Year In Reflection

Looking back at my first year as CEO, in a pandemic…

A little over a year ago I took over as CEO at 702 Communications. My first three months were a whirlwind. I made some strategic hires to expand our wholesale division, I was guiding the team through a wireless system conversion, I was working to complete 702’s acquisition of Computer Wrench, traveling around to introduce myself and foster business relationships. There were ups and downs, sure, but the days just flew by. 2020 was going to be a big growth year, pushing the sales staff, pushing the company to provide the best customer service possible, and then COVID hit.

 

 

As hospitals began to fill and mandatory shutdowns began to manifest, my priorities shifted. Our management meetings went from discussions about sales goals and project deadlines to making sure we could get our employees working remotely and closing the office to the public.

COVID guidelines were crafted for employee and customer interaction. I took part in weekly calls with the General Managers and CEOs of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance. We shared our best-practices and the information on each other’s communities. We committed to not suspend customers for non-payment and reached out to the local schools to see if we could help connect students in need.

Discussions with my sales team went from pushing sales goals to reaching out to customers and seeing what we could do. If they needed more bandwidth to support remote workers, we were willing to help. If they were reducing staff or closing the doors, we did what we could to make service adjustments that made sense. We tried to do our part.

As the months dragged on, we found ways to try to buoy spirits in the community. We sponsored virtual concerts with Livewire, we worked with the Arts Partnership on Chalkfest and The Fence Project. We also celebrated some milestones internally. Six employees at 702 have celebrated or will soon celebrate 20 years with the company. Fargo Inc just did a story and photoshoot for us on that. Read more here.

All in all, I was very fortunate. I am very fortunate. I’m working in an industry that’s essential for remote work and distance learning. I’m also very fortunate that we’re financially stable and didn’t need to furlough employees or reduce staff because of COVID.

So, as I look back at my first year as CEO, I didn’t accomplish everything I intended, but I am proud of the work we did.

I wish you all health and happiness in the holiday season.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Upgrading Your Video Conference Tech

Whether we’re distance learning or remote working, we’re spending a lot of time with videoconference apps these days. And, while we’re all used to mediocre-quality video and sound, there are options to make our videoconferences just a little more professional.

 

 

Video Options

If you’re using an older laptop, it’s easy to upgrade your video quality with a gaming camera. I’m using the Razer Kiyo which can be purchased from Razer, Target, Best Buy, Amazon and the like for about $100. It’ll shoot 1080p at 30fps or 760p at 60fps. It’s also got an onboard ring light to supplement your lighting. More details at Razer: https://tinyurl.com/yy3yn7e7.

Audio Options – Speakers vs. Headphones

I’m going to start off making a recommendation. If you’re going to be distance learning or remote working, do yourself a favor and get some decent headphones. They don’t have to be noise cancelling, but a good pair of closed-back headphones will help drown out any ambient noise and will ensure you don’t have to worry about any audio feedback due to mic/speaker placement. I’ve got an older pair of Senheiser Momentums that I like quite a bit: https://tinyurl.com/y4mhqd6w. Sure, they’re $100, but they’re good for more than just videoconferencing. Consider a splurge!

Audio Options – Microphones

Once you’ve got your audio isolated to just your ears, you should focus on a mic upgrade.

If you’re using an onboard laptop mic, odds are you’re hearing a lot of ambient noise and perhaps some room echo. For $20, I picked up the MOVO lavalier mic that plugs into either your computer via USB dongle or your smartphone. It’s not studio quality, but it’s a definite upgrade over your laptop mic. More details at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yyacwyfh.

If audio quality’s really important to you, you can pick up a Blue Yeti Microphone. Several different options are available on Amazon for $150 or so. The Blue Yeti is very popular and used by many YouTube creators and podcasters. Amazon’s choice here: https://tinyurl.com/y39cpwu9.

So, if you’re serious about upgrading your videoconference experience, some simple options are out there to help.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Home Network & Device Upkeep

Those of us fortunate enough to have dedicated IT staffs don’t have to think too much about backups, computer updates and anti-virus scans. But these upkeep basics don’t have to be out of the everyday home user’s reach. Here are a couple suggestions to keep your computer running smoothly and your data safe.

  1. Backups. If you have data you can’t afford to lose, you should really consider setting a backup schedule for yourself. This can be as simple as setting up a Google Drive to sync with files on your computer to running full disk images via your operating system or something like Acronis. If you don’t like the idea of putting your data in the cloud, think about an external hard drive that you can connect, back up your data and then remove the device and place in a fire safe or safety deposit box.
  2. Anti-virus. Every windows PC these days comes with a built-in anti-virus program but there are many others you can choose from. All of them are decent and none of them are perfect. The most important thing with anti-virus is to set those programs to automatically update so they have the most up-to-date virus definitions and also to set a scan schedule. Despite our best efforts and the real-time detection that these platforms offer it’s still a good practice to have a scheduled scan weekly, if not daily.
  3. Software updates. I know software updates can sometimes be a pain. When you try to open a program and you get a notification that a new version is available, it’s easy enough to sometimes dismiss the reminder and ignore the update. I really encourage you to take the time and let the updates run their course. There are few software platforms out there that haven’t been or aren’t currently the target of hacking attempts. Developers are constantly working to maintain interoperability and security. Denying your computer the ability to update to the most recent and secure software may put your computer and files at risk.

If these steps seem like too much, there are still people that can help you. 702 Communications offers managed services that include backup and anti-virus software. We can even install a monitoring agent to make sure your software says up-to-date. For more information on those services, call us at 218.284.5702 or explore our site for more info.

I hope this post will inspire you to secure your own data!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Improving Connectivity in Your Home

Modern Wi-Fi routers generally do a great job of extending the signal to all rooms and all corners of your home. But sometimes there’s room for improvement. We’re going to talk today about two options for extending internet connectivity inside your home.

Mesh Wi-Fi Systems

The first option to really get great Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home is a mesh Wi-Fi system. In it, you have multiple access points that relay the Wi-Fi signal to and through each other to the base station that’s wired to your main Internet connection. Unlike Wi-Fi repeaters, these devices connect to each other with a different type of wireless signal and provide the full throughput of your connection. They’re generally really easy to set up and some don’t cost much (if any) more than a new wireless router.

CNET likes the Nest Wi-Fi best at $269, but does give other options depending on what’s important to you.

PC Mag does the same, giving you a list of mesh systems to look at depending on your needs.

But there’s another option for devices that need to be wired in.

Powerline Ethernet

If you’ve got an older home, chances are you don’t have Ethernet running everywhere you want connectivity. And, while it’s possible to retroactively wire up your home, there is an easier option that I’ve personally found to be pretty effective: Powerline Ethernet.

Powerline Ethernet takes adapters and uses your home’s wiring to transmit Ethernet in the house. You just plug one box into an outlet near your router (not a power strip) and then plug Ethernet into that device. Providing you’re on a single phase of power in your home, you can then plug subsequent powerline boxes into any other outlet in your home, pair them to the base station, and have Ethernet delivered via your home’s powerline. There are several brands out there, but I use a TP-Link system. For $40, you can deliver Ethernet into any other room in your home.

I hope this information will help get you better connected!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

How to Read a Speed Test

You’re maybe wondering why in the world I’d take the time to explain how to read a speed test, but it actually is a little more complicated than you might think.

Now, I know, at the end of the day, you just want things to work the way you want them to work, but if we’re going to get to the cause of your slow internet, we need to figure out if your internet is actually slow because of usage or a problem.

So, what’s the best way to run a speed test and what do the numbers mean? Let’s go through it:

Step one: Plug your computer into your router. I know, most of our devices are connected via Wi-Fi, but you have to remember, it’s your provider’s job to provide you with a reliable WAN (Wide Area Network) connection. If you’re being sold 25MB you should be able to test at your modem pretty close to 25MB. There are many factors that may cause a Wi-Fi speed test to show less than your full subscription rate. So, plug something in for the most reliable test.

Step two: Close every other program on your computer and open a browser to pick a speed test. If you’re streaming music or videos or downloading pictures or uploading files during a speed test, it’ll skew the results. There are lots of speed tests out there but the most common one is speedtest.net. Once there, you’ll see the main test screen.

Step three: Select your testing server. Speedtest will select a server based on some metrics, but it’s sometimes to your benefit to force a different selection. If your provider hosts a speed test, you can reliably test your connection from your home to your provider using their speed test. If you want to test your connection elsewhere in the country, you can do that as well by selecting another location to test. To really get a feel for your connection to your provider, pick your provider’s test server.

Step four: interpret the results

speed test screen

Speedtest.net is going to show you a metric for ping, download speed, and upload speed. In this instance my ping was returned in 1ms, or 1 millisecond. That’s the time it took for me to send a packet of data to the speed test server and get it back. 1ms is the best you can get. I’m on a 100Mb connection and, at the time of this test, I’m showing 93.61Mb down and 92.85Mb up. I’m happy with that result. So, I know that if I can wire a device in and test my connection, I’m getting what I’m paying for. What if I speed test off my phone?

On my phone, I’ve downloaded the speedtest.net app. I’ll run the same test and post the result below:

That’s a completely different result and there could be numerous reasons for the slower test on my phone via Wi-Fi. It could be how far I am from my router, interference with other Wi-Fi networks, other devices in my home or office that are actively using Wi-Fi bandwidth, etc. But if this was the only test I’d done, I might assume that I’m only getting 30Mb of the 100Mb I’m paying my provider for.

Your provider can help you troubleshoot your LAN issues and possibly increase the speed of your Wi-Fi. But remember, our first test today showed that the WAN connection, the one my provider’s responsible for, was good. My LAN connection might need some work, and that’s on me.

For more tips on internet speed or troubleshooting, give our customer service team a call. We’re here to help you get the most out of your internet service so you can stay connected.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

PhoneSoap

If you’re not familiar with PhoneSoap as a product, you may be conjuring images of dish detergent or window cleaner. The truth is that PhoneSoap is a creative way to sanitize your cellphone and any other small personal items that may need cleaning.

PhoneSoap, at least the basic model that I’ve got, is a white clamshell with ultraviolet bulbs in both the top and bottom of the device.

phone soap closed

phone soap open

These bulbs are what’s responsible for sanitizing any items placed within it.

PhoneSoap uses UV-C radiation to sanitize your phone. We’re all familiar with UV radiation. We’ve heard, for years, about the necessity of using sunscreen to prevent sunburn and possible skin cancer.

What you might not know, though, is that the World Health Organization has, for years, recommended the use of sunlight (UV radiation) to purify drinking water if no other purification means are available.

How does sunlight purify or sanitize anything? It’s all about the radiation.

Our sun generates three types of UV radiation: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. Our ozone layer stops all of the UV-C and most of the UV-B radiation. UV-A and B radiation cause us to tan or burn when exposed, and the damage from UV-B radiation also causes our bodies to create vitamin D.

None of those changes occur, though, without some catalyst. And that catalyst is radiation damage.

UV-C is the most dangerous of the UV radiation because it has the shortest wavelength. It’s so short, in fact, that it can inactivate microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. That’s why you may be hearing more in the news now about cities and countries using UV light to sterilize hospital equipment, mass transit equipment and the like. UV-C gets right into the RNA and DNA of germs to prevent them from infecting or reproducing.

Our phones go everywhere with us and there’s probably little you touch or hold more than your phone. It stands to reason that our phones need regular sanitizing. And while you can wipe down your phone with a bleach wipe, something like PhoneSoap gets your phone truly clean and doesn’t leave any residue when it does.

Using PhoneSoap is easy! Just place your phone in the case, close the lid, then the light on the top of the case will come on. Ten minutes later, the light will turn off, and your phone is clean (well, sterile anyway).

I’ve found the case to be big enough for my key, wallet and eyeglasses, but not much more than that.

phone soap with keys inside

But those are my daily carry items, the things that I’m holding or touching most often, so it stands to reason that if I can keep them clean, and my hands clean, I can do a pretty good job of making sure I’m not bringing all sorts of germs back home.

PhoneSoap Basic is available for about $50 and should be good for tens of thousands of uses.

Stay safe out there.
Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Hosting Live Events Remotely

Large gatherings as we knew them are a thing of the past. 50% capacity or cancellations are the only solutions for some, but what about virtual live events? In the following clip, I discuss the logistics behind live streaming tech needed to bring your event to the masses safely on your own devices.

 

 

Thinking about putting on a live streaming event? Here are some pieces of technology to consider.

Eventlive.pro
Wireless Mic
Patch Cable

Call us with questions on connectivity!

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

Opening the Office: 702’s Steps

COVID-19 has changed everything for everyone. A year ago, working from home was something we had employees trying out “in case of emergency.” Of course, the “emergencies” we were planning for were something more like a one-day blizzard than a three-month quarantine. But when the day came that I gave the order to close the office, everyone went home, set up their workstation, and (with a couple calls to our LAN administrator for help) got to work remotely. Practice and planning made that move possible.

We have never practiced or planned for reopening during a pandemic, so beginning to do so is uncharted waters.

 

 

I’m gladdened by the decreasing active cases of COVID in our community. I’m proud of the social distancing that’s shown to slow the spread. The question has now become “Are we ready to come back to work?”

I’d love to be able to send out an email to my employees and announce that 702 is open for business, just like we were back in February. But that’s not the reality. The reality is, we will reopen, but it won’t look like it did before.

When 702 does reopen, we’ll do so with limited staff in the office. Initial plans are to have no more than 10 members of our staff in either building, at any time. Employees will be asked to sanitize their own workstations a couple times a day. We’ll have sanitizing wipes in the bathrooms, by the copier, in the break room and any other common areas with the direction “if you touch it, sanitize it.”

We’re also planning to require masks in the office. We’ll limit the number of customers in the lobby, discouraging any non-essential visits. We know some of you have missed coming in to chat with your favorite 702 employee and pay a bill or ask a question. We’re going to ask that you hold off a bit longer. Make your payment on the internet or over the phone. If you’ve got a question, give us a call. We want to keep everyone safe.

As I type, we’ve ordered plexiglass barriers for our customer service stations to create separation between customer and staff.

Staff members will be required to take their temperature before reporting in-person for work. Anyone with a fever will not be in the office that day.

Some of these things are going to be a hassle, sure. But the goal of all of this separation has been to protect each other from harm. We’re going to continue to do so for the time being to enable the day when we take the barriers down, put the masks away, and get back to business as usual.

I wish you all health.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

COVID-19: Work-Life Balance

Remote work is blurring the work-life balance for millions of Americans, and causing some mental health issues in the process. Here are some tips for managing your stress and finding a healthier balance.

I’d always jokingly maintained that the amount of time I spent at work each day helped me appreciate my family more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t love my family. But there’s always been value for me in leaving my office, where it may have been a stressful or frustrating day, pulling into my garage, and being able to leave the workday’s trouble at the door.

 

 

When the office is just a room in the house and your coworkers are the same members of the family that you see every day, that balance can be harder to find. My den used to be where I played video games to review on my podcast or where I spent time writing for fun or painting or any other number of hobbies I have to relax and unplug. Now that same den is the office that I spend 8 hours a day in. When I’m done with work, if all I do is move from my desk to my recliner and boot up a video game, I could be spending 12 hours a day in the same space.

It’s easy to see how that could start to wear on a person after a time. Cabin fever, anyone?

So, here are a couple suggestions to help combat that cabin fever and maintain some work-life balance.

First and foremost, if you’re going to be doing work from home, pick a room to do that work in and only do it in that room. If the den is going to be where stressful conversations take place, then I need somewhere else I can go to de-stress. So, maybe I move the video game console to another room in the house.

Work your normal day. If you’re expected to be in the office from 8-5, be in the office from 8-5. But get out of that room for lunch. Get up and walk around the house (or block) for a break a couple times a day. When it’s the end of your shift, shut off the lights in that room and close the door on your way out.

It might be time, too, to pick up a new hobby. YouTube is a wealth of information and ideas. It’s the right time of year to try growing a garden. Maybe you want to plant a tomato for the first time. Watch YouTube and figure out how to prune it for maximum yield. Get on the sourdough train and perfect the perfect loaf of bread. Start birdwatching in your neighborhood. I’ve just started making some jewelry at home with leftover scrap copper from some electrical projects.

The point is, we all need that balance. We all need an escape. And if it’s hard now to get that escape the same way you used to, find your new escape. There are still plenty of things out there to discover and new things to enjoy.

I hope this helps you be safe and work well.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications

COVID-19: Work From Home Bloopers

While many people out there are work-from-home professionals, this is new to a lot of us. As a result, we’ve seen some pretty embarrassing work-from-home bloopers pop up. How can you make sure you’re not the next YouTube sensation? I’ve got some tips for you.

Maybe you haven’t seen the videos in question. While there is a certain amount of Schadenfreude involved, I’m not going to spread the misfortune directly. You can search on Google or YouTube for “work from home videoconference bloopers” and feast your eyes on the failures.

 

It’s easy to laugh at the student who attended class, in his bedroom, naked, and without realizing he was on camera started to walk around the bedroom for everyone to see, or to feel really, really bad for “Poor Jennifer” who took her whole office to the bathroom with her.

At the end of the day, though, both of these situations and many others you find can be easily resolved.

I get that one of the joys of working from home is maybe working in your pajamas or not doing your hair or makeup. I’d suggest, though, that you resist that urge, especially if your day contains even one conference call.

Don’t let working from home be permission to be lazy. Get up, take your shower, put on your work clothes and just be ready for your day. Not only will you avoid the work blooper reel, but you’ll also likely feel more of a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. You didn’t trudge down the stairs to hang out in the basement all day; you got up and went to work.

I’m not saying you can never work in your PJs. For all you know, I’m writing this blog post in mine. But I know there’s no chance you can find out.

Here’s hoping we can all stay off that blooper reel!

I hope this helps you be safe and work well.

Brian Crommett
CEO
702 Communications