good mobile experience than simply shrinking your user interface, or saying you support mobile browsers.

Have any IT predictions of your own for 2012? Share them in the comments below.

Read more of Chuck Hollis’ 2012 predictions for IT on his blog.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Cloud Wolf?

When it comes to cloud computing, one of the most nerve-racking aspects for some IT workers is security. This is particularly true of the public cloud, where IT workers surrender direct control to a third party.

Articles are often written that portray the public cloud as nothing more than one big, unprotected sheep, waiting for the big bad wolves of the malware and hacker world to devour them.

But Chris Hoff, a security architect at Juniper Networks, scoffs at the fear mongering in the media around the security of the cloud in a recent post on his blog, Rational Survivability.

Frankly, XML Signature-Wrapping and XSS don’t represent “massive security flaws in cloud architectures.”

They represent unfortunate vulnerabilities in authentication mechanism and web app security, but “cloud architecture”?

These vulnerabilities were also fixed. Quickly.

Further, while the attack vector will continue to play an important role when using Cloud (publicly) as a delivery model (that is, APIs) this story is being over played.

Read more about Hoff’s thoughts on cloud security in his blog.

5 Steps to Staying Focused on the Job

Multitasking is the new norm, but that doesn’t mean being able stay focused on the job is any less important these days. After all, we go to work to get things done. And how well can workers accomplish their work if they don’t have time to focus?

The Real Business at Xerox blog recognizes this difficulty and has put together a short but sweet list of 5 ways to get focused:

1) Mise en Place – Everything In Its Right Place
Make a concerted effort to capture all commitments on your plate and review the list at least once a week. Actions from notes, emails all go into a single electronic system I trust. Getting things out of my head helps me sleep better!

2) Build a Bias Toward Action
I identify the next tangible customer value-adding action that I need to take to make progress on each item. I create personal commitment by reframing the task to align with my values and interests. I WANT to finish those tasks!

3) Manage Time and Energy
Structure your day to work on items that demand focus when you can best provide it. Block off time as needed. Have a number of items that you can work on when your batteries are running low: calls, reports and other drudgery. I have things I need to learn and stuff I’d like to play with – I call those bootstrapping tasks, and they help me fire up my focus and ward off procrastination.

4) Visualize Your Work
I’m visual so I like to see each commitment and its position in my workflow. It helps me see where things are getting blocked and provides a sense of accomplishment as work moves to “done”. Start simple.

5) Mindful Monotasking
Create a distraction-free environment and focus on just one thing. I try to eliminate sources of distraction – Email, Yammer, my smartphone, ambient noise. I work in short bursts: 25 minutes, and take a 5 minute break. I use this sparingly for those items that really require focus.

What tactics and strategies do you use to carve out crucial focus time while on the job? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more on focusing at work, read the full post on the Real Business at Xerox blog.

How the Self-Employed Can Give Themselves a Break

When you work for yourself, there’s no such thing as paid time off. As the sole engine of your business, when you stop, so does the company. And that’s a reality that can be overwhelming at times, as even the self-employed need a break every now and then.

Mandy Gresh, a business coach, wrote 5 simple steps on how the self-employed can pause and take a breather on the Women 2.0 blog.

  • Realize No One’s Going to Die – Really. Unless you’re a doctor, the chances that the world’s going to end or someone is going to be hurt if you take a few days off are pretty slim. We’ve become so obsessed with constant connection that disconnecting can be nerve-racking. When growing your business, it is of course important to return calls and emails in a timely manner. However most people understand you need a vacation here and there. It’s about putting your sanity, and productivity, into perspective.

  • Plan Accordingly. Ashley Cromwell, owner of design firm Gimmie Graphics, says while she loves working, she feels the true beauty in life comes from experiences outside the office. She’s committed to traveling someplace new every year. “I buy my tickets months in advance before work builds up so I can plan accordingly,” she says. Amy Carniol, a freelance writer and editor, agrees. Carniol recommends wrapping up as many projects as possible before going on vacation, so you don’t need to check in too often.

    About a week before departing, start informing clients and vendors that you’re going to be away. Send them a personal note with the date of your departure and return. Let them know that you won’t have access to email or voicemail during that time and they need to take care of any urgent matters before you jet off. Set up an out of office on your email, including the dates you’ll be away stating you’ll have very limited (if any) email access. Note that urgent matters will receive a response as soon as you return. Do the same for voicemail.

Read the rest of Gresh’s tips in her post on the Women 2.0 blog.

Outfitting a Teleworker with the Right Stuff

When a new employee joins the company, most businesses are quick to set them up with a desk, a cubicle, a nameplate, a computer, a phone line and other standard equipment. But is your business making sure that it does the same for teleworkers?

James E. Gaskin identifies some of the necessities of every teleworker in his new column. Two of the most important items: A notebook and a solid network connection to the enterprise.

Read Gaskin’s column on outfitting a teleworker here on BizTech.

Find more great content from the bloggers listed here and other IT blogs by checking out our 50 Must-Read IT Blogs.


Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.