What Will Returning to Work Look Like?

The coronavirus outbreak has caused widespread concern and economic hardships for consumers, communities and businesses alike. The situation has evolved rapidly since it’s onset, and business leaders across the globe have found themselves tested on everything from their crisis management skills to operations and supply chain alternatives.

In a PWC survey, finance leaders across the United States listed their top three concerns with respect to COVID-19 as financial impact, a potential global recession, and the effects on the workforce/reduction in productivity. Indeed, some of the biggest companies in the world are preparing to tell their employees it’s time to return to work.

While some companies will undoubtedly reinvent themselves post-pandemic, for many it will be a race back to business-as-usual. Whether your business is taking a new path or trying to hold steady, let’s take a look at some of the changes that will likely stick around – even after things start returning to normal.

Working From Home

If there’s one thing that is certain, it’s that more businesses will note the effectiveness of employees who work from home even as offices reopen. While the flexibility that working from home offers can reduce turnover and increase productivity and morale, it also can greatly reduce a business’s overhead expenditures.

How many companies will close or dramatically reduce the size of their offices in favour of continuing to work from home after they’ve been forced to give it a trial run? Power bills, rent, office supplies, amenities – these are all expenses that are reduced or outright eliminated when your workforce works remotely. While there are certainly great benefits to having your employees under one roof, it’s likely that we’ll see a major increase in telework after the pandemic ends compared to before it started.

Online Shopping & Delivery

While online shopping isn’t anything new, social distancing has turned the dial up to 11. In particular, food courier and grocery delivery have seen major upticks in popularity as people strive to avoid public places. Everybody has to eat, after all.

Even as our businesses reopen, our shopping habits have likely changed for good. People across the globe have found a new appreciation for the ease of buying things online. While brick-and-mortar stores aren’t likely to disappear overnight, e-commerce will continue to grow at a rapid pace.

Service Industry Methodology

The coronavirus has the potential to permanently shift the way many service industries operate. Consumers across the globe will think much harder about the health implications of squeezing many people into small areas. Crowded restaurants, movie theatres, concert halls – the coronavirus has been a true test for businesses that depend on social gathering.

In Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak began, service industry business owners are finding that consumers are still reluctant to gather even as everything reopens. As the world’s population continues to grow every year, how can the service industry account for humanities newfound appreciation for personal space?

While the business world is eager, any and all return-to-work efforts will undoubtedly be a gradual process. The return will happen in waves as our demand for certain products and industries grow. These times are truly unprecedented – only time will tell how our coronavirus-induced anxieties will affect the world in the long term.

Disinfecting Your Home and Safely Disposing Waste

Cities across the world have been experimenting with different waste collection regulations since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Many have increased the household garbage bag limit, while others have suspended curbside pickup or opted to close recycling centers. Some governments are also issuing special waste disposal guidance to those who are in self-isolation with symptoms of COVID-19.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic recommendations, medical waste (trash) coming from healthcare facilities treating COVID-19 patients is no different than waste coming from any other medical facility. The CDC states that management of laundry, food service utensils and medical waste should be performed in accordance with routine procedures.

In other words, there is no evidence that waste generated in the care of patients with COVID-19 requires additional considerations for disinfection or disposal than routine medical waste disposal. This is because coronaviruses are susceptible to the same disinfection conditions in healthcare settings as other viruses.

For those with symptoms of the virus, there are several steps you can take both when cleaning and disinfecting your home as well as when disposing of personal waste such as used tissues, face masks, and disposable cloths.

When cleaning and disinfecting, you should wear disposable gloves. Focus your efforts on routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. Doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, countertops – these are all high-touch surfaces that you should be cleaning often.

After cleaning with soap and water, the CDC recommends the use of Environmental Protection Agency-registered household disinfectants. You can check if your disinfectant of choice meets the EPA’s criteria for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 by checking the list on their website at www.epa.gov. Diluted household bleach solutions can also be effective if appropriate for the surface. Not all bleaches are suitable for disinfection, so make sure to check the label to confirm.

When disposing of personal waste, the CDC recommends a dedicated, lined trash-can for anyone with symptoms if possible. You should use gloves when removing garbage bags and disposing trash, and always wash your hands afterwards. You can also consider double-bagging your personal waste by placing it in a garbage bag, making sure it is securely tied, then placing it in a second bag and keeping it separate from your other waste.

If you’re an essential worker and required to use Personal Protective Equipment in the course of your job, make sure you know the waste category your PPE falls under when you go to dispose of it. Management of contaminated infectious waste follows state and local bylaws, and there can be hefty fines for not properly disposing waste if it’s considered medical. Check in with your local health unit to confirm whether or not your PPE falls into the medical or general waste category.

It may also be prudent to refrain from putting out any unnecessary waste for the time being. As the weather heats up, many of us enter spring cleaning mode – but delaying your spring cleaning will help reduce extra strain on the system during the pandemic. While it may be tempting to get rid of our hoarded winter items, we should all do our part to keep our trash collectors safe and the system running smoothly.

Best Practices for Working From Home on a Team

We all have our strengths and weaknesses – and as more and more of us work from home, those strengths and weaknesses can be compounded – or even reversed. Maybe a change in environment is exactly what the procrastinator needed to become more productive. Or maybe it’s an excuse for them to focus on their household chores instead of the work they should be doing.

Either way, our strengths and weaknesses define us. They especially define how we work together. By playing to our strengths in a team, we become much more productive overall. But by giving in to our weaknesses, we can easily derail a meeting and negatively influence our overall agenda.

Here are some best practices (and things to avoid) while working from home as a member of a team.

Ideas – Yours and Mine

The only thing better than a team member having an excellent idea is when you have an excellent idea – but either way, both are to be encouraged and celebrated.

If your team member has a great pitch or idea for solving a problem – it’s important to build them up and expand. Ask questions and help flesh out how it will work practically. Be cognizant of the potential negatives, but instead of saying it won’t work, do your best to brainstorm with them to find the path through.

In the same vein, when you have an interesting thought, share it! Don’t keep quiet – bright ideas are always desired in a team setting. Invite your team to help you work through the issues, and you’ll inspire them to contribute too.

Keep in mind – your goal should not be to dominate the conversation. Don’t speak over others, and don’t interrupt. But if you think your idea is great, let it be heard. And let your team members work with you to make it even better.

Keep the Ball Rolling

One of the worst feelings while participating in an online meeting is looking at the clock, realizing you’ve hit your allotted time for the meeting, and noting that your team hasn’t accomplished anything. Whether there were distractions, arguments, or confusion – it doesn’t matter. The time was unproductive, and you’re nobetter off after the meeting than you were before it.

One of the most valuable skills you can have in a team setting is being aware of everyone’s time. Encourage your team members to focus on the agenda. If a distraction comes up, try to shift the focus back to the issue at hand – respectfully. Online meetings become much less fun when you think your time is being wasted. Endeavour to be the person that keeps the team on track, and everyone will thank you for it.

If you do have someone that often derails the conversation, whether on purpose or by accident, remember to kindly thank them for their input on the topic, but encourage them to share their thoughts on the actual issue at hand.

Step Up and Take Action

Awkward silence can be the death of a productive meeting. When no one else is willing to speak up, strive to be the one that does. By taking action and moving the conversation forward, you encourage others to participate and you make sure that your meeting doesn’t run short with nothing of value said.

Use the tools you’re given to keep people engaged. Send photo examples or use the virtual whiteboards and other tools that modern video conferencing apps have en masse. If the conversation grinds to a halt, shift to a different angle and re-approach the issue. No matter what you do, by simply taking action, you’re providing a great value to all your team members. It’s much easier to work off of a catalyst then silence.

Again, the flipside here would be the quiet team members who seem to just be along for the ride. Some great methods for getting your quieter members to speak up can be assigning them something to research beforehand so they can prepare, or simply asking them directly to share their thoughts during the discussion. There generally aren’t any right or wrong answers during a meeting – it’s all about getting everyone’s input and crafting your solution to the problem in turn.

Remember to Keep It Light

Let’s face it – most meetings are boring. But they don’t need to be. While it’s important to focus on the task at hand, don’t be afraid to make jokes or show off your pets on camera. A little lightheartedness can go a long way – especially in these difficult times. Aspire to be the one that brightens the mood. You might be shocked at how much more productive and valuable a meeting can be when everyone isn’t dour and serious the entire time.

Above all, make sure to remind yourself and your teammates that while things may be tough right now, you are all resilient and you will make it through to sunnier days.

Coronavirus Scams Targeting You and Your Business

“If you are a small business that has been affected by the coronavirus, press “1” to ensure your Google listing is correctly displaying. Otherwise, customers may not find you online during this time.”

If you’ve received this call or something similar in the past few weeks, you’re just one of the millions of businesses across the U.S. and Canada that have been targeted by robocall scams designed to exploit people’s COVID-19 concerns.

In fact, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Secret Service have issued warnings that scammers are imitating companies, government agencies and healthcare providers in unprecedented numbers – and cybersecurity experts say that the attacks are just getting started.

Here are some scams you should be looking out for in order to keep you and your business safe:

Robocalls:

According to the FTC, any robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless a company has your written permission to call you that way – excluding some calls such as candidates running for office or charities asking for donations. And if someone is already breaking the law by robocalling you, there’s a good chance it’s also a scam.

These calls are running the gamut from offering fake COVID-19 testing kits and free sanitation supplies to fake government financial support. The only correct response to these robocalls is to hang up – do not press any numbers, even if directed to in order to remove you from the call list. By pressing a number, you confirm to the scammers that your number is active and you open yourself up for more scam calls in the future.

Note: There are no anti-robocall laws in Canada, but they are subject to CRTC regulations. Regulations include a clear message identifying on whose behalf the call is made, a mailing address, and a number at which a representative can be reached.

Business Email Scams:

Uncertain economic conditions lead to confusion, panic, and irregular transactions. Scammers are taking advantage of the confusion to double down on business email scams. An example from the FTC is the CEO scam – wherein an employee gets an email from their boss directing them to do something – wire money, transfer funds, send sensitive information. Except the email is actually coming from a scammer that has spoofed the boss’s email. The issue is made even more difficult with the massive influx of professionals working from home. A puzzled employee can’t just knock on the bosses door to confirm the request.

The best way to combat these scams is to make sure staff has a central contact that they can reach out to in order to verify any requests they may receive – irregular or not.

Fake Cures and Public Health Scams:

Teas, essential oils and colloidal silver all have something in common – none of them are a cure for COVID-19. The FTC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have jointly issued warning letters to seven separate sellers of unapproved products claiming they can prevent or treat the coronavirus. The companies that have received these letters have no evidence to back up their claims, which is required by law in order to advertise their products. The FDA states that there are no approved vaccines or drugs available to treat or prevent the virus.

Furthermore, scammers are sending messages claiming to be from public health offices and officials aiming to steal confidential information or installing malware on your computer. They are asking for Social Security numbers and Tax IDs. They are sending “infographics” that are actually keyloggers in disguise.

Remember not to download any attachments or click links in any unsolicited emails.

Fake Charities:

During difficult times, incredible charities and non-profits often step up to the plate and provide crucial assistance that keeps our most vulnerable safe. Unfortunately, for every legitimate charity working for those in need, a fake one pops up looking to take your money.

They use websites that look legitimate, with real emails, signature blocks and phone support lines. They even use names similar to real charities in order to trick you. And during times of need, such as pandemics and natural disasters, they are even more active.

Before you give money to a charity, make sure you’re doing the proper research to ensure your donations are going to the right place. Websites like CharityWatch and SmartGiving seek to give you information on avoiding scams and point out the red flags. For example, most real charities will accept credit cards or checks, because they’re safe and easy. Any charity that will only accept wire transfer or cash should be immediately suspect.

Tips to Increase Online Sales for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

According to Digital Commerce 360’s analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce data, the percentage of total retail sales made online compared to in-store rose from 6.4% in 2010 to 16.0% in 2019. With businesses being forced to close their doors to the public during the current COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt online sales will continue to trend upward.

While the younger generations were already living exceedingly online lifestyles, the steps consumers must take to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy is forcing people of all ages and outlooks to rethink how they live – and how they buy.

For retailers and many other business owners, now is the time to re-imagine how your business can maintain a stream of revenue to survive this changing dynamic – if you haven’t already. Investment in your online strategies is a major piece of the puzzle. Here are some tips for retailers on how to grow online sales while their brick-and-mortar stores remain closed: 

Minimize Required Steps 

If you’ve spent time researching online purchasing, you’ve probably heard the term “the checkout cart is where sales go to die.” Every extra click, every redirection, and every new page that a customer has to maneuver through up until the point they click “Confirm Purchase” is another opportunity for them to change their mind.

The easier you make it for a potential customer to navigate from “I want this item,” to “I’ve purchased this item,” the better. Remove the hurdles, make the checkout process as simple and streamlined as possible, and you’ll get more impulse buys and fewer checkout carts abandoned.

Focus On Clear Calls-to-Action  

Speaking of carts – the “Add to Cart” button on your product page is about as direct as you can get with a Call-to-Action – but you shouldn’t stop there. Contact pages and live chat portals, “learn more” dropdowns and email newsletter opt-ins – these are all examples of softer Call-to-Action buttons that will increase engagement on your website and lead to more sales over time.

While your process should be as streamlined as possible, you also need to provide your customers with plenty of opportunities to interact with and learn more about you and your products. The more positive contact they have, the more likely they are to buy.

Implement Cart Recommendations

Cross-selling is important. It leads to higher customer satisfaction and increased exposure to your products. When selling online, cross-selling can become even easier with the use of in-cart recommendations. When a customer adds something to their cart, make sure they also see related and suggested items. This can be as simple as side dishes for a restaurant taking online orders, offering item bundles, or even suggesting larger sizes of products.

By suggesting great related items for your customers, you not only increase your sales but you may even remind them or clue them into other necessities that they hadn’t even considered when purchasing the product in the first place.

Don’t Let One Sale Be the End

If you’re selling a product online, there is most likely some sort of contact information being shared from your customer to you – usually an email address at the very least. While you need to pay close attention to the anti-spam laws that apply to you, simple order confirmations don’t need to be the end of the conversation.

Sending out coupons, product suggestions and newsletters to happy customers can be an excellent way to bring them back to you for future sales. While you need to be tactful, if you play your cards right, the customer will be very appreciative of your outreach. And a happy customer is one that will buy from you again and again.

 Don’t Give Up Hope

According to Harvard Business Review, a Chinese cosmetics company called Lin Qingxuan was forced to close 40% of its brick-and-mortar locations during the crisis, including all of its locations in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak. Despite these closures, Lin Qingxuan redeployed its 100+ beauty advisors affected by the store closures into online markets, using digital tools such as WeChat to engage customers.

As a result, its sales in Wuhan achieved 200% growth compared to the prior year’s.

This isn’t to claim you’re going to double your sales simply by offering your products online. But Lin Qingxuan is an excellent example of the power of online sales and the benefits of being agile and flexible when it comes to how you do business.

Enabling Your Employees to Work From Home

Last fall, a study conducted by Owl Labs projected that nearly half the U.S. workforce would be working remotely for at least a portion of their week by 2025. The rise of remote work across the world compared to even five years ago has been climbing a pretty smooth slope.  But with the rapid spread of the Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutting down work facilities, transit and childcare, that slope has turned into a spike.

With lock-downs and self-imposed quarantine rapidly becoming the standard response to try to limit the spread of the virus, remote work is becoming the new normal. Here are some tips for employers on how to make sure your employees are setup and prepared so they can do their work just as effectively at home as they do from the office:

Clearly Communicate Accountability Guidelines:

Trust in your workforce is paramount, but the key to developing an appropriate and effective remote work policy that ensures productivity and efficiency is in the planning.

Clearly communicate your remote work policies, have employees sign-off on these policies, and be vigilant in setting and maintaining your expectations. Also make it clear when, where and how employees are expected to track their work. Accountability is key on both sides of the arrangement.

Use Communication and Collaboration Tools:

Cloud-based and mobile-friendly technologies are the norm for remote workers. While remote-working has several benefits, a lack of the right equipment and tools can lead to inefficiency, isolation and a collapse in communication. Here are some great tools for everything from project management to workforce communication:

SharePoint: SharePoint is a web-based collaborative platform that is directly integrated with Microsoft Office. Its primary use is as a highly configurable document management and storage system. If you have multiple employees accessing the same files or spreadsheets that need to be updated from multiple sources – SharePoint is a great solution.

Google Drive: Team members can view and edit presentations, spreadsheets, documents and work forms all from the same platform with Google Drive. It also offers limited free storage, making it a cheaper solution for smaller teams.

Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is a communication and collaboration platform that combines workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and app integration all into one place. It ties in with your Outlook email and calendar and also works with SharePoint storage. Teams is an excellent communication tool if your team is already using other Microsoft Office programs.

Slack: Slack is a program used all over the world to increase productivity and communication. It integrates with hundreds of different apps, and it enables you to archive and index emails, messages and other information to make them easily searchable. Instant messaging, voice and video calls, and screen sharing making Slack another great option for a collaboration-focused communication tool.

Think About Phones:

If you already provide your employees with mobile phones, they can likely use those for calls for the time being. But if you don’t provide employees with their own phones, you need to put a plan in place so your staff isn’t racking up massive long distance and data fees. Whether that’s simple research into adequate long distance plans and reimbursement, a VoIP solution or directly purchasing mobile phones from your telecom vendor, you need to weigh your options.  Also – do some research into the steps your vendors are taking to reduce the impact of this pandemic on your workers. Many vendors are waiving long distance and data fees to support their customers. Take advantage of these while you can to help keep your costs as low as possible.

Another thing to keep in mind: with the influx of people working from home, cell phone networks are going to begin being flooded and connection will deteriorate. Do you have an adequate line of communication open with your vendor if problems arise and your staff can’t make the calls they need to? You need to find out now before the issue arises. 

Be Wary of Bad Internet:

Are your employees sending files, spreadsheets and info back and forth? Are you using a communications platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams that requires a stable internet connection? Do you need to make video or conference calls to clients or customers?

Even in today’s hyper-connected world, plenty of people struggle with poor, patchy and slow internet connections at home. Adding an entire work setup to an already struggling home connection can be a recipe for disaster.

Setting up Wi-Fi signal boosters, limiting bandwidth-hogging apps, swapping to a new DNS server and troubleshooting your hardware are all things you and your employees need to consider if their connection at home isn’t as stable as it needs to be to remain efficient.

Keep Lines of Communication Open:

These are trying times for everyone – from the business owner to the brand new employee. The most important thing you can do as an employer is to keep lines of communication open. Make sure employees have a clear path forward to getting the information and instruction they need – whether from you, your managers, or their co-workers. Encourage questions, collaborate on brainstorming, be understanding of the unique needs and situations of your employees, and above all, be safe!

The case for prepaid cards

According to a 2017 survey by the FDIC, 25 percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked. That means a quarter of U.S. households either don’t have a bank account, or have an account but still use financial services outside the bank to make ends meet.

Of that 25 percent, more than half said they didn’t have enough money to keep in an account. Thirty percent said they simply don’t trust banks, and a further nine percent reported that banks are not in a convenient enough location to warrant using based on where they lived.

For these unbanked individuals, basic tasks like paying bills and cashing checks can be both difficult and expensive.

Enter the prepaid card, affording happy customers the ability to pay bills online, direct deposit their checks, and pay for plastic-only services and amenities – all without the needs for a bank account.

Prepaid cards allow you to load money onto them in advance in order to make purchases or transactions. Of course, that means you can only spend as much as the amount you loaded onto it – there is no line of credit involved. So what are some of the pros and cons of using a prepaid card over a traditional credit card or even cash?

The Bank Alternative

As mentioned before, prepaid cards offer the ease of card-based purchases without the need for a bank account. They come with routing and account numbers so you can even have your paycheck deposited directly to your card. Things like shopping online, renting a car or booking a hotel room can be difficult without a traditional credit card. Thankfully, a prepaid card can fill that void, even if you don’t have a bank account.

Perks of Plastic

Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to charge something to your credit card you’re unable to pay off in full. That’s because credit card charges accrue interest, and anything you can’t pay off in full is going to end up being even more expensive in the long run. Of course, sometimes it can’t be avoided – which is why lines of credit exist in the first place.

Borrowing money can get anyone in trouble. By using a prepaid card, you’re never borrowing. And if you’re not borrowing, then you’re not owing, and you’re not spending beyond your means. Plus, you don’t need a credit check to get a prepaid card, so you can still use plastic even if you have a poor or nonexistent credit history.

Flexibility

Since you can’t get into debt using a prepaid card, the approval process is easy. Prepaid cards offered by the major carriers like American Express, Visa and MasterCard often carry liability protection to help keep your money safe. Plus, the funds in these cards are almost always held by a bank or credit union, which means they benefit from federal deposit insurance.

Most prepaid cards will allow you to access money from ATMs as you need it, preventing you from having to carry around physical cash on your person. That’s not to mention the fees associated with prepaid cards are often less than what you’d pay using a check-cashing service.

Fees and Cons

While you aren’t charged interest for your purchases on a prepaid card, the biggest downside of using prepaid cards are the associated fees. Depending on the card you choose, you could be charged when you:

  • Make a transaction
  • Reload your balance
  • Stop using the card over a certain period of time
  • Withdraw cash from an ATM
  • Attempt a purchase when you have an insufficient balance

Some cards even charge monthly fees. Often, these fees are predicated on how many transactions you make per month, and some carriers will waive these fees if you opt for direct-deposit on to your prepaid card.

Prepaid cards also do not report your payment history to credit bureaus, which means using a prepaid card will not help you improve your credit. They tend to have fewer billing protections than credit cards, and depending on the one you choose, can be more expensive than opening a checking account and using a debit card. You also miss out on the nice perks and awards associated with using a credit card responsibly.

In Conclusion

There are several benefits to using prepaid cards if traditional credit cards are simply not an option for you or you don’t put faith in the banks, but you’re still looking for the ease of access plastic provides.

If you plan on giving prepaid cards a shot, do your research first on the fees associated to make sure you’re getting the card that works best for you. Read the small print before using it so you’re not spending more on fees than you need to be. Also, consider confirming that the places you frequent actually accept your card of choice before swapping.

Prepaid cards can help you avoid debt, spend within your means, and manage your income. If you struggle with credit, prepaid may just be the solution to your problems.

Rogers rolling out Canada’s first 5G network

In a move that Rogers President and CEO Joe Natale called “the biggest technological evolution since the launch of wireless in Canada,” Rogers has announced that it is starting to roll out Canada’s first 5G network in downtown Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to be ready for the release of 5G devices this year. The network is planned to expand to more than 20 additional markets by the end of 2020.

The Rogers 5G network has initially begun using 2.5 GHz spectrum in the downtown areas of these four major cities, but will expand to use 600 MHz 5G spectrum later in the year. This upgrade should lead to more consistent and high-quality connectivity in both dense, urban areas and across long distances.

So what does 5G mean for the average Canadian in these cities? According to the experts, 5G will transform how businesses and industries communicate, with massively increased speed and capacity, much more efficient use of the spectrum, an improved battery life and overall lower latency. It will also support a large increase in the number of connected devices, ensuring that you don’t lose connection due to overload in major urban areas.

While Canada still has a long way to go in terms of making 5G viable for all consumers, this rollout is a good start. Bell has also stated that it is ready to launch “early 5G service” this year as eligible hardware becomes available.

For more information on what 5G can do you for, check out “What does 5G mean for you and your business?”

Bad Weather, Telecom Outages, and You

Severe, bizarre, and downright crazy weather conditions make headlines every single winter, and we all accept the impact these conditions have on our travel, deliveries, and even our well-being. Yet we seem to take for granted that the networks we use to communicate will continue on uninterrupted.

The truth is that wind, snow, rain and storms can damage the fiber-optic gables that provide internet as well as conventional phone landlines. Immediate damage to communications networks aside, exposure to the elements – such as water and wind – can create long-term degradation that causes interference in our transmissions.

Weather can have a particularly bad effect on your mobile and network signals, as rain, snow, extreme cold and even heat can disrupt masts and towers. In order to fight against this, telecom companies often install signal boosters in local areas to try to keep users connected. In any case, a disruption in signal often requires engineers to fix the issue manually, which is often a slow process.

These coverage outages present a significant pain point for any business that relies on phone, wireless and internet services every day. Some of the larger or more specifically tailored companies have back-up systems in place to ensure the work pipeline continues in the event of an outage, but the vast majority of us depend on properly functioning lines, cables, transmitters and other data systems. Outages due to malfunctions in these systems can bring a company’s operations to a complete standstill.

Thankfully, some preparation can go a long way. So what can you do to prepare your business for the event of a major system outage? Here are a few tips:

Determine ahead of time how an outage will impact your business and plan for it. A Business Continuity Plan can help you avoid downtime and continue operations.

Every good plan needs a good team, so make sure you know who is responsible for what in the event of an outage. Does anything need to go manual? Can work continue with pen and paper in the meantime? Assign jobs and create and distribute checklists and physical templates that employees can use when their digital solutions aren’t available.

Another important aspect is making sure that you have a solution in place to communicate with employees, clients, customers and other locations. Depending on the size and arrangement of your business, that could mean anything from satellite phones to walking down the hallway.

If you have customers that might be impacted directly by your outage, your communication needs to extend to them and be in place well before the outage takes place. If your website has a status page, it should be kept properly updated and linked in key locations like your contact page, your support accounts and your help pages. You should also consider keeping your status page hosted on separate infrastructure, if possible, to minimize the risk that an outage takes it down as well. Studies have shown that recovering properly from a failure in your service can actually lead to a higher approval rate than never having a failure at all. By making sure your customers are informed on what is happening, what it means for them, and what you’re doing to solve the issue, an outage can actually have a positive impact on your customer’s perceptions of your business.

Peak Season Surcharges: What to Look Out For This Holiday Season

If you’re experienced with shipping using the major carriers, you likely know that, depending on the time period and characteristics of the package, you might be subject to peak season surcharges that can drive up your shipping costs during the holiday season.

For both UPS and FedEx, peak period generally starts for large packages around early October, and for additional handling packages by late November. These peak season surcharges usually come to an end in early January. This year, both FedEx and UPS are not applying peak surcharges on residential deliveries, which is great news for both e-commerce retailers and online holiday shoppers.

While peak surcharges for large and over-max-limits packages are fairly simple to understand, the major carriers also include a charge on U.S. Domestic, U.S. Import and U.S. Export deliveries that are labeled as additional handling packages.

These additional handling packages can take many forms, from oversize in weight, length or width to strange or irregular packaging. This could include packaging made of wood, metal, hard or soft plastics, and even Styrofoam. Cylindrical shaped items like barrels, drums or tires that aren’t encased in corrugated cardboard could also fall victim to extra charges. These charges are slapped on solely at the discretion of the carrier, so if your package isn’t being shipped out in a plain old cardboard box, you should be aware of the possibility of an additional handling charge.

If you have not received a missive of some sort from your vendor informing you of these peak season surcharges, you should visit their website and make sure you’re aware of any charges that might apply to you.

Depending on your shipping needs, peak season surcharges can add a fair bit to your small package shipping and courier bills. Most businesses can’t just stop shipping during the holidays in order to avoid these surcharges – in fact, many businesses do the majority of their shipping entirely within peak season. That’s why it is so important to pay careful attention to your bills and reduce costs wherever possible in order to compensate for the extra charges. If you don’t have specialized software that helps you keep track of the changes in your bills, these charges can slip through the cracks and come as a real shock when they come out the other side of accounts payable.

Of course, if it’s possible to ship your product before or after the holiday season, it could be something to strongly consider. Not only can the extra fees add up, but your packages are much more likely to be delayed, damaged or lost during peak season. Plus, bad weather can greatly impact your shipping plans, with winter storms having the potential to bring regular shipments to a halt. If you’re shipping in northern areas, it might be a good idea to build some extra time into your shipment schedules to account for the weather.

It might also be prudent to keep in contact with alternate shippers, just in case you need to exercise your options if your primary vendor runs into issues this holiday season.