5 Ways to Build Your Virtual Office

first_img 8 min read Free Webinar | Sept. 9: The Entrepreneur’s Playbook for Going Global Growing a business sometimes requires thinking outside the box. When it comes to running a business, our feet are firmly on the ground but our data and software are increasingly in the cloud. My burgeoning media empire consists of two people (my lovely wife and me), but to the outside world we seem a lot bigger, thanks to online applications. To get our tasks done, we lean heavily on Web-based apps, from office suites to calendars to collaboration tools that let us work with colleagues on the other coast. Better yet, many of the services we use are free–at least, in their most basic incarnations. That never hurts.The good part about going virtual is that you don’t have to worry about leaving your data or software on the wrong machine when you’re away from the office. The bad part, of course, is when you can’t reach the Internet. Even then, however, more and more online applications are offering offline access so that you can keep working while waiting for Road Runner or Comcast to restore your Net connection.Here are five ways you can make your business virtual, too.Hire a Virtual ReceptionistYou may run a mom-and-pop shop, but with the right phone tools you can sound like one of the Fortune 1000. We use Skype for many of our outbound calls. You have to download the software to your machine, but your phone book and call histories reside on Skype’s servers, accessible to any connected computer. Calling other Skype users is free; to receive calls from non-Skypers, you must buy a SkypeIn number starting at $3 a month (United States and Canada). To call landline or cell phones, you purchase SkypeOut minutes (calls to most US locations cost about 2 cents per minute). Using Skype we can set up free conference calls with as many as nine other people, though the quality varies depending on each person’s Net connection.We’ve taken an extra step and hired Pamela for Skype, an add-on that records incoming and outgoing calls (for “quality assurance,” of course). The free version stops recording after 15 minutes; other versions offer unlimited recording, store voice and video mail, route calls, and do even more, for prices ranging from $13 to $37.Another of our favorites is Google’s GrandCentral, a free service that lets you automatically route or record incoming calls. (Unfortunately, it won’t record outbound ones). You can set up unique voice-mail greetings for each caller or, if you’re trying to avoid someone, play a “number not in service” recording. GrandCentral will ring up to three phone numbers in succession until it finds you, or it can send callers straight to voice mail, which you can retrieve anywhere. GrandCentral even lets you post an “unlisted” number on your blog or your eBay auction listing; visitors to the site can click a button to call you, but won’t ever know what number they dialed. The only problem? At press time the service was in closed beta; Google won’t say when it will open GrandCentral to the general public, so for now a current user must invite you to sign on. (Though you might get lucky here.) Google also sometimes offers GrandCentral to users of other Google services: My editor received a log-in when he created a Blogger account.Feed Your Suite ToothYou don’t have to lug a laptop loaded down with a bloated office suite, or e-mail endless revisions of the same documents back and forth with your colleagues. Cloud applications such as Google Docs and Zoho Office turn your browser into a word processor, a spreadsheet, or other desktop software, and store your documents on the Web so they’re accessible (and shareable) from anywhere. Google Docs serves up a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentations program. Zoho offers all that and a ton more: e-mail, project management, a wiki, a database creator, invoicing, Web conferencing, and other apps.Admittedly, such online applications aren’t as powerful as those that come with “Microsoft” on the box (or even the free ones from OpenOffice)…yet. But they are handy when we’re away from our primary computers and we need to access files, or when we’re working with people spread across different time zones. Google Docs can even send an e-mail alert if anyone has made changes to a file. Better yet, both Google and Zoho offer offline access. Download and install Google Gears, and you’ll be able to open files you’ve created when a Net connection isn’t available, and then sync them back up when you reconnect.Want more? The Web is bursting with other collaborative apps, but most of them charge you for the privilege of using them. So far, Google Docs and Zoho Office are 100 percent free.Get a Robotic Personal AssistantWe can’t afford to hire an administrative assistant, which is why we use Highrise. Nominally an online CRM tool, 37signals’ clever Web app does nearly everything a personal secretary might do except go out for coffee and pick up our dry cleaning.Of course, the last thing you need is yet another address book to populate. Fortunately, Highrise makes the job easy: Just bcc e-mail messages to a special ‘dropbox’ address, and your recipient’s address joins your contacts database automatically. You can then copy and paste their phone number, physical address, and other info at your leisure. (You can also upload V-cards or import whole address books from Outlook and other contact managers.)But Highrise is really more about organizing your work life and keeping you on track. You can create a “case” for each project, associate contacts with each case, add notes and upload documents, share the case with colleagues, and add tasks for each person to perform. Highrise is free for two users and up to 250 contacts; paid plans that allow multiple users to swap files, collaborate on cases, and share thousands of contacts range from $24 to $99 a month.When we need full-on project management, we also use 37signals’ Basecamp, which lets us create milestones, view them on a calendar, track successive versions of the same document, and do a whole lot more. You can manage one project with unlimited users for free; for multiple projects, prices start at $24 a month.Outsource Your CalendarsIt was a happy day here at TynanWood, Inc. when we finally ditched Microsoft Outlook for handling our schedules and went with Google Calendar. We set up calendars for everyone in our organization (including our kids and their schools) and shared them; now we can view everyone’s appointments in one screen by clicking a few boxes. Google sends alerts to my e-mail inbox and my cell phone when I’m about to miss an appointment, and even synchronizes with the calendar on my Windows Smart Phone (via a free third-party utility called GooSync). The downside? Unlike Google Docs, the calendar service has no offline capability yet, so we can’t access our schedules when we’re flying or when the Net connection goes kablooey.Fortunately, there’s a groovy alternative in Scrybe, which lets you update your calendar even when you’re offline, and then sync up when you reconnect. Scrybe offers some extremely cool-looking features, such as the ability to zoom in and out on particular days or time slots and produce miniature calendars on actual paper! The bad news: Like Google GrandCentral, Scrybe has closed its public beta for now, so you’ll need to find a sympathetic Scrybe user to invite you.Do the Virtual Meet and GreetThese days, most of our meetings are virtual. And while plenty of tools can help you trot out a dog-and-pony show without leaving your desk, most of them cost more than we want to spend. You’ll pay at least $40 to $50 a month to use GoToMeeting or WebEx, for example, and often much more.If you only occasionally need to meet and greet the outside world, FreeConference.com is a reasonable alternative. The standard free service lets you schedule phone briefings up to 4 hours long for as many as 150 of your closest friends. If you want to record the sessions, you’ll need to pony up $9 a month; goodies such as a toll-free number or a dedicated bridge line cost 10 cents per user per minute. Want to do live demos or foist PowerPoint slides upon your audience? At press time, FreeConference was offering the SharePlus desktop-sharing beta for no charge–a price that’s hard to beat.Contributing Editor Dan Tynan is the lesser half of TynanWood, Inc. and bloviates frequently on his blog, Tynan on Technology. Brought to you by PCWorld May 2, 2008 Register Now »last_img read more

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Zuckerberg wants to set the agenda for tech regulation in yet another

first_imgFacebook has probably made the biggest April Fool’s joke of this year. Over the weekend, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, penned a post detailing the need to have tech regulation in four major areas: “harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability”. However, privacy advocates and tech experts were frustrated rather than pleased with this announcement, stating that seeing recent privacy scandals, Facebook CEO shouldn’t be the one making the rules. The term ‘digital gangster’ was first coined by the Guardian, when the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published its final report on Facebook’s Disinformation and ‘fake news practices. Per the publishing firm, “Facebook behaves like a ‘digital gangster’ destroying democracy. It considers itself to be ‘ahead of and beyond the law’. It ‘misled’ parliament. It gave statements that were ‘not true’”. Last week, Facebook rolled out a new Ad Library to provide more stringent transparency for preventing interference in worldwide elections. It also rolled out a policy to ban white nationalist content from its platforms. Zuckerberg’s four new regulation ideas “I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms.”, writes Zuckerberg. Reducing harmful content For harmful content, Zuckerberg talks about having a certain set of rules that govern what types of content tech companies should consider harmful. According to him, governments should set “baselines” for online content that require filtering. He suggests that third-party organizations should also set standards governing the distribution of harmful content and measure companies against those standards. “Internet companies should be accountable for enforcing standards on harmful content,” he writes. “Regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.” Ironically, over the weekend, Facebook was accused of enabling the spreading of anti-Semitic propaganda after its refusal to take down repeatedly flagged hate posts. Facebook stated that it will not remove the posts as they do not breach its hate speech rules and are not against UK law. Preserving election integrity The second tech regulation revolves around election integrity. Facebook has been taken steps in this direction by making significant changes to its advertising policies. Facebook’s new Ad library which was released last week, now provides advertising transparency on all active ads running on a Facebook page, including politics or issue ads. Ahead of the European Parliamentary election in May 2019, Facebook is also introducing ads transparency tools in the EU. He advises other tech companies to build a searchable ad archive as well. “Deciding whether an ad is political isn’t always straightforward. Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors,” Zuckerberg says. He also talks about improving online political advertising laws for political issues rather than primarily focussing on candidates and elections. “I believe”, he says “legislation should be updated to reflect the reality of the threats and set standards for the whole industry.” What is surprising is that just 24 hrs after Zuckerberg published his post committing to preserve election integrity, Facebook took down over 700 pages, groups, and accounts that were engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on Indian politics ahead of the country’s national elections. According to DFRLab, who analyzed these pages, Facebook was in fact quite late to take actions against these pages. Per DFRLab, “Last year, AltNews, an open-source fact-checking outlet, reported that a related website called theindiaeye.com was hosted on Silver Touch servers. Silver Touch managers denied having anything to do with the website or the Facebook page, but Facebook’s statement attributed the page to “individuals associated with” Silver Touch. The page was created in 2016. Even after several regional media outlets reported that the page was spreading false information related to Indian politics, the engagements on posts kept increasing, with a significant uptick from June 2018 onward.” Adhering to privacy and data portability For privacy, Zuckerberg talks about the need to develop a “globally harmonized framework” along the lines of European Union’s GDPR rules for US and other countries “I believe a common global framework — rather than regulation that varies significantly by country and state — will ensure that the internet does not get fractured, entrepreneurs can build products that serve everyone, and everyone gets the same protections.”, he writes. Which makes us wonder what is stopping him from implementing EU style GDPR on Facebook globally until a common framework is agreed upon by countries? Lastly, he adds, “regulation should guarantee the principle of data portability”, allowing people to freely port their data across different services. “True data portability should look more like the way people use our platform to sign into an app than the existing ways you can download an archive of your information. But this requires clear rules about who’s responsible for protecting information when it moves between services.” He also endorses the need for a standard data transfer format by supporting the open source Data Transfer Project. Why this call for regulation now? Zuckerberg’s post comes at a strategic point of time when Facebook is battling a large number of investigations. Most recent of which is the housing discrimination charge by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who alleged that Facebook is using its advertising tools to violate the Fair Housing Act. Also to be noticed is the fact, that Zuckerberg’s blog post comes weeks after Senator Elizabeth Warren, stated that if elected president in 2020, her administration will break up Facebook. Facebook was quick to remove and then restore several ads placed by Warren, that called for the breakup of Facebook and other tech giants. A possible explanation to Zuckerberg’s post can be the fact that Facebook will be able to now say that it’s actually pro-government regulation. This means it can lobby governments to make a decision that would be the most beneficial for the company. It may also set up its own work around political advertising and content moderation as the standard for other industries. By blaming decisions on third parties, it may also possibly reduce scrutiny from lawmakers. According to a report by Business Insider, just as Zuckerberg posted about his news today, a large number of Zuckerberg’s previous posts and announcements have been deleted from the FB Blog. Reaching for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that the posts were “mistakenly deleted” due to “technical errors.” Now if this is a deliberate mistake or an unintentional one, we don’t know. Zuckerberg’s post sparked a huge discussion on Hacker news with most people drawing negative conclusions based on Zuckerberg’s writeup. Here are some of the views: “I think Zuckerberg’s intent is to dilute the real issue (privacy) with these other three points. FB has a bad record when it comes to privacy and they are actively taking measures against it. For example, they lobby against privacy laws. They create shadow profiles and they make it difficult or impossible to delete your account.” “harmful content, election integrity, privacy, data portability Shut down Facebook as a company and three of those four problems are solved.” “By now it’s pretty clear, to me at least, that Zuckerberg simply doesn’t get it. He could have fixed the issues for over a decade. And even in 2019, after all the evidence of mismanagement and public distrust, he still refuses to relinquish any control of the company. This is a tone-deaf opinion piece.” Twitteratis also shared the same sentiment. Read Next Ahead of EU 2019 elections, Facebook expands it’s Ad Library to provide advertising transparency in all active ads Facebook will ban white nationalism, and separatism content in addition to white supremacy content. Are the lawmakers and media being really critical towards Facebook?last_img read more

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