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Small business

How to prepare your business for the coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak continues to make its way across the globe and health officials are urging Americans to be vigilant and prepare for the possibility of more cases. Currently, the numbers of infected in the U.S. are few, but the situation is fluid. Calm, proactive behavior is the key to staying healthy.

Still, people across America have questions about what to do if the virus reaches their communities. With so much misinformation online, it can be tough to determine the best course of action. Tap or click to learn more about coronavirus fake news.

This is especially true for business owners and employees, who might be concerned about working in the midst of an outbreak. How do you prepare? And what does the spread of the virus mean for your business, your data and your family? Read our guide to see what tools can keep you informed and keep your digital life and business going strong.

1. Don’t bring the bug to work

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Americans are famous for our work ethics, and many of us would rather arm ourselves with caffeine and DayQuil before heading into the office than take a sick day. But when a community disease outbreak occurs, this practice becomes a dangerous health risk to others.

Employers and employees alike should always stay home if they’ve got a fever — regardless of which illness they’re afflicted with. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it means you’re likely contagious and can spread the illness to your coworkers.

One sick worker staying home is less impactful to your business than an entire sick workforce. Advise your employees to be mindful of their health, to wash their hands frequently and to cough into their elbows.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends businesses cross-train employees to perform other job functions. This can help keep operations going when you’re short-staffed.

One of the best ways to do this is via “process mapping.” This means preparing detailed written guidelines and instructions for employees that would allow them to act in multiple roles at your business.

For example, if you work in publication, you could process-map the copy editing process so a writer could potentially act in the role with no issues.

Process mapping can be done informally, or you can gain certifications that will make the practice more regimented. If you’re informally mapping your business processes, collaborate with your team and create shared documents everyone can access.

For a more formal certification, check out this process mapping resource from Business Enterprise Mapping and see if it fits the needs of your business.

2. Stay informed, ignore the noise

The internet is rife with misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus, and bad actors ranging from government-sponsored trolls to conspiracy theorists are banking on paranoia to generate clicks and profits. If you see an online claim that seems either too good or too bad to be true, it probably is.

There are several fake news stories surrounding the origins of the disease that do not line up with the established facts (or objective reality, for that matter). Be skeptical about the stories circulated by your friends on places like Facebook — especially if disease numbers increase over time.

If you’re looking for an accurate, up-to-date way to track the spread of the illness, tap or click here to check out this map from Johns Hopkins University and access more detailed information.

3. Consider work from home options

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Depending on your industry, it may be worth implementing work from home options for certain employees. Jobs with a heavy emphasis on digital work can easily transition to a home environment. And with help from the right video conferencing and security tools, it can even feel like an ordinary day at the office.

So what tools are right for a work from home setup? You’ll want to look into cloud-based solutions for documents and data. Software suites like G Suite or Office 365 give you access to word processors, spreadsheets and slideshows. You can even use these programs to collaborate and share projects between employees.

G Suite is a business-oriented version of Google Drive, which includes popular cloud-based productivity software like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. Signing up for G Suite also gives you and your employees access to cloud storage and device management for just $6 per user per month. There is also a 14-day free trial.

Users each receive a custom Gmail address to sign into that can be accessed anywhere. All employees need to do is download the Gmail app to gain access to their work emails.

This account is secured through Google, and administrators can set up features like 2FA to protect essential documents and data. Tap or click here to learn more about 2FA.

Tap Get Started in the upper right-hand corner to get G Suite for your business and fill out your contact information. If your business has specific needs you’d like to address, click Contact Sales to speak with a Google representative.

Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity suite. It’s an upgraded version of the Microsoft Office suite we’re all familiar with, and it includes several features that make remote work more productive — remote access, teleconferencing and live document collaboration.

Users can access Office 365 via Microsoft accounts created by the administrator who sets up the software. The service is $8.25 per user per month for the basic package and $10 per user per month for the upgraded package that includes custom email domains and teleconferencing.

Visit the site page to choose which business account you want to activate, then follow the onscreen instructions to set up Office 365.

4. Secure your data across the board

Next up, you’ll want your employees to have secure access to their files and accounts without putting the company’s data at risk. Your employee’s home internet security might not be as robust as your business’, so it’s a good idea to lock down your apps and system before anyone accesses them remotely.

To protect your data, you’ll need security options like a VPN and password manager. This makes employee logins more secure and prevents any unauthorized traffic from piggybacking on your employees’ connections. Tap or click here to find out why VPNs are so important to set up.

Look for VPNs that are strong on privacy, avoid tracking your data and let you browse anonymously. It should also be fast and capable of handling the digital side of your business.

To set up a VPN on Windows, click the start button (Windows icon at the bottom of your screen on the left). Go to Settings then choose Network & Internet, followed by VPN from the menu on the left.

Click Add a VPN Connection, then open the drop-down arrow where it says VPN Provider and select Windows. Type in whatever name you want for your connection.

Next, type in the server name or address your VPN provided. If your VPN gives you a specific VPN type to use, choose that one; otherwise, select Automatic and let Windows 10 choose for you.

Look for User Name and Password under Type of Sign-In Info. Type in a user name and password you’ll remember, then select Save to complete the setup.

To set up a VPN on a Mac, many software designers provide simple apps that will automatically set things up for you. But if you’re asked to set up manually, open System Preferences by tapping the apple in the upper left corner of your screen, then select System Preferences and click Network.

Select the + symbol on the lower-left corner, tap the drop-down menu and select VPN. You’ll then be prompted to add the server name or address your VPN provider gave you. Save changes to complete the setup.

If you’re looking for a trustworthy VPN, our sponsor, ExpressVPN, takes a different approach to getting started. All you need to do is download an app and log in with your username and password to install the service.

You’ll get a fast, secure VPN system that encrypts your traffic and protects your company from malicious actors online. Get an extra 3 months free of ExpressVPN when you sign up at ExpressVPN.com/Kim.

Now, for password managers, you’ll want to look for something that can automatically generate complex passwords that can’t be easily cracked. Using a strong password manager to generate employee logins will fortify your account system and make it difficult for hackers to take advantage of remote employee access.

We recommend our sponsor Roboform, since it can automatically generate strong passwords and encrypts them during storage. Tap or click here to find out more about Roboform.

Once you generate your employee’s passwords, make sure they don’t save them to their browsers. Internet browsers can be compromised much easier than encrypted documents.

5. Make it personal with virtual meetings

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Of course, people can’t just work from home with no direction. As an employer, you’ll want to have access to your workers beyond simple phone calls and text messages. To keep the spirit of collaboration alive, video conferencing and virtual meetings are a must.

Virtual meetings can help employees feel a sense of normalcy, particularly under extraordinary circumstances. It also can help prevent mistakes and misunderstandings much better than phone calls or texts, where subtle facial expressions and intonations can be missed.

Here are some of our favorite virtual meeting tools. These include video conferencing programs, as well as business-oriented instant messaging tools for quick collaboration and discussion.

Zoom

Zoom is one of the most popular virtual meeting apps on the web and includes video meetings, chat and screen-sharing features. Zoom’s infrastructure lets users work without the lag and stuttering you might experience in other free software, and has the added bonus of split-screen video conferencing so you can see everyone at once — just like an in-person meeting.

Zoom’s basic package is free of charge and can host up to 100 users, each of whom can hold one-on-one meetings. The Pro package is $15.00 per month per host and lets you access group meetings in split-screen mode.

More expensive packages increase the number of participants you’re allowed to have, so be sure to check out the plans and packages to choose the right one for your business. Tap or click here to see more plans and packages.

Skype

Skype is a service many of us are familiar with, and it’s still heavily relied upon in the business world. The free version offers one-on-one meetings and access to tools like screen sharing, but has limited cloud storage and a user cap.

Microsoft Teams, the new name for business-oriented Skype subscriptions, gives you access to larger group calls as well as live document collaboration. It’s also included as part of the Office 365 suite we described earlier, or can be used as a free standalone app.

Slack

Slack is designed as an all-purpose chatting app that helps your employees stay in touch with one another. Unlike with email, you’re limited to your employee network only. This is good because it keeps conversations private, encrypted and secure.

Slack offers a free version for small teams, but teams of up to 15 workers will want to upgrade to the standard version for $6.67 per user per month. Additional upgrades are available depending on the size of your team. Tap or click here to read more about Slack’s plans and pricing.

Google Hangouts

Just like with Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts is included as a part of your G Suite subscription. Functionally, it works like an instant messenger program but it only includes the members of your workgroup or business.

Google Hangouts is particularly useful due to its availability as a mobile app. If you’re signed up for Hangouts, your employees can download the app to their mobile devices. This way, they’ll never miss an important update from you or their coworkers.

As the disease spreads around the world, it will be up to us to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy. By organizing your business so it can run via remote work or at a reduced capacity, you’ll protect your workers as well as your profits. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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