Tech News : Apple’s New ‘Business Essentials’

Apple has announced a new ‘Business Essentials’ service that enables small businesses to easily manage every employee’s iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Device Management Solution For Small Businesses

Aimed at business with up to 500 employees, Apple says that ‘Business Essentials’ has been designed to make it easy to manage every aspect of the Apple devices in the customer’s organisation as the organisation grows. Apple says this device management package for small businesses “makes managing Apple devices as easy as using them,” and that it’s “like having the big IT department, without having the big IT department.” Apple says that Business Essentials will allow a small business to easily configure, deploy, and manage Apple products from anywhere.

What Is Included With ‘Business Essentials’?

The service is described as a “complete solution” and includes help with setup, onboarding (described as being “as easy as logging in”), backup (using iCloud), security (built-in), support (24/7 with AppleCare), repairs, and updates. Apple stresses that the service will make it easy to get replacements and update devices.

There is also a new Apple Business Essentials app that employees can use to install apps assigned for work and to request support.

Collections

Within Business Essentials, ‘Collections’ enables IT personnel to configure settings and apps for individual users, groups, or devices. This means that when employees sign in to their corporate or personally owned device with their work credentials, Collections automatically pushes settings such as VPN configurations and Wi-Fi passwords. Also, Collections will install the new Apple Business Essentials app on each employee’s home screen, where they can download corporate apps assigned to them, such as Cisco Webex or Microsoft Word.

Security

Business Essentials allows IT managers to enforce critical security settings such as FileVault for full-disk encryption on Mac, and Activation Lock to protect devices that may be lost or stolen. Apple Business Essentials also ensures these can’t be turned off by mistake. For BYOD, when employees use a personal device at work, ‘User Enrolment’ creates cryptographic separation for work data, to ensure employee data remains private while company data remains secure.

Support and Repairs

Apple says businesses have the option to add fast and reliable service for employee devices with prioritised Apple Support. Also, when a business adds AppleCare+ for Business Essentials to their plan, they will receive 24/7 access to phone support, training for IT administrators and employees, and up to two device repairs per plan each year. One aspect that may be particularly appealing in the world of remote and hybrid work is that with Business Essentials, Employees can initiate repairs directly from the new Apple Business Essentials app, and an Apple-trained technician will come onsite in as little as four hours to fix their device.

When?

Business Essentials is currently only available for small businesses in the U.S. with up to 500 employees but potential users can apply to try Apple Business Essentials before its release in spring 2022 by enrolling here: https://smb.apple.com/essentials/ .

How Much?

There are three different Business Essentials plans available which can be customised to support each user with up to three devices and up to 2TB of secure storage in iCloud, starting at $2.99 per month, with optional AppleCare+ for Apple Business Essentials.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With many different SMBs now using Apple devices for employees, and perhaps employees using their own Apple devices for work, and businesses operating remote and hybrid working practices, this sounds like a valuable service. Not only does it offer security and control, but the fact that it offers training and support and promises to be easy to set up and operate is likely to make it attractive to many businesses that are getting used to subscription-based everything, and who may not have the tech expertise in-house. It also sounds flexible enough to grow easily with businesses as they expand and change and provides a manageable way for them to move from BYOD (while ensuring data security) to IT deployed. For Apple, it is a way to get more enterprise business, learn more about its SMB customers and their needs going forward, and be immediately on hand when new devices are needed thereby retaining its customers and their loyalty.

Tech News : Apple Introduces “Self-Service Repair”, Starting With iPhone 12 and iPhone 13

‘Right to repair’ campaigners finally had something to celebrate last week as Apple announced its “self-service repair” programme, aimed at “customers who are comfortable with completing their own repairs.”

Initial Phase

Apple says that the initial phase of the programme, beginning in the US early next year, will be for iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models, and will focus on the most commonly serviced modules, such as the iPhone display, battery, and camera.

How Will It Work?

The programme, which Apple says is “intended for individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices” relies firstly on the customer reviewing the Repair Manual. From here, Apple expects the customer to place an order for the necessary Apple genuine parts and tools using the Apple Self Service Repair Online Store. After the repair, any customers who return their used parts for recycling will receive credit toward their purchase.

Access To 200 Parts and Tools

Those choosing to attempt their own repairs via the “Self-Service Repair” programme will join the global network of 5,000 Apple Authorised Service Providers (AASPs) and 2,800 Independent Repair Providers who already have access to Apple parts, tools, and manuals. Those in the initial phase of the programme, however, will only have access, via the new store, to the 200 parts and tools which are commonly used for iPhone 12 and 13 repairs.

Next Phase

The wider roll-out of the programme is due to take place beyond the US to “additional countries” throughout 2022. Apple’s plan for the next phase of the programme is to provide Self-Service Repair for Mac computers featuring M1 chips.

Professional Repairs Still Best For The Majority

In its announcement of the new programme, Apple acknowledged that “For the vast majority of customers, visiting a professional repair provider with certified technicians who use genuine Apple parts is the safest and most reliable way to get a repair.”

Devices To Landfill A Big Problem

Devices such as phones contain precious elements that can be extracted and recycled, but vast numbers of phones simply go to landfill, adding to pollution levels. For example, a recent assessment by the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) showed that 151 million or more phones per year (approximately 416,000 per day) are incinerated or landfilled and that 40 per cent of heavy metals in US landfills come from discarded electronics.

Right To Repair Movement

The ‘right to repair’ movement has grown in recent years with the basic idea being to help tackle built-in obsolescence, thereby prolonging product life cycles, creating better value and saving money for consumers, reducing the number of products going to waste, and helping the environment. There have been calls for rules/legislation to be passed that force manufacturers (e.g., of appliances, electrical products, white goods and more) to make parts (and information) available to end customers, and not just approved/authorised repairers, and technicians, so that it is possible for end-users to fix the product at home.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In reality, it seems unlikely in what has become a society used to simply “throwing away and replacing” (rather than repairing products) that many users will attempt home repairs on what are relatively complicated, delicate, high-value, and important daily-use items. Nevertheless, being seen to give the right to repair is likely to be really valued by some people and viewed positively by many. Apple has gone from the low-point scandal of being fined (for using a software update to slow down some old iPhones and not telling people how to fix the problem and prompting a battery replacement) to what appears to be the complete turnaround with this transparency and positivity of giving customers the power, means, and choice to fix their own devices rather than forcing them to only use approved technicians. Many businesses are aware of the need for improved environmental credentials and use Apple devices. This could mean a positive rub-off value for them and, coupled with the recent announcement of offering a Business Essentials full device management service, businesses now have some good reasons to view Apple in more positive light.

Tech Insight : Elon Musk : ‘Twick’ or Tweet?

In this tech-insight, we take a brief look at billionaire Elon Musk’s usage of Twitter, how and why he makes such use of the platform, and what Mr Musk’s interactions can teach businesses about using Twitter.

Who Is Elon Musk?

South African-born, business magnate Elon Musk, is the CEO, early investor and Product Architect of Tesla Inc, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX, as well as co-founder of Neuralink, and OpenAI. Musk formed bank X.com, which merged with Confinity in 2000 to create PayPal which was bought by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Musk also set up the tunnelling and engineering company called ‘The Boring Company’ which is reported to be working on hyperloop transport projects. Elon Musk is ranked second on the Forbes rich list with an estimated 151bn, although other lists rank his wealth as much higher.

Twitter Trouble

Elon Musk is known for his Twitter interactions, some of which have had seismic results. For example, back in 2018, Musk was reported to have made what turned out to be the most expensive tweet in the world. The tweet(s), about taking the Tesla company private using ‘secured’ funding cost him not just his role as Chairman for 3 years, but also a $20m (£15m) fine, and some damaging accusations of fraud.

Musk also faced a defamation trial after a short Twitter spat with a British cave diver who played a leading role in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. It was reported that after the cave diver labelled Musk’s offer to provide a mini-submarine for the rescue a ‘PR stunt,’ Mr Musk made a series of tweets aimed at the rescuer, one of which referred to him as “pedo guy”. Musk apologised for the tweet.

Climate Carbon Crisis Cash?

Back in January, Musk famously took to Twitter to pledge a prize of $100 (£73 million) prize, through Xprize Foundation, to whoever could develop the best technology to remove carbon dioxide (which is generated from burning fossil fuels) from the air.

Recently – Sanders Showdown & Customer Service Tweets

Some more recent Twitter battles that Musk has been involved in include:

– Going after U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders after Mr Sanders tweeted that the extremely wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes. Musk’s replies made the point he doesn’t take a cash salary or bonus, but only has stock, which means that the only way for him to pay taxes personally is to sell stock. Mr Musk then held a Twitter poll among his followers to decide whether he should sell some stock. After his followers said he should, Musk sold nearly $7bn of shares in Tesla, which resulted in a fall in the Tesla share price.

– Personally tweeting a reply within 3 minutes of a complaint by a Korean owner over a problem with the Tesla app. Musk also came back with an update about the issue 5 hours later.

What’s Happening?

Despite Mr Musk’s lawyer arguing in a defamation case that Twitter is “infamous for invective and hyperbole,” and that Twitter users expect to hear opinions and not facts, Elon Musk makes frequent use of the platform, often to make Tesla announcements. Some of the reasons why Musk tweets in the way that he does may include:

– Instant, direct reach to all interested parties, including investors. Elon Musk has around 30 million followers. The platform’s effectiveness in bypassing traditional media (so that opinion must follow the message rather than shape it) was shown by how former US President Donald Trump used Twitter.

– Brand communications value. Unlike advertising, tweeting is free and with millions of followers, Musk can have a huge impact for (very) low cost.

– Strengthening an image. The way that Musk tweets (e.g., with sometimes controversial comments) and with the expectation that he could personally comment in anything from a single customer complaint to comments from politicians appears to strengthen his image as maverick and someone with an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, strengthen his own brand image (and value), retain investor interest, and keep him in the public eye.

– Taking risks. For a billionaire, whose words can have an enormous impact on the value and brands of companies, taking to Twitter can be a risk (e.g., of saying the wrong thing). It could be argued that perhaps this risk is part of the attraction and/or it could be a way that Musk can feel/show himself to be an equal to and have the same freedoms in some ways as anyone else by allowing himself to express his own opinions freely online.

– Creating a buzz. Expressing opinions in an informal way can create not just a media buzz about Musk and his companies but can also stir up debate.

– Getting instant market intelligence and opinions. With so many followers, Musk can use Twitter as an instant gauge of opinion that can feed into making important business decisions.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although Elon Musk’s wealth, fame, and audience size make him by no means a typical Twitter user, his use of the platform highlights both its value as a low-cost, direct, impactful communications channel to an opted-in, interested audience, but also how tweets should be thought about carefully first (e.g., where they concern a business and its investors) and how entering into personal spats can be damaging.  Its instant, conversational nature can, therefore, help businesses to respond quickly in a way that is helpful to customers but can also be risky if used too spontaneously. Twitter can help build the personality aspects of a company and can help stakeholders feel more in touch with a company.

Featured Article : Pesky Pop-Ups!

In this article, we look at some of the pop-ups that users find most annoying, some of the issues around them, and how users can minimise the annoyance and interruption from them.

Pop Up Ads

Pop-up (adverts) refer to online advertising that takes the form of an interruptive graphical user interface display area that suddenly appears in the foreground and is used to drive traffic to (e.g., a website) with a view to generating enquiries and sales. Pop up adverts have been used extensively in online marketing for years and vary in design and size. The reason they have been used so much is that they can be very effective. For example, a Sumo study (2019) found that although the average conversion rate for pop-up is 3.09 per cent, the top 10 per cent highest-performing pop-ups averaged an impressive 9.28 per cent conversion rate. One of the big problems with them is, however, that people generally find them to be VERY annoying

How Annoying?

In a HubSpot survey of US and European Internet users, online pop-ups topped the list of the most disliked type of adverts (73 per cent), and 48 per cent of respondents agreed that online adverts are more intrusive now than they were 2 to 3 years ago.

Why So Annoying?

Some of the reasons why pop-up adverts are so annoying include:

– They slow things down. Back in 2019, for example, research by developer Patrick Hulce showed that around 60 per cent of the loading time in a browser is caused by JavaScript code that is used to place adverts or analyse what users do. The research found that if ad-placing and analytics JavaScript code are used together on a page this can add more than two-thirds of a second to loading times

– They are intrusive, and they interrupt what a user is doing. Pop-up adverts can also be obstructive and distracting.

– They create security concerns, both for the websites that host the ads for third-party suppliers, and for web users, particularly if users accidentally click on a pop-up advert e.g., fear of downloading malware.

Particularly Annoying Types?

A Coalition for Better Ads survey (2017) found that of all adverts, desktop users least preferred pop-up ads, and autoplay videos (especially with sound).

How To Stop Pop-Up Adverts

Some examples of ways to stop pop-up adverts include:

– Install a pop-up (ad) blocker. Ad blockers are browser extensions or other filtering software that block web requests to download content (e.g., pop-up adverts) into the browser. In addition to stopping annoying pop-up adverts, ad blockers can also stop annoying banners or video ads on YouTube and Facebook, help with security by blocking malicious adverts, and help privacy by blocking third-party trackers.

– To stop pop-up ads in Chrome, go to the three dots menu (top right) and select ‘Settings.’  Under ‘Privacy and security’, click ‘Site setting’s, click ‘Pop-ups and redirects,’ and choose the option you want as your default setting.

– On Android (phone or tablet), open the Chrome app. To the right of the address bar, tap ‘More’, ‘Settings’, tap ‘Permissions’, ‘Pop-ups and redirects’, and Turn off ‘Pop-ups and redirects’.

– On an Apple Mac, pop-ups can be blocked using the Safari browser. For example, in Safari, find and click ‘Preferences’ in the drop-down menu, click on ‘Websites,’ click ‘Pop-up Windows’ (left-hand menu), click on the ‘When visiting other websites’ menu at the bottom and select ‘Block’ or ‘Block and Notify.’

Cookie Policy Pop-Ups

Another particularly annoying pop-up for many users is a cookie policy pop-up. The number of these pop-ups exploded with the introduction of GDPR in 2018. Some of the main complaints about cookie-policy pop-ups are:

– Cookie consent alerts are now widely viewed as being pointless.

– The countless cookie pop-ups in countries where online tracking needs to be actively consented to by a user lead to ‘cookie fatigue’ which in turn, can make people give away more personal data than they would like to.

– Many companies use cookie banners that don’t comply with the PECR and GDPR requirements.

– On mobiles, half the screen can sometimes be blocked out by them, making it very difficult to navigate and proceed.

Examples of how you can stop being plagued by annoying, and sometimes incredibly large, obtrusive, and obstructive cookie policy pop-ups include:

– Turn off cookies in your browser settings.

– Use a privacy-first web browser such as Brave, Ghostery, Tor, and DuckDuckGo.

– Use a special browser extension/add-on, such as Privacy Badger, Consent-O-Matic, (which automatically fills in your preferences when cookie popups appear), Consent Manager, or Ninja Cookie (which rejects cookies by default).

Third-Party Cookies Being Phased Out By Google

One of the big pieces of ‘cookie news’ this year was Google’s announcement (in March) that it will be phasing out third-party cookies over two years before rendering them obsolete. The reason for the slow phase-out is given as allowing time to develop workarounds that address the need of not just users, but also of businesses, publishers, and advertisers.

Cookie Shake-Up Planned

Also, a planned shake-up in data laws by Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden (who favours ‘light touch’ regulation) and the introduction of the new Information Commissioner, John Edwards, could soon see an end to the annoyance of cookie pop-ups.

Email / Mail App Pop Ups

The email ‘Mail’ app on Windows 10 can be another annoying pop-up. For example, notifications of new emails can interrupt the user as the notifications slide into the screen from right to left, requiring the user to click on the cross to close each one (which only leads to more) or click on ‘dismiss’. Although it can be helpful if the emails are important, many emails are of much less immediate importance than the work that the email interrupts.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Pop-up adverts and messages can be effective because they are interruptive, are difficult to ignore, and can grab the attention, sometimes with the right offer at the right time. Online advertising is an important way that companies and publishers can help fund their business and the content they produce, and this is why pop-up blockers have become such a contentious issue. Nevertheless, research shows that pop-up adverts can be very frustrating and annoying to Internet users, particularly if they impede, bombard or divert the users who may accidentally click on them. Cookie consent may have a place from a compliance perspective, but the effects of ‘cookie fatigue’ and the change of Information Commissioner, coupled with a ‘light touch’ Digital Secretary mean that sea-change is on the way for companies and users as regards cookies, and although users value their data privacy, they also value a smoother experience of the web.

Tech Tip – Changing Your Default Web Browser in Windows

If you’d like to change your default Windows 10 web browser from Edge to Chrome or Opera, here’s how:

– In the ‘Start’ menu and select ‘Settings’ or type ‘Settings’ in the Windows search field.

– In ‘Settings’, select ‘Apps’, and select ‘Default apps’ on the sidebar.

– Scroll to the ‘Web browser’ section and select ‘Microsoft Edge’.

– Choose which browser you’d like to set as your default choice e.g., Google Chrome.

Tech Insight: Do People Lie More Online?

In this article, we look at whether there is evidence to suggest that people lie more online, and what the message is for businesses. 

Lying 

Just 3 years after the World Wide Web was introduced to the public domain, a report was published by University of Virginia psychologist Bella M. DePaulo (DePaulo, Kashy, Kirkendol, Wyer, and Epstein) which revealed that most people, on average, tell one or two lies per day. Also, the report showed that, although people are dishonest in about 30 per cent of their social interactions each week, different levels of dishonesty are perceived, people generally don’t regard their lies as serious, don’t plan lies much, and don’t worry about being caught. 

The Truth Default Theory 

Levine’s Truth Default Theory (TDT) from 2014 gives more context to how we generally judge truth, deception, and deception detection.  The main message of TDT is that when we communicate with other people, we tend to believe them, and the thought that maybe we shouldn’t does not even come to mind.  TDT also says that, although this ‘truth-default’ makes us vulnerable to deception, there are certain “triggers” that can break us out of our default-to-honest mindset and enable lie detection. In other words, if a person’s suspicions rise to a level that they cannot explain away or rationalise (through having too many doubts), they can snap-out of the truth-default. 

Lying + Technology : Hancock’s Feature-Based Model 

The first prominent research to discover if there was a connection between deception rates and technology was carried out in 2004 by researcher Jeff Hancock.  Mr Hancock’s research was based on reports of social interactions by his colleagues and 28 students, and, along with researchers Jennifer Thom-Santelli and Thompson Ritchie, led to the development of the “feature-based model.” 

The model was designed to show how the design of these technologies affects lying behaviour. The results showed that people lie most on the telephone and lie the least in emails, and that lying rates in face-to-face and instant messaging interactions are approximately equal.  It was concluded that the design features of communication technologies (e.g., synchronicity, recordability, and copresence) affect lying behaviour in important ways and that designers must consider these features must when issues of deception and trust arise.  

Revisited With Updated Findings 

Since the study, the world of social media and smart-phones has matured somewhat, and Hancock revisited the study of the Relationship Between Deception and Design just as this was happening.  The new findings and observations have led to the following updated points: 

– People tell the most lies per social interaction over synchronous, distributed, and recordless media (the phone, video chat). 

– People tell the fewest lies per social interaction via email, although the differences across the forms of communication are small. 

– Lying rates are also associated with ‘aversive personality traits’, plus antisocial, and relational deception motives. 

– While media options have evolved, technological design features often remain stable and indicate deception rates. 

Online Dating Lies 

Another Hancock study (Hancock, Toma, Ellison research, 2021), looked at the world of online dating and found that: 

– Deception is frequent, but the magnitude of the deceptions is usually small, and deceptions differ by gender. Also, 81 per cent of people lie about at least one of these variables: weight (the most frequently lied about attribute), followed by height, and least of all age. 

– Social Media and Presenting An Imprecise Image 

– A Custard.com study found that people commonly “lie” by presenting an image of themselves and their lives that is imprecise or less than comprehensive, thereby leading the viewer to believe falsehoods. For example, only 18 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women report that their Facebook page displays “a completely accurate reflection” of who they are, and one-third of people tend to only share the “non-boring” aspects of their lives and are not as active as their social media accounts show them to be. 

Social Media and Accountability 

Although deception for self-presentation can bring the reward of appearing more positive (self-oriented lies), many professional activities are now conducted online (e.g., displaying resumes on LinkedIn). The public-nature of resumes and the accessibility of profiles to colleagues and friends in social networking websites makes people more accountable for information shared online.  This can make people less comfortable to lie on some social media to friends/colleagues, many of whom would be able to spot their deception. 

Fake News, Disinformation, and Misinformation 

One key area that has proven difficult for social media businesses to manage has been the spread of lies online in the form of fake news.  Ofcom figures show that 4 out of 10 UK adult internet users don’t possess the skills to critically assess content online. Also, many young people have social media as their main source of news, thereby making them more vulnerable to the effects of online lies. Measures taken to help reduce the damaging effects of this problem include fact-checking services for social media and government strategies to help people to spot disinformation (e.g., the UK’s Online Media Literacy Strategy from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport – DCMS). 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Truth Default Theory may be one explanation as to why we can be deceived (i.e., most of us assume a person is being honest until proven otherwise). Studies such as those by Hancock, which look at connections between deception rates and technology, appear to show that people don’t really lie that much more online, and there are really only small differences in lying rates across media, and people are less likely to lie in emails.  Also, people may be less likely to lie where they will clearly be held accountable and where the lies will be spotted and could negatively affect how others view them. 

For businesses, getting the truth (e.g., from employees, job applicants, customers, and other stakeholders) is important for business continuity, marketing, security, and indeed all operations rely on trust and truth. The message from many of these studies shows, however, that although it’s tempting to believe that technology facilitates deception, the relationship between deception and technology is not straightforward and deception is much more complicated than that. There is no single cue that always predicts deception, but if something doesn’t feel right, it’s not. As Hancock has said, “The idea (with spotting online deception) is to pay attention to how you’re feeling about things, and that if something doesn’t feel quite right or is too good to be true, it probably is.” 

Where important information and declarations are required, businesses should, therefore, ask for (and check) backup evidence, make it clear that there are checks in place and there is accountability to deter lying in the first place, and perhaps to design steps in systems that have a human ‘feelings’ reality check built-in. 

The message to businesses involved in communication technologies is to consider how synchronicity, recordability, and copresence (factors that affect lying behaviour) could be used and arranged to minimise the chance for deception to be used.

Featured Article : Facebook (Meta) To Integrate Workplace With Microsoft Teams

Facebook/Meta has announced that it is integrating Workplace with Microsoft’s collaboration app Teams to enable users to share information more easily between the two platforms.

What Is Workplace?

First announced in 2016, originally Facebook’s internal messaging board, and formerly known as ‘Facebook At Work’, Workplace is the work-focused version of Facebook’s social app. The app is a communication tool that connects everyone in a company, even if they’re working remotely. Workplace has features like Groups, Chat and Live video broadcasting.

More Than 7 Million Paid Workplace Subscribers

Back in May, Facebook announced that Workplace had 7 million paid subscribers, up more than 40 per cent on last year. At the time, Facebook attributed the big jump in demand for Workplace to the COVID-19 lockdowns and the resulting home/remote working fuelling demand for enterprise connectivity platforms like Workplace, Slack, and Teams. Microsoft saw the number of Teams users rise to 145 million per day in May, compared to 15 million in October 2020.

Integration between Workplace and Teams

The integration between Facebook’s Workplace and Microsoft Teams will allow users to share content from Workplace’s newsfeed and from its groups into Microsoft’s Teams platform. Also, it means that users will soon be able to livestream video from Teams into Workplace groups, thereby allowing employees to watch live meetings and events on whichever app they are using or catch up later by watching a recording on Workplace.

No Need To Keep Switching Between The Two

Facebook’s Head of Product at Workplace, Ujjwal Singh, has announced one of the key advantages of the integration between Workplace and Teams is that employees will be able to access the content from Workplace within Teams without having to switch back and forth between the two apps.

The hope is that the integration will make it easier for employees to stay up to date with important information and that it could open up more opportunities for company-wide feedback and engagement.

Example of the Integration in Action

One real example of a company that has been trialling the integration (given by Ujjwal Singh) is the Flight Centre Travel Group. Nick Williams, Head of Digital Workplace (Flight Centre Travel Group), is quoted as saying that, “Workplace enables our agents to connect with colleagues beyond their direct teams, breaking down silos across brands and business groups in ways we’ve never been able to before.”  Also, Mr Williams highlights the particular value of the integration to remote and hybrid working by saying, “By creating a bridge between our company’s community hub (Workplace) and teamwork hub (Teams), employees will be able to access the most important information, whether they’re in an office or in the field, and feel connected at all times.”

Also, back in October, Facebook announced a global alliance with Deloitte to help companies use Workplace to meet the challenges of remote working.

Deepening Relationship Between Microsoft and Facebook

This new integration is seen as part of a deepening, value-adding relationship between Facebook and Microsoft. For example, last year Workplace jointly committed with Microsoft to bring together more tools (e.g., joint customers can already integrate Workplace with SharePoint, OneDrive, and the Office 365 suite). Also, Workplace was named as one of Azure AD’s top 15 most used apps, along with Cisco Webex, Google Cloud / Google Workspace, and Zoom.

Video Calling Support

Another sign of the relationship between Facebook and Microsoft was the announcement in September that beginning in December this year, Facebook will be adding support for Microsoft Teams for all video calling Portal touch-based devices including Portal Go and Portal+.

Comment From Microsoft Teams

Jeff Teper, CVP Product & Engineering at Microsoft Teams is also optimistic about the integration, saying “We have a shared vision of offering our customers choice and flexibility, so it made sense for us to come together to help our mutual customers unlock collaboration and break down silos within their organizations.”

When and How?

Facebook says that Teams and Workplace customers can download and use Workplace / Teams by entering their details at the foot of this page: https://www.workplace.com/workplace-microsoft

Also, companies will be able to stream meetings and broadcasts from Teams into Workplace starting in 2022.

Should Microsoft Worry?

Recent whistleblower allegations about Facebook have generated more bad publicity about the social media giant. Some commentators have suggested that Microsoft may be taking a risk in being too closely associated with Facebook/Meta at the current time.

Other Microsoft News

Other Microsoft news and announcements from its recent Ignite conference includes:

– Mesh for Microsoft Teams, which allows users to have personalised 3D avatars to communicate in meetings held in shared immersive virtual reality spaces (conference rooms, design centres and networking lounges). 

– Azure Synapse Analytics, which is a service to (seamlessly) connect data integration, enterprise data warehousing and big data analytics.

– The Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, a solution designed to help companies measure, understand, and take charge of their carbon emissions, set sustainability goals, and take measurable action.

– Connected Spaces for Dynamics 365, which enables organisations to harness observational data from video AI and sensors, use low-code capabilities to control observations, and produce real-time predictive insights.

– Enhancements to Teams webinar capabilities, and a new Teams chat feature.

– Viva Learning (educational training courses through Teams) becoming generally available, and Microsoft introducing new tools to help businesses implement a zero-trust security model.

– The introduction of the Microsoft Defender (formerly Windows Defender) endpoint security solution for SMBs.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The battle to get the best share in the market for collaborative apps in the pandemic-fuelled remote and hybrid working environment has seen Microsoft and Facebook’s relationship become closer and this latest integration is more evidence of that. As users search for more flexibility in their new working practices, big tech companies such as Microsoft and Facebook are seeing the benefits of a ‘team effort’ to stay ahead of the newcomer competitors that grew so rapidly during the pandemic (e.g., Zoom and Slack), and help redefine themselves going forward. Particularly Facebook (now Meta) with its immersive ‘Metaverse’ concept and Microsoft with its Mesh 3D avatars are trying to move away from traditional ideas of their services (Office programs and a social media app) into new more difficult to define market territories and opportunities. This Teams/Workplace integration is likely to be particularly good news for an embattled Facebook (Meta), but some critics argue that these integrations are just ways that the existing big tech companies can consolidate their already powerful market positions.

Tech News : One-Third Of UK Employees Being Remotely Monitored By The Boss

A Prospect trade union poll has revealed that 32 per cent of UK workers are being remotely monitored and tracked by employers.

Big Rise

The poll also shows a rise in the number of employees under remote surveillance that’s up from a quarter (24 per cent) from just 6 months ago in April. This includes a doubling of the usage of camera monitoring in people’s homes, with 13 per cent of home-workers now being monitored by cameras compared to only 5 per cent 6 months ago.

Young Workers Particularly At Risk

Prospect’s poll, conducted by Opinium, shows that young workers (18 to 34) are particularly at risk of a higher rate of monitoring. The poll showed that 48 per cent of younger workers have reported being monitored at work, including 20 per cent being monitored using cameras.

Tech Sector Workers Particularly Affected

Prospect has stressed its concerns that intrusive monitoring of this kind is likely to be particularly affecting workers in sectors with higher levels of remote working, larger proportions of younger workers, and low levels of trade union membership (e.g., the tech sector).

Monitoring What?

The kinds of metrics and details that employee monitoring software can highlight are:

– Taking sample screenshots/recording screens.

– Whether employees are active/inactive during working hours.

– How much time is spent on the Internet, plus whether games are being played or social media accessed too much.

– Whether employees are using work devices for work or private purposes.

Largely Unregulated

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy has expressed his concerns, not just at the level of surveillance but also at the apparent lack of regulation saying:

“New technology allows employers to have a constant window into their employees’ homes, and the use of the technology is largely unregulated by government.

“We think that we need to upgrade the law to protect the privacy of workers and set reasonable limits on the use of this snooping technology, and the public overwhelmingly agree with us.”

Labour’s Shadow Digital Minister, Chi Onwurah MP, agreed and highlighted the matter of consent (or lack of it) saying:

“Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home.

“The bottom line is that workers should not be subject to digital surveillance without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.”

COVID Has Driven Surveillance and Surveillance Is Driving ‘Gigification’

Anna Thomas, Director of the Institute for the Future of Work think tank pointed to the cause of the increased surveillance and how it could be affecting the nature of some jobs saying:

“IFOW research suggests COVID has driven a significant acceleration in technology adoption by businesses, leading to fundamental changes to the terms, conditions and quality of work.

“Speaking to both remote workers staying at home and key workers who travelled to workplaces through the pandemic, we found that increased surveillance is driving an intensification, and in many cases ‘gigification’ of jobs.”

What Laws Relate To Monitoring of Employees?

Data protection (the data gathered about individual employees), and privacy are the key concerns where there is currently legal protection related to monitoring employees with software and cameras. Relevant laws include Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights whereby individuals have a non-absolute right to respect for their private and family life and correspondence, and (UK) GDPR. Under GDPR, data needs to be processed lawfully, fairly, and transparently as well as being collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a way incompatible with those purposes. Also, monitoring data must be adequate, relevant, and limited to what is necessary for those purposes.

The guidance from ACAS is that although employers can monitor employees, workers are entitled to some privacy at work and employers must tell employees about any monitoring arrangements and the reason for it. Employers should have procedures in place setting out what is and what isn’t allowed, and these procedures should be made clear and understood by all workers before monitoring begins. Generally, employers must have a genuine reason to conduct covert monitoring such as criminal activities or malpractice, and any monitoring should be limited, targeted and within certain times, and employers should also have regard for private communications.

Suggested Measures

Prospect’s fundings have led the union to suggest possible measures to protect employees from intrusive monitoring, which include:

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) needs to toughen the regulation on the introduction of new monitoring technology in workplaces, and ensure that employees are always consulted, and that there is full transparency on how this tech is used.

The government should consider banning the use of camera monitoring in people’s homes and make it illegal for employers to use webcams to check up on workers outside of meetings and calls.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Employee monitoring has a value to businesses in terms of helping to manage productivity and ensure that company policies and procedures are adhered to. Remote monitoring of employees started to become more widespread with the remote working caused by the pandemic lockdowns. The resulting shift to hybrid working patterns appears to have driven a further rise in monitoring, but the level of increase and the use of camera monitoring have caused alarm among unions like Prospect, privacy campaigners, and some government ministers. Although Prospect has called for more regulation and for help from the ICO, employers who are currently monitoring their employees (or are thinking of doing so) need to be aware that there are already laws covering how it can be used. For example, workers are entitled to some privacy at work and employers must tell employees about any monitoring arrangements and the reason for it.

Although Monitoring employees can bring many business benefits (e.g., unbiased insights, highlighting areas for cost savings, and getting early warnings of misbehaviour) it is important to stick to the law and to consider that retaining employee trust, maintaining morale, and displaying behaviour that sends positive motivational messages to employees can also be contributors to productivity.

Tech News : Hybrid Working Results In Move Off-Premise For Tech Infrastructure

Research by Zen Internet has revealed that hybrid working is causing businesses to question whether they now need enough on-premise tech infrastructure to support a full capacity office.

Most Business Have Hybrid Working Plan

The research conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of Zen Internet showed that 93 per cent of businesses already have a hybrid working plan in place to enable employees to work remotely, and 89 per cent now have their tech operations hosted off-premise.

The Hybrid Effect

Post-COVID Hybrid working patterns using software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) and cloud-based collaborative platforms have meant that there are much fewer people in the office and maintaining the same amount of on-premises tech infrastructure, such as data centres, is no longer needed by many companies. The research showed that the effects on the office hardware include:

– Only 11 per cent of planned tech operations are projected to be hosted on-premise, even though on-premise datacentres take up around 8 per cent of office floor space, and half of UK businesses’ technological infrastructure are currently reliant on on-premise systems.

– Employees only working 3 days per week in the office building means that only 55 per cent of office space and desks are expected to be in use over the next year.

Why Keep On-Premise Data Centres?

With half of the businesses surveyed by Zen admitting that data centres pose security and maintenance challenges, and with more than one-third citing a lack of in-house data centre maintenance skills and the fact they take up a lot of a physical space, there is an argument that with cloud-based hybrid working solutions, on-premise data centres may no longer be needed.

Although between one-third and one-half of the businesses surveyed could see a business case for moving data centres off-premise (e.g. better security and maintenance), their reason for not doing so yet is based on a belief that it would be expensive (77 per cent), and time-consuming (82 per cent).

Function Of The Office Is Changing

Hybrid working means that for many businesses, the office has become more of a place for colleagues to meet, collaborate, socialise, and learn, and the has become the ‘cultural epicentre’ of the business, whereas home is now the place where focused work tasks are carried out.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With hybrid working and the important part played by the cloud and SD-WAN technology now becoming a widely accepted working pattern, and with many offices not likely to see the whole workforce in at any one time, it makes sense that businesses are now asking questions about whether they now need large parts of their in-house, on-premise infrastructure e.g., a data centre. Also, cloud-based alternatives may be more secure and easier to maintain, thereby making the off-premises move more attractive both practically and financially. Although some businesses still see expense and difficulty as barriers to making the move now, it’s important to recognise that a different, valuable use can be made of the office to support the new culture, and many businesses have already successfully made the move to off-premise tech infrastructure and that this could become a source of competitive advantage going forward in the new work environment.

Tech Tip – Using The Spacebar To Speed Up Email Reading

Here’s how to use the Reading Pane and Spacebar in Outlook to sort through your daily emails more quickly:

– In Outlook, select “View” and “Reading Pane.”

– Select the Reading Pane to sit on the right-hand side.

– Select the top email in your inbox.

– Press the Spacebar so that Reading Pane will scroll down to reveal the lower section of your email and email chain.

– When you have reached the bottom of the email, the Spacebar will then take you to the next email in your inbox.

– Use the “Delete” key as you go through to remove emails that don’t need to be actioned.

– Use the Spacebar rather than the mouse to go through your remaining emails.