Working from Home Tips – Being Effective While Working at Home

Contributed by Curotec.

Covid-19 is forcing many businesses to find ways to stay functional while still protecting the health and well-being of their employees and customers. Even as some business begin planning to return to the office, others have realized there is value in allowing employees to work from home. Twitter, Square, and many others have now folded working from home into their company culture. 

Whether you are starting a work from home journey because of recent global events, have transitioned to a new position that allows for work from home, or work for an organization that is answering the modern worker’s call for a work from home policy, one thing is certain – it isn’t just your job, but at done at home. 

The misconception that work from home is just like office work, but in pajamas, is rampant, and adopting that thought pattern will lead to significant struggles as you try to transition. But you don’t have to re-learn how to overcome the challenges that the army of home-based workers have already found solutions for. 

Our company, Curotec, has work from home as part of our DNA. As a custom software development company, we know that, no matter where we are, having the right tools and processes in place to be effective while separate is crucial to meeting the business’s needs. We wanted to share with you some of the hard-won tips we and some of our colleagues have uncovered that will make working from home a more effective and efficient endeavour. 

Technology

Technology is, obviously, a critical component of work from home, and deserves a post all its own. Here, we’ll get you started thinking about what you need and how you might upgrade the tech tools you’re already using.

Equipment

Don’t assume that working from home equates to massive amounts of expensive equipment. In truth, many jobs that can be performed remotely require two things – a computer, and a method of connecting to the internet. 

Few of us are bereft of Internet access at home. So the focus here is on your computer. Even that, in many circumstances, can be the most basic of machines. The majority of business applications do not require a high performing computer or lots of storage space. In fact, if your organization uses SaaS applications, there’s very little storage local needed.

There are, of course, exceptions. A business intelligence analyst probably requires a more powerful machine than, say, a product manager. A graphic designer may require power and storage. And a real-time, embedded systems engineer may need the actual devices they are coding for to test on. By and large, though, these are exceptions to the rule and not typical.

Meeting and Collaboration Tools

Communication is a key element of working from home. We only realize how much we directly interact with leaders, teams, vendors, and other stakeholders or subject matter experts in the company when we don’t have the ability to easily do so any longer.

Meeting and collaboration software is a key piece in clear and timely communication. Emails can only take a company so far, and it’s easy to misinterpret the written word.

Meeting software – like Zoom, Join.me, Skype, and GoToMeeting, among others – is readily available and, in some cases, free. Of course, given the high demand for online meetings in the current environment, it’s a good time to remember that you get what you pay for. A free meeting service may not have the network capacity to be stable under a heavy load. On the other hand, paid services may not be much better. As we’ve seen with Zoom’s challenges it pays to be careful when choosing your meeting software.

Beyond voice and video meetings, collaboration software is important to keeping things moving. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Salesforce Chatter, Cisco WebEx Teams, and Workplace by Facebook are just a few examples of tools that can keep your teams communicating in near real time. Other collaboration tools – like Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Jira/Confluence, and others – keep teams on the same page and lend visibility to projects and tasks.

Work Applications

Collaboration and meeting software are just a few of the tools that you’ll require. You’ll also need applications to do your actual work. You’ve probably already got these installed on your work computer, but if you’re looking for the right application to use remotely, there are a lot of options. There could be an entire book simply on this topic. Suffice it to say, you’ll need the specific applications you typically use to do your work, whether that is development tools or proprietary software. But if there is a cloud version, it might be time to think about switching.

Office suites like G Suite and Office 365 combine the applications you need – word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation tools – in a cloud-based format. This is especially useful when working from home, as it gives you the flexibility to move from one location to another, or one computer to another. 

Storage, too, can be available from multiple machines and locations. Microsoft’s OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box all provide different levels of storage, many of which are free. It’s ideal, however, for enterprises to have their compliance groups and security departments evaluate any cloud applications or storage options to ensure company data is kept secure.

A quick word about security – for companies that don’t already use them, allowing remote work means it’s time for you to consider a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN will help keep data safe as it moves between an employee’s machine and home network and company servers. Considering the level of security they offer, their ready availability, and recent increases in cybersecurity breaches, VPNs are relatively inexpensive and worth every penny.

Communication

Much of what we do when we’re in an office environment is communicate, whether we want to or not. Communication in an office setting is effortless and can be done with few hurdles. Good communication is the lifeblood of effective teams. 

Unfortunately, remote work removes the communication shortcut that being in the same building offers. Working from home means working at communicating. Being clear and purposeful must be kept in mind at all times.

Don’t “Go Dark”

When someone “goes dark”, they become a communication black hole. Information goes in, but doesn’t come back out. From your perspective you may be buried deep in an architectural, planning, or programming problem. But when you’re working remotely, the people depending on you can’t see that.

This isn’t intended to advocate for constant communication – instead, it’s important to be clear in what you’re doing and set expectations while being concise. It’s a balance. Constant communication means you’re not getting your work done and you’re interrupting your team from doing theirs. 

Instead, consider the lack of visibility into what you’re doing. Give meaningful updates to the people who need it – your leader, your team mates, your customers. Be clear and informative. Think about your updates in the traditional standup format – what are you working on, what will you be working on, and what obstacles do you need help with. Add in to that expectations on delivery and when you’ll reach out next, assuming you don’t need further help, and you’ve clearly communicated what’s going on without disrupting your day, or anyone else’s.

Face-to-Face (Virtually)

Video calls can seem like a hassle. Is it really necessary to see each other?

Actually, there is some research that says that it helps. Studies have shown that auditory recognition memory isn’t as effective as visual. Plus, being able to see one another helps to overcome some of those short cuts we’re missing from being in an office together. It can also encourage personal connections in remote workers.

Having said that, it’s possible to be an effective team and remote company without video conferencing. In other words, every meeting doesn’t need to have a video component. But if your company is moving to remote work for the first time, video can help ease the transition. What’s more, video can help in key meetings – like one-on-ones – to ensure that there is no confusion as the result of the lack of visual clues.

Time Management

If you feel like you’ve got a handle on time management, remote work will certainly test that. Being in an unfamiliar environment – or rather, an overly familiar one – can allow distractions to slip into your day. And without the easy communication of co-location, it’s easy to slip sideways and feel like you aren’t getting anything done.

Set Your Day 

It’s a strategy that productivity gurus have recommended time and time again – and one we even talk about in our recent work from home webinar. Call it what you want – mapping your day, planning your day, daily goal setting – the bottom line is it’s important to take the time to understand what you need to do today.

At the start of your day, look at what you need to accomplish, what you want to get done, and how long each task will take. By creating a task list for the day and estimating how long each item will take, you’ll have a feeling for what you can accomplish and what might need to be reprioritized to another day. 

Some experts recommend planning your day to get the hardest things out of the way first. Others suggest doing easy tasks early on to give you a sense of accomplishment quickly. You should consider which method will work best for you. That might even change from day to day. As long as you create your roadmap at the beginning of the day, you’ll know the path you’ll need to take.

Consider Adjusting Your Schedule

One of the best things about working from home is the opportunity to minimize interruptions.

One of the worst things about working from home is that you minimize interruptions.

While it’s great to have the time and headspace to dig into a problem, not having anything to break up the day could drag you down – or have you looking for unhealthy distractions like the fridge or just one more cat video on YouTube before you REALLY get back to work.

Working from home doesn’t mean you are shackled to your home workspace for 8 hours straight with no breaks. That’s now how your day worked in the office, it doesn’t have to be that way at home. 

When you plan your day, consider adding in purposeful breaks.You can set them at the end of a string of related tasks, or even in the middle of a very long, taxing project. The important thing is to be disciplined but also reward yourself with an intentional break.

Adjusting your schedule may be an important strategy in other ways. If you’re one of the people who has suddenly found themselves working from home along with your kids and your partner, you may need to come up with a way to keep it all moving forward.

If you have kids that are home and your significant other is also working there, think about dividing up the day with your partner. Each of you can set work time and time with your kids so that you both accomplish what you need to get done. That may mean getting up earlier or working later. Whatever you do, communicate your new schedule to the people relying on you – your team and your leader – so that they can support you and know where you are if you’re needed.

Put Up Work Boundaries

One of the most important and most effective strategies to achieve productivity when working from home is to set up dedicated working space. While many people have the luxury of a spare bedroom or office, for others a dedicated work space is nearly impossible.

If you don’t have a room you can designate as your workspace, consider adding a small desk in a corner of an existing room. Or, if the only area you can carve out is the dining room table or kitchen breakfast bar, set up visual cues that indicate it’s your workspace. If you live alone, consider markers – like masking tape – that give you a visual reminder of what the space is being used for. If you share your home, add in a stop and go sign that tells others when they can approach you and when you’re “off limits”. Whatever you decide, be sure that there are visual cues that allow you to separate work from home.

Working from home can help to increase your productivity, your focus, and even your work-life balance. But those changes don’t just happen. Just like you need to learn the rhythm and flow of working in an office, you’ll need to do the same for remote work. The flexibility and self-determination of working from home can be overwhelming if you’re new to it. But there are tried and true strategies that will set you on the right track. 

Facing the Challenges of ADA Website Compliance

Contributed by Curotec.  

The Web has brought a previously unimaginable amount of information, knowledge, and data to our desktops and even to the palm of our hand. Online encyclopedias, up to the minute news, and access to rapid communication are things most of us take for granted.

What if you couldn’t utilize the wonders of the web? For some individuals with disabilities, the web can be difficult, if not impossible, to use. Webpage elements that may seem to add flash or usability for one group can make a site inaccessible to another. 

In 1990, when the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law, the Web was barely a concept in the halls of the department of defense and in academia. As internet access and the web became a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, it became clear that the ADA needed to be updated to include considerations for those with disabilities.

Although the original law doesn’t mention websites, parts of the ADA have been interpreted by the courts to include the web. The result has been a number of companies facing high-profile – and expensive – lawsuits and judgments because their websites weren’t compliant.

This has made companies of every size increasingly aware of their need to accommodate all visitors to their websites. In other words, to be compliant with the ADA, sites must be accessible to users with disabilities. Making a site compliant, however, has its own challenges. How can a company do that? And what are the consequences of not being compliant?

The Difference Between ADA Website Compliance and Accessibility

There is a difference between ADA website compliance and website accessibility, but they are closely linked.

Website accessibility is about making your content available to as many people as possible, regardless of their abilities. An accessible website makes your site usable for people with disabilities or it can make it easier for the tools that disabled individuals use to help them with electronic communications and content. For instance, making your site accessible allows a screen reader to relate its content to someone who is visually impaired.

ADA website compliance, on the other hand, specifically refers to the expectations under the law for your site to be accessible. The problem with ADA website compliance is that the law itself doesn’t actually mention the web. But under the law, websites are considered to be subject to the ADA. 

ADA website compliance can be extremely confusing because there are no hard and fast rules. And yet companies are still required to make their sites as accessible as possible or face the consequences.

The Consequences of Not Being Compliant

In the last few years, the consequences of non-compliance have been severe, and the number of companies being held accountable has been increasing. 

Thousands of businesses have been sued for violating the ADA because their websites lack accessibility – nearly 5,000 lawsuits were filed between January and June of 2018 alone. And that number is expected to climb in the coming years.

In addition to attorney’s fees, court fees, and so on, companies have seen fines up to $55,000 for a first violation and even higher for subsequent infractions. Lawsuits have been broadly aimed and included companies like Blue Apron and even entertainers, like Beyonce

It’s much less expensive to make your site compliant than it is to face a lawsuit for violating the ADA. The question you’re likely asking yourself is – without a set of hard and fast rules, how can I do that?

How to Make Your Site Compliant with ADA Website Guidelines

The good news is that making your site compliant means making your site accessible, and there are a set of guidelines for doing just that. Even better, making your site accessible means opening it up to an entirely new audience who would not otherwise had access to your website or your e-commerce store.

While making your site accessible will take some work, it’s easier to do when you know what needs to be fixed. With a checklist for ADA website compliance guidelines to work from, your team can audit your existing site and pinpoint the areas needing work or changes. You can also contact a web development consultant or agency knowledgeable in ADA compliance and they can help you understand the work that needs to be done to bring your site in line with accessibility guidelines.

Top Mobile App Development Tools for 2020

Contributed by Curotec.

Mobile application development is no longer an afterthought. Smart companies have moved to a mobile-first approach for both web and app creation, considering the features and functionality that will be most important to someone working on their phone or tablet before tackling the desktop version.

Whether you work for a mobile application development company or a company that is building an app for their teams or customers, it’s crucial to be aware of the tools that will make your job easier and ensure a better product. But mobile app development tools are constantly changing and evolving to adapt to device advancements, standards, and capabilities. We’ve compiled a list of modern tools that will help today’s mobile app developers create stunning and highly usable applications.

App Development Frameworks & Cross-Platform Development Tools

Xamarin

Despite being purchased by Microsoft in 2016, Xamarin remains cross-platform. It extends the .Net platform for mobile development and adds both cross-platform and platform-specific libraries, editor extensions, and support for XAML for building dynamic mobile apps using C#. Xamarin is free and open source.

Ionic

Ionic offers a number of tools for developers, including the Ionic Framework. This free, open-source UI toolkit for mobile development enables developers to create native apps for iOS, Android, and the web from a single cross-platform codebase.

Appcelerator

As its name implies, Appcelerator’s purpose is to accelerate the development of mobile applications for iOS, Android, Windows, and HTML5 applications. Pricing ranges from free for a single user to a Pro account with expanded features at $200/month. Enterprise licenses are also available. Appcelerator allows you to write cross-platform applications in JavaScript that run natively on devices.

PhoneGap

PhoneGap is Adobe’s answer to Microsoft’s Xamarin. Developers can use web development skills to create hybrid applications easily using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript giving you a single codebase to maintain. However, hybrid mobile applications come with compromises, so developers should consider the trade-offs of easy development and maintenance with reduced potential for functionality.

BuildFire

BuildFire marries no-code application development with custom development capabilities. It’s drag-and-drop interface makes it simple for devs and even business users to create interfaces quickly but also backs that with a developer SDK. BuildFire comes with hundreds of templates as well as plugins for common services like YouTube and Shopify.

Mobile Testing Tools

Experitest

Experitest is a powerful suite that offers mobile test development, execution, performance testing, and test analytics. Experitest integration with your IDE, allowing you to run Appium and Selenium test without changes. It works with a variety of testing frameworks, and tests can be developed in C#, Python, Java, Ruby, and more.

TestProject

Both cloud-based and free, TestProject is a community-supported end-to-end test automation platform for web, mobile, and APIs. As an open-source project, you can share actions with the community and leverage ones that other developers have built or download addons for the platform. And it’s built on Selenium and Appium.

Appium

Appium is a test automation tool for iOS and  Android versions from 2.3 and up. It’s open-source and supports a wide range of programming languages. It’s compatible with any testing framework. One of the most impressive things about Appium is the breadth of applications you can test, from hybrid and native applications to mobile web apps, making it a useful tool for web development companies that also do mobile development. 

Augmented Reality & AI Tools

Easy AR

The EasyAR SDK simplifies the development of augmented reality applications and functionality. With multiple subscription levels, app developers can use the SDK to create sparse and dense 3D mesh maps in real-time, track motion and relative positioning, and map and track 3D objects and planar images.

TenserFlow Lite

While TensorFlow opened machine learning to everyone with its open-source library, TensorFlow Mobile (and what will likely be its successor, TensorFlow Lite) open the world of AI for mobile development. TensorFlow Mobile gives developers access to functionality for speech, gesture, and image recognition, optical character recognition, voice synthesis, and object localization, and more. 

Geolocation & Push Notifications

Pusher

Pusher offers a number of tools to help mobile developers create rich experiences. Pusher’s APIs enable real-time communication features, including in-app chat and programmatic push notification. It’s cross-platform capabilities are offered through hosted APIs and offers automatic scaling and high volume throughput and batch processing.

Amazon SNS

Amazon’s Simple Notification Service (SNS) offers a fully managed solution for many-to-many messaging. Not surprising, but SNS can manage high-throughput, push notifications. It’s backed by AWS, so reliability isn’t a concern, and the system is heavily focused on decoupling publish and subscriber services.

Urban Airship

Urban Airship has been around for a while, but it’s still a top application to help companies reach their customer in the moment they are needed – what Google refers to as “micro-moments”. With Urban Airship’s push notification service, brands can reach out to customers with personalized messages that are specific to their actions and attributes. 

Why Choose Magento for Your e-Commerce Solution?

Contributed by Curotec.

Remember in high school when some kids would do the popular thing because lots of other people did it, and others avoided that same thing, for the same reason? When you got older, you discovered that the popularity of something wasn’t a good reason to do (or avoid doing) a thing. 

Yet, sometimes, even in business, there is wisdom in crowds. When an application is superior to others – when it’s more stable, has more features, and increases opportunities – it’s not uncommon for many companies to flock to that solution.

So when more than one-quarter of the e-commerce sites in the world turn to a specific platform, it’s worth it to take notice. 

In other words, if you’re implementing an e-commerce site, it’s worth it to pay attention to Magento. Giants like Coca-cola, Ford, and Nestle use Magento for their businesses. And unlike many other enterprise solutions, it’s possible for small business owners to use as well as Fortune 500 corporations with the Magento Opensource and Commerce options. 

If you’re wondering why you should choose Magento, that’s just the start.

Purpose designed for e-commerce

E-commerce functionality is available on nearly every web platform today. Whether you’re using WordPress or Wix, there is an e-commerce plug-in or add on available.

Those platforms were not built specifically for e-commerce, however, and that means that they are limited in what can be added. Worse, it’s difficult to ensure that those plug-ins are completely secure.

Magento was built as a an e-commerce solution from the very start. The result? Functionality to support a seamless customer experience and ease of use on the backend were built with intent, not added on later. Magento doesn’t try to be all things to all people. It does one thing, and it does it very well.

Mobile Ready

It’s never been more important that an e-commerce site be mobile-ready than it is today. Mobile searches have surpassed those completed on a desktop computer, and SEO algorithms return sites on a mobile search with a preference for sites that are mobile optimized.

Without a mobile shopping experience, merchants are willingly walking away from a lot of sales. In 2018, e-commerce resulted in $6.2 billion in sales with nearly one-third of that coming from smartphones.

With Magento as your site’s platform, there is no need to customize and adapt your site for mobile. With HTML5, image scaling, and more, Magento sites are inherently responsive, ensuring customers get a great experience no matter how they access your site.

Extensible, customizable, and scalable

Magento made the choice early on to be open source, and developers have responded well. Not only does this give companies a free option for use of the software, but it also created an environment where developers can and have created additional modules and extensions so that the platform works the way you want it to. Also, the community is always testing and enhancing the platform, keeping it secure and bug-free.

Magento is also customizable to match an organization’s branding, look, and feel. From colors to layouts, the style of a site can be completely defined by the merchant. If customizing either front end or back end is outside of your abilities, there are experienced and skilled Magento e-commerce agencies with the ability to help you get exactly what you want.

But probably one of the biggest features of Magento is the availability of APIs. Using these application interfaces, Magento can be integrated with a multitude of other applications, including billing, CRM, and 3rd party logistics.

Expert developers and support

If customizing and extending your e-commerce site is outside of your abilities, you’re likely considering hiring experts to help. The process of finding the right partner to stand up your e-commerce site can be nerve-racking.

Magento has been around long enough for developers to have gained expertise in implementing the platform. Magento also offers a certification exam, giving developers an opportunity to prove their knowledge to potential clients. Finding a reliable e-commerce agency or consulting firm that offers Magento e-commerce support services is less daunting when you know that they have proven themselves by attaining certification. 

Whether you’re just launching your e-commerce business or considering migrating to a new platform to give you a secure, scalable, and extensible solution, Magento is worth looking at. Almost 200,000 online storefronts can’t be wrong.

If you’re looking for a Magento agency in Philadelphia, contact us. We’d love to hear about your project and let you know if we’d be able to build a flexible and well-designed e-commerce site for you that your customer will love using.