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Posts by Seabeck Systems, LLC

What are the cybersecurity risks of remote work and how do you manage them?

September 17th, 2020

Seabeck Systems, LLC

Cyber security in remote work conditions

It has been more than six months since companies were pushed to switch to remote work, and it seems that many of them plan to adopt remote work as a long term business optimization. However, a remote workforce allows for an increased number of cybersecurity vulnerabilities. In this article, we will talk about how management teams can plan ahead to prevent security vulnerabilities.

How big is the cybersecurity threat?

Several security reports indicate that 80% of companies have seen an increase in cyber attacks since March 2020. In case you’ve missed them, here are some of the statistics which were published in May 2020:

  • The FBI reported a 300% increase in reported cyber crimes as of May 2, 2020. (Source: IMC Grupo)
  • Phishing is up 600% and experts say online threats are six times higher than normal. (Source: WPXI)
  • Ransomware attacks (an attack that encrypts your files and asks for a payment in order to restore access to your data) have increased 148% in March 2020. (Source: VMware)
  • 51% of companies experienced an increased number of phishing attacks due to employees working remotely (Source: Barracuda)

The US Department of Homeland Security also warns companies using cloud collaboration tools of an increase in malicious attacks targeting “organizations whose hasty deployment of Microsoft O365 may have led to oversights in security configurations and vulnerable to attack.”

Cyber security risk is one of the main threats in working environments, so what should you plan for, as a manager or member of a remote team, in order to protect sensitive data?

We spoke with Jennifer Rendon, an IT expert at Logically (previously known as Carolinas IT), who has been working closely with clients in the past months to mitigate the security risks and deploy the necessary infrastructure to enable a productive and secure environment for remote teams.

Does your team have clear security procedures and policies?

Many companies are unprepared for remote work conditions and do not have security procedures and policies in place for working outside of the office. Now is a great moment to dedicate time to document procedures and train your team. Even simple steps like keeping your browsers, applications, and operating systems up-to-date provide a critical path to avoid many cyber threats. (How often do you see on a virtual meeting with screen share that your team member has an out of date browser or pending updates for their operating system?)

“Only 41% of cyber security professionals said their companies are utilizing best practices to ensure a secure remote workforce (Source: Security Magazine)”

Here are some of the must DOs that Jennifer recommends for a multi-layered security strategy

Jennifer Rendon’s Top 5 Security Best Practices for a multi-layered security strategy

  1. TRAINING: The first thing you must realize is that “Your people are going to be the biggest breach in security”( if you have seen the TV series “Mr. Robot” you already know that). To address the human element of cybersecurity, you must invest time in educating all team members on how to recognize phishing attacks, as well as what websites, links, and downloads to avoid. If you do not have such expertise within your IT team, we recommend that you hire professionals to create security training for your team. It’s the middle of the financial year, so you may not feel you have a budget for such expenses. But in reality, this cost is irrelevant compared to the cost a cyber attack could cause to your business. According to Jennifer, malware attacks could cost $50k for a week of work to fix the problem, up to $150k, and in some cases in the US even up to $1M.
  2. SECURE CONNECTIONS: If you plan to establish remote work as the way to go for your team, you must invest in company laptops for each team member. Personal devices are often shared between family members which means an increased risk of sensitive information leaks. If you do not have the budget to switch all your team members to laptop devices, Jennifer recommends providing employees with a teleworker device which will create a very specific VPN tunnel and will segregate the work connection from the rest of the family connection. She expects that the market for secured connection devices will grow in the next years as a result of the COVID-19 situation. 
  3. SECURE ACCESS: Multi-factor authentication is a must when accessing any company-related information and files. There is no password complex enough so it cannot be cracked, thus the only way to protect your data is via two-factor authentication.
  4. TOOLS and SOFTWARE: Invest in cybersecurity tools. In remote work conditions, we recommend that your IT team plans a strategy of deploying and updating antivirus software for all your remote workforce. Some of the tools Jennifer finds useful are the Cisco umbrella or OpenDNS or similar tools that do not allow for end-users to go to malicious websites. You must deploy an anti-virus program but keep in mind that standard antivirus programs cannot detect viruses that have not been identified and recorded in their database as such. In such cases, Jennifer recommends deploying tools that regularly scan the computer for some pieces of code that if put together might allow for a security threat to be activated. She has been using Huntress but any similar tool will do the job. In addition, you can look into some software solutions that troubleshoot if they detect a lot of traffic hitting the firewall.
  5. COMMUNICATION CONTINGENCY PLAN: Last but not least, make sure that you have a way to contact your employees other but email, which you could use in the case of an attack or outage. It could be as simple as asking people to provide a personal email and mobile number that could be used to send instructions if a security breach occurs.

If you still do not have an established IT security role within your team, you should start thinking of either bringing someone onboard or training a member of your current IT team to take over the role and to create and implement a long-term security strategy.

What we can recommend as a remote-first team is that you partner with your IT security person to establish data security as a core value for your team. In order to build such a mindset, emphasize how important security is for the team and dedicate time and budget for security training. Include discussions about security risks in every decision that you take including solutions that you build, internal processes, or client communication. As we feel that security is such an important topic for everyone, we will follow up in the future with more best practices on data security for remote teams.

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Why you should integrate a Retrospective meeting in your team processes during COVID-19

May 12th, 2020

Seabeck Systems, LLC

How to Retrospective meetings

In our blog post how to manage remote teams we focused on the best practices that would be helpful for teams undertaking remote work for the first time during the COVID-19 period. Great communication and efficient processes are two key elements empowering teams to achieve their targets, more so when everyone is working from home.  Thus, we would like to share the simple but efficient process called SCRUM that many IT companies are using to organize their teamwork. In the article, we will take a close look at one of the key elements of SCRUM – an all-team meeting that helps professionals self-evaluate their work and come up with a plan on how to improve their performance. It’s called a retrospective meeting.  

How could a Retrospective meeting help your team improve its performance while working remotely? 

We already mentioned that the main goal of the meeting is to allow your team to analyze their work and come up with ways to become more efficient. Our belief is that most of the times people are not able to perform at their best not because they do not want to but because of process-related obstacles. For example, they may not have up-to-date information, or might not have expertise in a subject and thus need more time to fulfill a task, etc. These are all problems that you as a manager can resolve. Following up on the mentioned examples – you can ensure a way for everyone working on a project to get up-to-date information (SCRUM daily standup meetings can help you with that) or that a team member gets training/help from a more experienced colleague. However, in order to help your team, you need to first understand what is slowing them down, Consider using a retrospective meeting for that. In retrospect, together with your co-workers you will identify existing problems and come up with ways to overcome them. In due time this will not only improve the team productivity but when your team observes that others listen, they will become more engaged and motivated.  The retrospective should not result in a list of tasks only for the manager; group involvement is a key tenet of the retrospective process. 

How to do retrospectives? 

So, if we’ve convinced you in the benefits of introducing a retrospective meeting in your team workflow, here is what you need to know to run it: 

  • The retrospectives should be a regular meeting – schedule it once per week or biweekly. Leave an hour or more depending on the size of your team. If you have a large organization, it is better to hold smaller retrospectives by project or department to keep focus and to ensure the team can take action on their own improvements. Remember, investing time in this meeting now will help you save time later on. 
  • It’s good at least in the beginning to start every meeting by explaining what is the goal (to become better as a team) and acknowledge the project/ projects you are working on. The next step is for everyone to share 3 things – what went well, what could have gone better, and what can be improved by the next meeting.  
  • In the beginning, it might be hard to encourage your team to be honest and open. Establishing trust is a slow process and your colleagues may feel that you are looking to assign blame rather than solve a problem. 
  • So, what could you do to make your team feel comfortable and come forward with some problems? Here is the advice of two leaders experienced in working with SCRUM teams:

“Take a leap of faith – as a leader you need to show everyone how it’s done. Admit what went could have gone better and offer an analysis of why it didn’t go as expected… Make a commitment to be better.”

says Peter Loos, Managing Member at Seabeck Systems LLC

“Personal connection is very important, talk to the team members in person before /after the meeting to encourage them to step up and take participation.”

shares Pirin Karabenchev, Sofia Dev Studio Founder & Manager 
  • Once everyone has shared what went well and what went wrong you need to agree as a team on the improvements you will focus on until next meeting. Don’t try to tackle all problems at once, this is a continuous improvement process. Prioritize those that are the most important but also easy to achieve (we call them the “low hanging fruits”). There must be a champion for each improvement initiative, otherwise it is very likely that nothing will change until next Retrospective meeting.  
  • Introducing change is never easy, so as a leader you have to demonstrate commitment to the process. Be active and engaged during the meetings, be sure notes are taken and facilitate the process if the meetings stars to shift focus.   
  • Even more important is to show that there are outcomes from the retrospective. Listen carefully – is a person inspired by the tasks they are working on, are they the best fit for a task (do they have the necessary skills), how do their career interests change over time? Take action to help your team members achieve their best. 
  • In the beginning, the retrospective meetings might be quite tough, people may argue or accuse each other but do not give up. If you stay consistent, your team will understand the value of the process and will embrace it. 

What are the tools you should use for a Retrospective meeting? 

There is no specific tool you have to use when doing a retrospective – the important part is to record the outcomes of each meeting and share them with the team. We recommend you to use tools that your co-workers are already utilizing. The introduction of a new process and a new tool at the same time could be quite challenging. Still, if you feel that your team will benefit from introducing something new, we can recommend several tools we’ve been using throughout the years – FunRetro BoardTrello, or Jira.  

Next steps

We do believe that if you have not already implemented retrospectives, now is a great moment to introduce them in your workflow, especially if this is the first time your team is working remotely. Use the current situation to establish the process and philosophy of constant improvement. Such a shift will lead to long-lasting changes that will affect your team performance even after getting back to the office.  

Please let us know in the comments section below or under the LinkedIn post if you have found this article useful! 

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Managing remote teams

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The way we work has changed tremendously in the past 10 years – employees are looking for more freedom and flexibility in their working schedules and hiring remotely is a way to attract top talent and reduce costs. However, today working from home is not a privilege – it is a necessary measure all of us need to take to protect our society. We know that working remotely could be quite challenging for teams that do not have experience with it but there is nothing to worry about! Many teams from the IT industry have been successfully practicing remote work for years. So, we decided to share what we’ve learned from years working from home with remote teams in a series of blog posts. 

Sharing information & fostering communication 

The biggest challenge of remote teams is to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It is easy to get in a room with everybody working on a project and discuss your plan and progress but it gets much harder when you are communicating digitally. Thus, it is your role as a manager to foster efficient communication. Accept the challenge as a great way to push your team to build discipline. Here are some proven good practices: 

  • Instead of using a personal chat to share information, create a common one per project and add everyone working on it. 
  • Ask people to share important or urgent information via email, so you can prioritize it and react timely. 
  • Schedule online meetings with your team (there are lots of tools you can use – ZoomSkypeMicrosoft Teams). The great thing about online meetings is that they can be recorded, and can be used later as a reference point of what you’ve decided. Still, ask someone on the team to take notes with key information (targets/tasks/deadlines) and send them via email afterward. Thus, even if someone was not able to attend the meeting, they will be up to date with the development of the project. 
  • Keep in mind that online meetings could take longer than in-person ones. You can improve the efficiency by simply putting an agenda and moderating the discussion so it does not deviate too much from the agenda. Some online meeting tools also have a “raise hand” function, allowing an attentive meeting host and a well-disciplined team to hold a guided conversation. 

Trust your team 

Once the team is not in the office, a manager might feel that employees would work less or would get distracted with personal responsibilities. Keep in mind that building trust is the heart of every high productive team.  If you have ambitious, talented people on your team, they will manage their time in order to achieve their goals. Instead of asking them to work 40 hours a week, set clear, specific targets and let them decide how to fulfill them. An increasing number of researches show that working from home could increase employees’ productivity with up to 8%. Sounds good, no? 

“If I am on the phone all day, I get “me time” while taking care of tasks around our house throughout the workday. This “me time” affords reflection and keeps me fresh for the next call!”, shares Peter Loos, Managing Member at Seabeck Systems LLC and remote team manager for over 20 years. 

A great moment to introduce lightweight team interactions 

If trust is the heart of highly productive teams,  strong interactions are the backbone. In the case of a remote team, a lack of processes could sabotage even the most dedicate teams. In the IT industry, a common practice for teams is to use SCRUM as a way to organize their work. But don’t worry about that fancy word; it is a set of simple practices that could be applied in any team context. Here is what you should do: 

  • Break the tasks in smaller chunks that can be fulfilled within a day or two.  It makes it easier to follow the progress of your team and predict any delays before it’s too late.  
  • Set daily meetings with your team in a convenient time for everyone – think of them as a status report – everyone should share the progress they’ve done during the previous day, if they have encountered some problems, and set goals for the period until the next meeting. The goal is to help the team members stay informed and also ask for help if they need it to finish their tasks. 
  • Set a longer meeting at the end of the week/ beginning of next week on which the team will talk about what went well, what could have gone better during the previous week and ideas for improvements going forward. This is the moment to learn as a team how to ask the tough questions. Encourage everyone to be honest. In an upcoming article, we will share more details on how to structure and manage such a meeting.  

Define a fun & open team culture 

Working from home, though great, at times may feel isolated and lonely. Peter Loos has been working from home with many dispersed teams for more than 20 years. He came up with a number of strategies a manager can use to create an inclusive and united team. 

  • Encourage participation by asking every member on your team to make a short presentation. Create a schedule – each week a different person will share their experience with the rest of the team.  
  • Create a space for fun and jokes where everyone can share non-work-related content (it could be a common chat). Make sure that you post regularly at the beginning to show that it is ok to joke and goof around.  
  • Build trust throughout the team through open, timely, and considerate communication. 
  • Remember – lead by action, not by words. 

These are some simple practices that will help you handle remote teams. Let us know what you think or if you have any questions in the comments below or send us a short message on Linkedin. In our next blog post, we will focus on some great tools and security practices to protect your data while you and your team and working remotely.

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Testing Made Simple: 5 Steps to Apply the Scientific Method to Process and Application Development

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Crash Test Dummies

It’s easy to get swept up in the thrills of new product development and forget that oh-so-essential step: testing.

Testing Equals Confidence

Until you test, your idea is simply that – an idea. Use tests to validate not just the abilities and limits of your product, but the experiences and benefits that your customers can expect.

Failing to Test is Risky

Quality is EVERYBODY’S responsibility. Failing to test can result in a product that:

  • … does not meet customer needs, driving market share to your competitors
  • … does not honor business rules, creating havoc when trying to integrate with existing business processes
  • … does not perform a duty at a rate that is satisfying to customers, causing poor customer reviews of your product
  • … breaks after each new release, leaving customers with an impression that your product is of lesser quality than competitors

 

Scientists recording data in laboratory

The ABCs of Testing (a.k.a. The Scientific Method)

Project teams both large and small have room for testing, and we can keep it simple, yet effective. Here’s a quick way to apply the scientific method in process and application development to ensure your product is both testable and tested:

  1. REQUIREMENTS: Declare your problem statement

Propose the process or application by creating a list of ideas that will make it successful.

  1. TEST STRATEGY: Form a hypothesis

Determine how to test the proposed process or application, how to measure if it is complete or not, and document these hypotheses.

  1. TEST PLAN: Design the experiment

Determine how to create the proposed process or application in a way that can be measured, and write down the specific measures success and failure.

  1. RESULTS: Collect and analyze data

Build and test the process or application, measuring and documenting performance according to the test plan.

  1. QUALITY REVIEW: Draw Conclusions

Determine if the process or application met the list of requirements created in the first step.

 

Test, Retest, Repeat

Plan, schedule, budget, but most importantly perform testing to ensure the best experience for people that use your product or service.

 

Ready to test and looking for tools to help document your test plan? Here are three ideas:

 

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Talk to your target customer and start by asking them how your design makes them feel

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We have noticed a distinct trend with our clients, business partners, and colleagues; while many of them talk the talk of a design approach centered on customer requirements, most skip the step of asking their customers, taking the path of “I already know” and “if we build it, it will be awesome, and they will come.” If IBM’s move to a Design Centered Strategy is any indication of the popularity of a design-centric approach, then why are so many businesses from startups to public companies paying lip service to design first, but not actually doing it?

This position is not without some justification; customers willing to talk with you are likely to be more amenable to your offering and provide you with a “warm fuzzy” response to any product that you show them. While participating in an alpha testing program for Tamr Catalog, their UX designer didn’t just ask about functionality. In fact, their first question about a prototype was, “How does this make you feel?”.

It truly altered the way I was thinking about the design I was looking at. Instead of focusing on does it have feature a or b, I was now thinking about how the design felt a little cold and “all business,” I was confused about what unlabeled icons meant, and I wasn’t sure what to do first.

And all of this happened in a few short Google video chats, each less than 30 minutes. While they did ask about my requirements, they did so within a lean, design-centric framework, also asking indirect questions to help uncover true pain points.

Don’t be constrained by your existing business model, naysayers that refuse to acknowledge the value of early customer feedback, or doing just good enough.  Talk to your target customers to understand the key features that they want.

 

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