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How remote workers are outfoxing company spyware

(BUSINESS NEWS) As employers implement more invasive spyware to monitor remote employees’ at-home activity, some employees are giving the finger to Big Brother with savvy and sneaky workarounds.

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Glasses sitting on an open laptop with potential spyware

In 2020, with office employees around the world working full-time from home, companies are stepping up their spyware game. Accordingly, employees are maneuvering mightily to outfox their own corporate Big Brother.

If you didn’t realize that companies were tracking their employees’ online activity already, well, bless your heart. I have a secret. Pssst, everything you do online is likely being tracked by somebody, somewhere. Companies have long had tracking systems in place, reportedly to use for an aggregate report for company executives, to try and help employees maximize productivity.

According to CNBC, Gartner reported that approximately half of large corporations monitored online employee activity. By the end of 2020, they predict at least 80% of companies will use some sort of internal tracking systems.

For companies with more than 1,000 employees, internal spyware has been the norm. However, internal spyware sales have had a boom since March. Some of these programs, like Time Doctor, ActivTrak, Sneek, and Teramind, are popular versions.

Companies with zero chill can also use a program called StaffCop. These programs allow a variety of services for the companies: Video monitoring through the employee webcam (yikes!), remote screen shots, login trackers, and even keystroke activity. It’s a lot.

Employees are onto this, though, and have become equally resourceful at showing The Man up. Anti-surveillance software programs are flying off the virtual shelves as employees seek out ways to keep corporate noses out of their business and their homes. Nobody likes a micromanager or a tattletale, especially an omniscient one.

The ingenuity of the human mind is mighty impressive and people are finding creative ways to block the intrusive snitchware.

One super simple way to foil the unwanted scrutiny is merely to do any non-work activity on a second device, be it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The spyware will still track your hours online and collect other data, but they won’t know everything. It’s good practice not to conduct personal work on a company machine anyway.

More tech-savvy workers are installing anti-surveillance programs that build a ring-fence around the spyware. This will show that you are online but won’t allow the software to track your every move. According to Wired, these and other programs that create fake mouse movements make workers appear like they’re tied to their desks, even when they aren’t.

Presence Scheduler sets your Slack status to permanently active. Slack caught on at one point and updated the system; Presence Scheduler then updated their system to counter Slack’s update. Another Slack hack is to keep your status set to “Away” even when you’re working. This works for most IM systems you may have. Your team and higher ups should get used to seeing the Away indicator, even when you’re replying to them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Reddit has a whole thread on privacy measures and software to use for working and studying from home. One tip is to open Notepad and place something heavy on the space bar.

Then there’s this genius on a Reddit subthread who attached their mouse to an oscillating fan. It sounds funny, but intrusive software isn’t.

In fact, employers are required to let employees know they are being monitored. Best practices tell us to always be aware that our movements are being tracked, especially on a work computer.

Most employees are not trying to take advantage of the company. In a recent KPMG American Worker Survey of more than 1,400 people in large companies, 79% of workers report an improvement in their quality of work, and 70% say their productivity has increased since moving to a home office. However, 74% also report an increase in work demands, and 45% report that their mental health has suffered.

Of course, some of that is pandemic-related. Knowing they are being constantly monitored definitely is another factor – it breaks down trust. Most employees aren’t blowing off work at all; they are merely trying to stay sane. With the whole family at home, combined with the extra stress and labor that COVID-19 has heaped upon everyone’s plates, doing their actual jobs is most likely a mental getaway from daily drudgery.

Of course, you will always have your scammers, rapscallions, and lazybones. They have a way of making it into every company. However, they are just as skilled at getting away with not doing their work in person as they are remotely. Some people will work twice as hard to not do their actual job. This is not your average employee, though. Most people are not going to mess around and risk losing their job, especially now.

Employers need to start considering the end goal and lay off the nitpicking and spying. Is the work getting done? Is it getting done at roughly the same rate or faster than it was getting done before remote work became the standard? Okay, then maybe pump the brakes on all this snitchware. It only serves to heighten mistrust and adds to employee stress.

Of course, companies should have some ways of keeping track of productivity and employee hours. They are paying for the work to get done, and some workers are paid by the hour. However, human nature will rebel against too much intrusiveness, especially in their own homes. Employers need to realize that they can only go so far and scrutinize so much when they are “entering,” at least virtually, their employees’ personal space. In the meantime, there’s always the oscillating fan scam.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

Business News

Are Gen Z more fickle in their shopping, or do brands just need to keep up?

(BUSINESS NEWS) As the world keep changing, brands and businesses have to change along with it. Some say Gen Z is fickle, but others say it is the nature of change.

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Gen Z woman shopping outside on a laptop.

We all know that if you stop adapting to the world around you, you’re going to be left behind. A recently published article decided to point out that the “fickle” Gen Z generation are liable to leave a poor digitally run site and never return. Now of course we’ve got some statistics here… They did do some kind of due diligence.

This generation, whose life has been online from almost day one, puts high stakes on their experiences online. It is how they interact with the world. It’s keyed into their self-worth and their livelihoods, for some. You want to sell online, get your shit together.

They have little to no tolerance for anything untoward. 80% of Gen Zers reported that they are willing to try new brands since the pandemic. Brand loyalty, based on in-person interaction, is almost a thing of the past. When brands are moved from around the world at the touch of your fingertips there’s nothing to stop you. If a company screws up an order, or doesn’t get back to you? Why should you stick with them? When it comes to these issues, 38% of Gen Zers say they only give a brand 1 second chance to fix things. Three-quarters of the surveyed responded saying that they’ll gladly find another retailer if the store is just out of stock.

This study goes even further though and discusses not just those interactions but also the platforms themselves. If a website isn’t easy to navigate, why should I use it? Why should I spend my time when I can flit to another and get exactly what I need instead of getting frustrated? There isn’t a single company in the world that shouldn’t take their webpage development seriously. It’s the new face of their company and brand. How they show that face is what will determine if they are a Rembrandt or a toddlers noodle art.

The new age of online shopping has been blasted into the atmosphere by the pandemic. Online shopping has boosted far and above expected numbers for obvious reasons. When the majority of your populace is told to stay home. What else are they going to do? Brands that have been around for decades have gone out of business because they didn’t change to an online format either. Keep moving forward.

Now as a side note here, as someone who falls only just outside the Gen Z zone the articles description of fickle is pompous. The stories I’ve heard of baby boomers getting waiters fired, or boycotting stores because of a certain shopkeeper are just as fickle and pointed. Nothing has changed in the people, just how they interact with the world. Trying to single out a single generation based on how the world has changed is a shallow view of the world.

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Business News

Chasing Clubhouse success? How the audio chat room trend affects products

(BUSINESS NEWS) It is inevitable that when a new successful trend comes along, other companies will try to make lightning strike twice. Will the audio chat room catch on?

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Smiling woman seated in dark room illuminated by lamp and phone light, participating in audio chat room.

Businesses are always about the hot new thing. People are the always looking for the easiest dollar with the least amount of effort these days. It tends to lead to products that are shoddy and horribly maintained with the least amount of flexibility in pleasing their customers. However, you also have to look at the customer base for this as well. You follow where the money is because that’s where its being spent. It’s like a merry-go-round, constantly chasing the next thing. And the latest of these is the audio chat room.

During the pandemic the entire world saw an eruption of social audio investments. Silicon Valley has gone crazy with this new endeavor. On the 18th of April this year, Clubhouse said it closed on some new funding, which was valued at $4 billion for a live audio app. This thing is still in beta without a single penny of revenue!

The list of other companies who have pursued new audio suites (either through purchase or creation) include:

  • Facebook
  • Spotify
  • Twitter
  • Discord
  • Apple

This whole new audio fad is still in its infancy. These social media and tech giants are all jumping headlong into it with who knows how much forethought. A number of them have their own issues to deal with, but they’ve put things aside to try and grab these audio chat room coattails that are running by. It’s a mix of feelings about the situation honestly. They are trying to survive and keep their customers.

If a competitor creates this new capability and they stay stagnant then they lose customers. If they do this however without dealing with their current issues then they could also lose people. It’s an interesting catch 22 for people out there. Which group do you fall in? Are you antsy for a new toy or are you waiting for one of these lovely sites to fix a problem? It’s another day in capitalism.

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Business News

This web platform for cannabis is blowing up online distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Dutchie, a website platform for cannabis companies, just octupled in value. Here’s what that means for the online growth of cannabis distribution.

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A small jar of cannabis on a desk with notebooks, sold online in a nicely made jar.

The cannabis industry has, for the most part, blossomed in the past few years, managing to hit only a few major snags along the way. One of those snags is the issue of payment processing, an issue compounded by predominantly cash-only transactions. Dutchie, a Bend, Oregon company, has helped mitigate that issue—and it just raised a ton of money.

Technically, Dutchie is a jack-of-all-trades service that creates and hosts websites for dispensaries, tracks product, processes orders, keeps stock of revenue, and so much more. While it was valued at around $200 million as recently as summer of 2020, a round of series C funding currently puts the company at around $1.7 billion—approximately 8 times its worth a mere 8 months ago.

There are a few reasons behind Dutchie’s newfound momentum. For starters, the pandemic made cannabis products a lot more accessible—and desirable—in states in which the sale of cannabis is legal. The ensuing surge of customers and demand certainly didn’t hurt the platform, especially given that Dutchie is largely responsible for keeping things on track during some of the more chaotic months for dispensaries.

Several states in which the sale of cannabis was illegal also voted to legalize recreational use, giving Dutchie even more stomping ground than they had prior to the lockdown.

Dutchie also recently took on 2 separate companies and their associated employees, effectively doubling their current staff. The companies are Greenbits—a resource planning group—and Leaflogix, which is a point-of-sale platform. With these two additions to their compendium, Dutchie can operate as even more of an all-in-one suite, which absolutely contributes to its value as a company.

Ross Lipson, who is Dutchie’s co-founder and current CEO, is fairly dismissive of investment opportunities for the public at the moment, saying he instead prefers to stay “focused with what’s on our plate” for the time being. However, he also appears open to the possibility of going public via an acquisition company.

“We look at how this decision brings value to the dispensary and the customer,” says Lipson. “If it brings value, we’d embark on that decision.”

For now, Dutchie remains the ipso facto king of cannabis distribution and sales—and they don’t show any plans to slow down any time soon.

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