How Microsoft Teams can make your nonprofit more productive

Nonprofits face a host of challenges specific to the space they work in. For one, funds are almost always limited. You just don’t have a massive surplus of money sitting around waiting to be spent on IT tools.

Instead, you have to make every dollar count. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay current. In this article, we’re going to explore why instant messaging as a communication platform (and Microsoft Teams, specifically) is a good option for nonprofits.

We’ll start by exploring the benefits of instant messaging.

Why your nonprofit should use instant messaging

Nonprofits are often slow to embrace new technology for a very pragmatic reason. New technology typically requires an investment. What you may not know is that there are several IM apps (including Microsoft Teams) that are completely free.

That alone makes IMing an option, even for the most budget-sensitive nonprofit. But why is IMing a strong strategic move in the nonprofit space?

We’re so glad you asked.

Instant messaging is faster and more efficient

Email was a quantum leap forward for business communication. It’s so much faster than traditional mail. But instant messaging is even better.

Like email, there’s no wait. Your message is sent as soon as you’ve typed it. But unlike email, IM messages tend to be short, to the point, and direct. As a result, you’re likely to get answers much faster. That makes it a more efficient option than email.

Instant messaging isn’t location-bound

Very few nonprofits operate from a single location. Sure, you may have a hub for the organization, but you probably also have volunteers and staff scattered—if not all the time, then certainly when you have events and fundraisers.

Instant messaging gives you an easy way to keep everyone in the loop, even if you’re spread out.

Instant messaging is conversational, live and collaborative

Virtually everyone is already accustomed to IMs and text messages. This isn’t a new format you’ll have to teach others. Instead, folks will interact using your IM app much like they interact using others.

That instant understanding means everyone will dive right into being conversational and responsive, which in turn promotes real-time collaboration.

“When it comes to internal messaging, nonprofits still rely on traditional tools, especially email and meetings, in spite of how time-consuming and unproductive they may be.” – nten

Why Microsoft Teams is a great IM app for nonprofits

It’s integrated with the rest of Microsoft’s apps

Teams isn’t the only IM program out there that integrates with Microsoft’s other apps, but it certainly has the smoothest, most intuitive integrations. You can share files, collaborate easily and chat all from a single IM tool.

And if your organization isn’t already taking advantage of the discounts Microsoft offers for nonprofits, you should definitely look into that.

It’s accessible from any device

You can use Teams from a PC, plus there are Apple and Android apps. That kind of flexibility means you can easily stay connected whether you’re working at your desk or at an event.

Plus, your team—both staff and volunteers—can easily get the word out about important information without any kind of delay. New messages will go straight to everyone’s smartphone.

It’s constantly getting better

Microsoft is committed to improving Teams. In fact, Computerworld reports that “Teams is now more widely used than Slack and is set for faster growth over the next two years.”

That makes sense as Teams is designed for and marketed to big business. The benefit to your nonprofit is getting a top-tier tool at literally no cost.

“Teams has a big advantage over rivals because it can hook into Microsoft’s various office productivity apps, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.” – Computerworld

How to use Microsoft Teams to boost productivity

Clearly, Teams is a good option for nonprofits. But how can you make sure you’re getting all the benefits teams has to offer?

Start with these 4 tips.

1. Use all the functionality that’s baked into Teams

Teams isn’t just an IM app. It has several other key features like group chat, voice calls and video conferencing. Use it all, depending on what works best for the kind of communication you need at that moment.

2. Take advantage of rich integrations with Office 365

We already mentioned that Teams is well-integrated with Office 365. Make sure you actually use those integrations. Share documents you’re working on, keep files everyone needs uploaded to Teams for quick, easy access, and record calls and video conferences for team members who will need to catch up later.

3. Connect Teams to other tools you already use

There’s a growing library of apps for Teams to extend integrations outside of Office 365. Be sure to look through the available apps. There’s a good chance you can make Teams even more perfect for your nonprofit.

4. Make Teams your default communication platform

Once you start using Teams, you’ll quickly see the benefits. When you do, we encourage you to make it your default way of keeping in touch internally. Ditch email whenever possible and opt for IM conversations. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it will benefit you in the long term.

Getting started with Teams

To get started, just download Teams, ask the rest of your nonprofit staff to do the same, and start using it. And if you work with a managed IT service provider, it’s a good idea to reach out to them and see if there’s any additional IT support or training they can provide.

10 ways to be more secure when traveling

Business traveling is a mixed bag. While it can certainly be productive, more often than not it’s also a pain. And when you add cybersecurity considerations into the mix, it can get downright stressful.

We work with quite a few companies with remote workforces. Additionally, as IT business consultants, we have regular contact with frequent business travelers on a daily basis. As a result, we’re well-versed in some of the dos and don’ts of secure business travel.

What follows are our top 10 tips for keeping your data safe while you’re out of town.

Traveling tips for data security

Before we get to the tips, a word of warning. Some of these are going to seem extreme. If you’ve never given much thought to cybersecurity when you’re not connected to a known network, our tips might even seem paranoid.

That’s because we only care about one thing—keeping your data safe. If you’re serious about guarding your data on the road, this is how you do it.

1. Stay away from mobile hotspots

Public Wi-Fi is dangerous, pure and simple. In fact, a recent article in CSO stated, “Today’s Wi-Fi standards are flawed and should not be trusted.”

The article went on to explain exactly why public Wi-Fi should be avoided at all costs. “One of the biggest threats with free Wi-Fi is the ability for hackers to position themselves between you and the connection point.” That includes data you might think is encrypted.

2. Use a VPN to encrypt data traffic

A VPN is like your own personal secure connection. With one, your mobile devices are linked directly to a private server and all the data exchanged between the two is encrypted. That, of course, adds a significant layer of security.

However, be sure you pick a VPN service you trust. The VPN service provider can see your traffic, so steer clear of questionable free providers.

Read more: How to set up a VPN[

3. Encrypt your mobile devices in case they’re lost or stolen

If your phone or laptop provides you with the option to encrypt all local data, do it. That way, even if you lose your phone or your laptop is stolen, all your information is safe and sound.

And if you’re wondering just how strong consumer encryption options are, even the FBI has a very hard time bypassing this form of protection.

4. Use privacy screens to avoid shoulder surfing in public spaces

Privacy screen protectors (like this one) make it difficult for anyone but the person holding a smartphone or sitting directly in front of a laptop to read what’s on the screen. This added layer of security means you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing your private information, even accidentally.

If your work includes particularly sensitive information, like medical records or other data protected by strict regulatory laws, this is a must-have precaution.

5. Use a wall plug charger instead of public USB ports

Public USB ports are just as dangerous as public Wi-Fi networks—which, when you think about it, makes sense. After all, you’re connecting your device to a public network, even if your only goal is to charge your phone.

Instead of using a public USB port, opt for a standard wall outlet for charging.

6. Don’t share that you’re traveling on social media

It’s perfectly fine to share that you were on a trip once you’re back in town. But it’s ill-advised to post that you’re out of town while still traveling. (That’s true for business trips and vacations alike.)

Why? Because you’re advertising that your home, office, car, and local business network are all unwatched for a while. That’s like an invitation for thieves.

7. Disable Bluetooth connectivity

The great thing about Bluetooth is how quickly and easily it connects our devices. Unfortunately, that’s what makes it unsafe, too.

Cybercriminals can use an open Bluetooth connection to gain access to your device, especially in crowded areas like airports. Turn it off while you’re on the road.

Related: Shadow IT and the impact it can have on your business[

8. Setup multi-factor authentication for your online accounts

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a simple, secure way to ensure a user is actually authorized to access an account when a new login is attempted. Even if you have the password, you typically have to enter an additional code delivered via text message or email.

While a lot of services offer multi-factor authentication, the trick is that you have to set it up. It’s absolutely worth the minor hassle.

9. Consider using encrypted text messaging

Encrypted chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp give you the ability to send and receive text messages as effortlessly as the default app on your phone with one added benefit—the data is entirely encrypted.

However, while WhatsApp is the best known encrypted chatting app, it’s also owned by Facebook, and that brings with it a whole new set of privacy and security concerns. That’s why we recommend Signal.

10. Update the software on your laptop and phone

Time and again, headline-making data breaches uncover the same annoying truth. Updating your software really does keep you safe.

Update your apps. Apply software patches. Don’t fall victim to a security breach simply because you weren’t up-to-date.

Keep reading: 5 steps to make working remotely effective for your company

Shadow IT and the impact it can have on your business

Shadow IT is a term used to describe hardware, software, or cloud services used within your business that your IT department is not aware of. It could be a tablet brought from home that an employee is using to access work files, or it could be a personal Dropbox account your HR director set up to enable mobile access to files.

Shadow IT has some legitimate security concerns. But you needn’t stop your entire operation to ferret out any shadow IT your employees have adopted. Instead, you should use it as an opportunity to grow strategically. Start by asking a critical question: why are your employees turning to non-sanctioned IT tools in the first place?

When you use the experience to broaden your understanding of the challenges your people face, an encounter with shadow IT can actually provide some surprising and unexpected benefits.

Here are some of the ways shadow IT can impact your business.

Security risks from shadow IT

Hopefully, you already have a good cybersecurity plan in place, but you can’t protect something you don’t even know exists. Anytime unauthorized hardware or software is connected to your network, there are security risks that come along with it.

For example, hardware or software that is not properly updated with the most recent security patches could create an access point for viruses and other forms of malware to enter your network.

If you’re in an industry governed by compliance regulations and restrictions, shadow IT could lead to compliance risks or violations without even realizing it. Worse yet, it could lead to sanctions, fines, and loss of reputation.

What to do about shadow IT

The most important thing you need to do is to understand what shadow IT is and how to identify it. Consider working with a managed IT service provider to help you monitor your network. They can also provide network and risk assessments to help uncover issues that may not be readily apparent.

You should also make sure your employees understand the risks associated with shadow IT. There’s a good chance that employee working on a tablet they brought from home doesn’t realize that unsecured device could open up your network to cyber threats. Maybe they were just trying to find a way they could get work done from locations other than their desk, like the conference room or break room.

With the right training, your employees can be your first line of defense in protecting your network.

Consider implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so your employees will be crystal clear on what is and is not allowed. Having a BYOD policy in place can also make sure everyone knows how to keep authorized personal devices updated and secure.

And don’t forget to include security awareness training. When your staff understands what it takes to protect company and customer data, they can be a powerful line of defense against data breach. But first, they have to be equipped with the right knowledge.

Learning from shadow IT

It’s also important to recognize that not all shadow IT is bad. In a lot of cases, this form of technology exists because your employees are searching for ways to work better and more efficiently.

That Dropbox account your HR director has been using to enable access to mobile files could demonstrate a need for cloud services you didn’t realize was there. Now that you know, you can find more secure and compliant ways to provide the same capability.

Shadow IT can provide great insight into end-user needs and preferences—provided you also understand the risks. You should absolutely stop shadow IT, but you should do so while also taking the time to understand the tools and solutions your employees actually need.

Final thoughts

Think of shadow IT as a gauge. If your staff is using shadow IT, it means they need a resource you’re not yet providing. So while it does present risks, it can also present you with an opportunity to improve workflows and streamline your business procedures, all while clearly communicating to your employees that you care about their on-the-job experience.

The key to dealing with shadow IT is to understand what it is and take proactive steps to identify it in your workplace. Contact your managed IT services provider to help secure your network today.