Virtual Work Environments That Encourage Team Collaboration

Hybrid and remote work are here to stay. Fortunately for employers and employees, recent studies have found working remotely does not negatively impact productivity. Offering hybrid and remote work can help employees attract and retain top talent.

Once a company decides to offer hybrid or remote work, its leaders need to decide which platform will encourage team collaboration best. There are many platforms on the market today. These virtual work environments all offer something a little different, so it’s important to understand your options before making a decision to switch platforms or integrate a new platform into your operations. Here’s a look at a few of the most popular virtual work environments.

Microsoft Teams: The Whole Package

Many companies use Microsoft Teams for their virtual work environments, and it’s no wonder why. The platform is an all-in-one team collaboration tool that has everything a team needs to stay connected and productive.

Unlike its competitors that only offer video conferencing, Teams offers encrypted instant messaging, file storage and sharing, and real-time document editing. It also integrates with other Microsoft tools to put information at your team’s fingertips. This is all in addition to its robust video conferencing tool.

You can learn more about Microsoft Teams and other Microsoft products in our white paper, How to Maximize the Microsoft 365 Tools You Already Have. Download it today for tips!

Zoom: Web Conferencing & Webinars

Zoom’s become a major player in video conferencing technologies. Its interface is easy to use for meeting participants and hosts alike. Team collaboration on Zoom is limited to video interaction, chat, polls, and in-chat file sharing (though files are not stored to the cloud as they are on Teams).

While Zoom is a good video conferencing tool, it lacks instant messaging, file storage and sharing, and other team collaboration tools available on Teams. This means business leaders will need to invest in additional tools to round out their virtual work environments.

WebEx: Nearly the Whole Package

WebEx is a Cisco product that is similar to Microsoft Teams. Like Teams, WebEx does video conferencing, instant messaging, and file sharing and storage. These are all things your employees need for team collaboration and productivity.

The main drawback to WebEx over Teams is that WebEx requires an additional monthly fee, while Microsoft Teams may already be available to you through your Microsoft 365 suite. Why pay extra for a service you already have?

Team collaboration is easy with the right virtual work environment. At Now IT Connects, we use Microsoft Teams to collaborate with our internal team as well as our clients. We can help you integrate the application at your business to improve productivity without sacrificing efficiency or security. Get in touch with us to learn how.


Meet the Now IT Connects Team

Fallen out of love with your current job? Now IT Connects may be the perfect next step in your IT career. Our talented team loves serving IT customers in Central Minnesota and beyond. Take a moment to meet your potential new coworkers and get a taste of what it’s like to work with Now IT Connects.

John Koshiol, President and CEO

John Koshiol is Now IT Connects’ president and CEO. He’s owned our Clearwater, Minnesota, company since 2004. Over time, John’s built a culture of respect and fun that puts relationships with clients and coworkers first.

“I like the opportunity to meet with our customers and learn about their businesses,” John says. “I also like our employees and watching them work with our clients and growing their customer relations skills. I really like our Friday lunches where we all can forget work for a little while and enjoy lunch and talk.”

Chris Imdieke, Systems Engineer

Chris Imdieke is a Now IT Connects systems engineer. He has been a member of the Now IT Connects team since 2018. Chris works on all types of projects for Now IT Connects customers.

“I like the variety of work I’m involved with each day,” Chris says. “There’s never a dull moment around here!”

Trevor Koshiol, Systems Engineer

Trevor Koshiol is another Now IT Connects system engineer. He works alongside Chris to support Now IT Connects clients across Central Minnesota. Like Chris, he values the variety working at Now IT Connects offers.

“I really like working with great clients and colleagues,” explains Trevor. “Every day is a new challenge. Things never seem to be the same.”

Casey Wahlin, Systems Engineer

Casey Wahlin rounds out the Now IT Connects systems engineer team. Casey is our newest addition and is eager to learn from the best.

“I get to learn and gain experience with so many different types of technologies,” Casey says of working with Now IT Connects clients.

Bobbie Anacker, Administrative Assistant

Bobbie is the glue that keeps our team together and running efficiently. She’s the cheerful face who greets clients and employees as they walk through our Clearwater doors.

Of working with Now IT Connects, Bobbie says, “I like that I’m able to interact with terrific clients who keep me on my toes. My coworkers are amazing. I really enjoy the comradery between us.”

Now IT Connects is expanding its team in 2022. If you’re an IT professional looking for your next IT career opportunity, our team would love to meet you.


Thank You to the Now IT Connects Community

The holidays are a time to reflect on the people and organizations that have helped make the past year successful. For Now IT Connects, we are especially grateful for our clients, our talented employees, and the organizations in our community that make it a great place to live and do business. Thank you!

Thank You to Our Outstanding Clients

Now IT Connects has the honor of working with the best companies in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota. From chemical distributors to construction companies, thank you to every single one of our clients. You can learn about a few of our favorite projects on our blog.

We’re Grateful for Our Talented Team

Of course, there’s no way we could serve these outstanding clients without our fantastically talented team. Each and every one of our Now IT Connects employees is an asset to our company. Anyone who’s worked with us knows how dedicated, creative, and easy to work with our team members are.

We’d like to officially welcome Casey is our newest employee. He joined us in September 2021 and is quickly coming up to speed. He is definitely an asset to our team.

Thanks to Our Community Organizations, Too

If you follow us on LinkedIn (and if you don’t, you should!), then you know how important our Clearwater, Minnesota, community is to us. We feature an organization on our LinkedIn account every single week.

Some of them, like the Clearwater Legion, fill our bellies while supporting veterans in our community. Others, like Batteries + Bulbs St. Cloud, keep our hardware up and running. Still others, like the St. Cloud Area Chamber, Clear Valley Business Connections, Clearwater Lions, and Ducks Unlimited, keep us professionally connected and entertained. And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our sister company, Secure Net Pros, which helps our clients stay on top of cyber threats.

We couldn’t do IT without you. Thank you for your support of our small business this year, and we’re looking forward to serving you in 2022! For help with your business IT and technology, contact the Now IT Connects team today.


Deploying Devices and Software in the Field

Managing the devices and related software and web applications you have deployed in the field can be a complicated undertaking. Now IT Connects has decades of experience managing device and software deployment remotely. Here are a few tips we’ve learned over the years.

Move Essential Tools to the Cloud

If you manage software locally across multiple sites, it’s time to upgrade your management strategy. Keeping software localized to single locations silos data and makes it onerous for your team to collaborate. This setup also makes it more difficult to troubleshoot software issues as they arise.

Instead, upgrade your software to cloud-based solutions. Start with your company’s server network to make data available across all of your locations. We often recommend Microsoft Azure to our clients because of how easy it is to migrate data to Azure. Plus, since your data is on a Microsoft platform, your team can use all of your favorite Microsoft 365 tools to access it and collaborate, wherever they are.

If you have software deployed on mobile devices in the field, cloud-based solutions are indispensable. Web applications and other cloud-based tools can be updated and maintained from a single location in real time, making it easy to keep your team up and running.

Manage Devices from a Single Dashboard

Gathering all the information about your deployed devices and software into a single place is absolutely essential. Mobile device management software, or MDM, allows you to see, track, and manage all mobile devices you own and operate in the field from one place, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. You can locate lost devices, shut down devices, and make software and security updates all from a single dashboard.

Automate Backups, Monitoring, and Alerts

Mobile device management and other IT management tools allow you to automate many essential tasks, even when your devices are spread out across multiple sites. From a single piece of cloud-based software, you can automate data backups and continuously monitor all devices from a central place. Any alerts or emergent needs also come through the dashboard so you can resolve issues quickly, minimizing downtime.

We can help you find the right tools to help you keep track of your assets or take the entire responsibility off your hands. Get in touch with Now IT Connects today to see what’s possible for your company.


How to Migrate from Local Servers to the Cloud

How to Migrate from Local Servers to the Cloud_now it connects

So, you’ve finally made the decision to migrate to a cloud-based server like Microsoft Azure. Congratulations on taking the next step in making your business scalable, more productive, and more secure!

Migrating your data and systems over to the cloud is a big undertaking, and you don’t want to lose any valuable information in the process. To make the migration go as smoothly as possible, we recommend following these four steps.

Step 1: Take Stock of Your Software and Apps

The first step in the data migration process is to create an inventory of all of your current applications and software that will need to move to the cloud. Make a list of all of the software everyone at your company uses. In larger organizations, it may be helpful to tackle this department by department.

In the process, you will likely uncover tools that are rarely used or are no longer helpful or valuable. If that’s the case, consider using your migration to the cloud as the opportunity to get rid of these programs. Before you cut any tools, however, confirm that other applications and software don’t rely on them to operate. Dependencies between applications can complicate the migration process. If you fail to migrate tools that other apps depend on, your whole system may break down until you resolve the issue.

Step 2: Develop a Migration Plan

IT professionals use six migration strategies when they move data from local servers to the cloud. Rehosting your servers creates a clone of your current local servers and moves that clone to the cloud. Replatforming transfers applications from the local server directly to the cloud.

Refactoring makes changes to the code of applications to optimize them for cloud-based use. Repurchasing may be required if you are moving from individual licenses for your servers to a SaaS provider. Retiring applications and software that you no longer use is often a part of the migration strategy. Finally, some companies find they must retain certain applications that cannot be migrated to the cloud.

Step 3: Create and Implement a Backup Plan

Before you move your data and system to the cloud, make sure you have a robust and efficient backup plan in place. Sometimes, moving data from local servers to the cloud can cause issues with software and apps. Having a backup allows you to reload these tools and try again.

Another thing to consider is how you will back up your data once it’s on the cloud. Most cloud-based server providers offer backup tools and best practices training that can keep your data safe, including automated backups. In addition to these fail-safes, train your staff on how to use the new cloud-based server and avoid accidental data losses while using the system.

Step 4: Migrate Your Data

Once you’ve taken an inventory of all the programs you wish to move, developed a migration plan, and implemented a backup strategy, it’s time to take the plunge and migrate your local servers to the cloud. Working with a reputable and professional IT company can help the process go smoothly and allow you to continue to focus on running your business as your servers are moved to the cloud.

For help with your server migration or to learn more about cloud-based server options, get in touch with the Now IT Connects team today.


Wireless Point-to-Point for Sprawling Facilities

wireless point-to-point for sprawling facilities-Now IT Connects

Providing internet access to a sprawling facility can be a daunting undertaking. It can be difficult to provide a fast, reliable internet connection across an expansive building, such as a warehouse or logistics facility. Likewise, it can be tricky and expensive to make sure several outbuildings on a single property have internet connections.

In both of these cases, wireless point-to-point may be an affordable, scalable solution for providing reliable, fast internet.

Wireless Point-to-Point Is an Affordable Solution

Compared to laying cable or fiber, wireless point-to-point systems provide one of the best values in internet access today. The hardware to set up the system is relatively inexpensive, and the system requires no obtrusive digging or alterations to your site. This means the up-front investment in wireless point-to-point is far less expensive than other options.

Wireless Point-to-Point Is Fast and Reliable

With such a simple and affordable installation process, some companies may wonder if the internet connection provided by a wireless point-to-point system can compete with the reliability and speed of fiber or cable. We’ve got great news for you: wireless point-to-point provides equal or even greater reliability and speed compared to its competitors.

Since wireless point-to-point systems don’t require buried or hung cables, they will never experience service interruptions as a result of construction, road work, or other incidents. At the same time, they consistently provide speeds up to 500 Mbps, similar to cable and fiber. If a workplace is looking for a fast, reliable internet connection, wireless point-to-point is a great solution.

Wireless Point-to-Point Is Scalable

With fiber and cable, expanding the reach of your internet connection requires more digging and cable laying that can interrupt your team’s productivity. With wireless point-to-point, we can install another point on the system in an afternoon. All we need is access to the building you’d like to expand service to. Additionally, the hardware can easily be moved within a location or to another location altogether. Whatever your business needs to grow, wireless point-to-point can handle it.

Wondering if wireless point-to-point may be the internet solution you’ve been looking for? Get in touch with the Now IT Connects team today. We can help you understand your options and make the right choice for your business.


Expanding Internet Access at a Materials Supply Company

wireless point to point case study

When Plaisted Companies needed to expand internet access to its landscape yard, Chief Operating Officer Mark Duitsman knew just the company to call. Now IT Connects had been Plaisted Companies’ managed IT partner for years, and Mark knew John and his crew could help them expand internet access to their new landscape yard building.

About Plaisted Companies

Located on 250 acres in Elk River, Minnesota, Plaisted Companies is a supplier of high-quality construction sands, soil, and maintenance products for golf courses, athletic fields, and other outdoor spaces. Plaisted Companies operates out of a large property in Elk River that includes a showroom and a landscape yard, where team members fulfill orders customers place at the showroom. The two buildings are approximately a quarter of a mile apart from each other.

Plaisted Companies’ IT Challenge

Salespeople had been running tickets with customer orders out to the landscape yard team on foot. Mark wanted to make this process more efficient by adding a ticket printer in the landscape yard. To accomplish this, the landscape yard needed an internet connection. However, the yard was too far away from the showroom to add it to the company’s internet infrastructure. Running cable or fiber out to the landscape yard was not logistically or financially feasible. That’s when Mark gave Now IT Connects a call.

Now IT Connects’ IT Solution

John and the Now IT Connects team came up with an innovative solution to Plaisted Companies’ internet infrastructure challenge. Instead of a wired connection, Now IT Connects would install a wireless point-to-point system. This affordable, scalable solution would provide an internet connection between the showroom and the landscape yard.

Once Mark and John decided to move forward with the wireless point-to-point system, installation took just a few hours. The Now IT Connects team had the landscape yard up and running within a day.

The Result

Now that it is connected to the internet, the landscape yard can receive tickets at the click of a button. The wireless point-to-point system has opened up other opportunities, too. Plaisted Companies is considering adding more workstations and a security camera network to the yard now that it has internet access.

“Our new wireless system works flawlessly,” explains Mark. “We saved money from not having to trench in fiber. We’ve already recommended Now IT Connects to other companies because they do a really great job for us.”


3 Innovative Uses for Microsoft 365 Forms

uses for microsoft 365 forms_now it connects

Forms make it easy to collect the information you need from your customers and team members. Microsoft 365 offers three options for creating forms that automate the information collection process. If your team runs on Microsoft 365 or SharePoint, discover how Microsoft Forms, OOTB SharePoint forms, and Power Apps can automate and simplify your data collection efforts.

1. Microsoft Forms for Simple, Public-Facing Forms

Microsoft Forms is Microsoft’s answer to Google Forms. Simplicity is the name of the game. Microsoft Forms are a breeze to put together and easy to share. You can send your Microsoft Forms questionnaires to people outside your organization or within it. They make great customer-facing forms to collect customer satisfaction surveys. Use Microsoft Forms to collect RSVPs or get feedback on an office initiative. Microsoft Forms are designed to be highly collaborative between team members, with entire teams gaining access to the data the form collects. As such, this platform may not be the best choice for collecting sensitive information.

To create a form with Microsoft Forms, access the app through your Microsoft 365 account. Choose from preloaded questions or create your own. Don’t forget to update the look of your form to align it with your brand. Once you’re ready to send it out, you can share your form via a link, as an embedded form on your website, or with a QR code.

2. OOTB SharePoint Forms for Simple, Internal Forms

For simple forms meant exclusively for your internal team, you can’t beat out-of-the-box (OOTB) SharePoint forms. These forms live on your team’s SharePoint platform and are accessible only to authorized users. OOTB SharePoint forms are simple and utilitarian. You cannot brand your form or use question logic, but you can ask simple questions to collect data from your team.

OOTB SharePoint forms are great for managing your company’s referral program or collecting information about a project or process. Form creators can set permissions so users can only see the information they submit, which can help keep sensitive data secure.

3. Microsoft Power Apps for Everything Else

Power Apps gives creators the most control over their forms. While it’s possible to create simple forms, Power Apps shines when a form requires question logic and customized fields, locked-down permissions, and a branded user experience.

Creators can use Power Apps to create a stand-alone form or customize an OOTB SharePoint form. Power users of Power Apps can pull in data from SharePoint and external sources to use in their form, customize fields, and use question logic to tailor the user experience to user responses. Power App forms can be branded and shared through SharePoint. They are only accessible to people on your internal SharePoint platform.

Microsoft 365 offers three robust ways to survey customers and collect information from your team. For help putting these tools into practice at your business, get in touch with Now IT Connects today.


Introduction to Microsoft Azure

introduction to microsoft azure_now it connects

Hitting a wall with your local server network? Keeping your company’s data on local servers can limit your productivity and your ability to scale your business. When we encounter businesses who’ve reached this stage of frustration with their local servers, it’s likely we’ll recommend a cloud-based solution such as Microsoft Azure.

What Is Microsoft Azure?

Azure is Microsoft’s cloud-based server product, where your data is stored remotely on the cloud rather than in a server closet in your office. It offers companies Microsoft’s computing expertise and reliability as well as multilayered security and scalability. Manufacturers, health care organizations, retailers, and financial service providers all use Azure to run their business networks.

How Can Azure Help Me Save Money?

Not only is Azure often more affordable than other cloud-based network options, such as AWS, it can also save you money in the long term. Azure is more than cloud-based storage. It’s powerful software that helps you understand your company’s data better. This can lead to cost savings in other areas of your business. Azure also offers ways to optimize your workloads and your spending on cloud computing to optimize your costs.

Can Microsoft Azure Help My Team Collaborate?

When your company’s data is managed on Azure, it empowers apps, software, and your team to communicate more effectively than is possible on a local server network. You can gather data from across different systems and view and analyze it from a single dashboard. Azure can host and support your favorite collaborative tools, such as Teams, OneDrive, and Outlook, too.

What Does It Take to Migrate to Azure?

Moving your entire network from local servers to the cloud may seem like a big deal, and it is. Fear of the unknown and the work of moving a network to the cloud keeps many companies from taking the plunge.

But with the right support, migrating to Azure or any other cloud-based network can be the move that takes your business to the next level. It can improve your team’s productivity and make it possible for you to scale your business.

Now IT Connects has helped all sorts of businesses move to the cloud. Give us a call or shoot us an email today to learn how we can help you take your business to the next level.


Wireless Point-to-Point (P2P) Applications and Benefits

wireless point-to-point applications_now it connects

If your company operates out of multiple buildings, it can be complicated and costly to create a network connection between the buildings with fiber or cable. The same goes for sprawling properties with video surveillance systems. In both of these cases, a wireless point-to-point (P2P) system can provide affordable, secure connectivity.

Wireless Point-to-Point Connects Multiple Buildings

A wireless point-to-point system create a network connection between multiple locations securely and reliably. Wireless P2P is a good option for both urban and rural properties. In urban settings, wireless point-to-point is ideal for buildings located on the same parcel, since environmental interference from other networks can make it difficult to connect locations across wider distances. But in rural areas with low building density, wireless P2P can connect buildings miles apart.

Wireless P2P Can Support Video Surveillance Systems, Too

In addition to network connections, wireless point-to-point can provide a secure, dedicated network for video surveillance systems. For businesses with acreage, sprawling outdoor storage yards, or expansive parking lots, wireless P2P can make it easier and more affordable to maintain 24/7 video surveillance on the property. The network collects all the video data from the field cameras and transmits it to a central point for monitoring.

You’ll Avoid the Costs of Laying Fiber or Cable

One of the most significant benefits of a wireless point-to-point system is its cost. The investment in wireless P2P hardware, installation, and management is a fraction of the cost of fiber and cable. Fiber and cable require trenching and physical modifications to facilities to hardwire the network. Applications over long distances are often cost-prohibitive or impossible. With wireless point-to-point, the devices are installed discreetly on the roof.

Wireless Point-to-Point Scales with You

Another great benefit of a wireless point-to-points system is that it scales as a business grows. Adding additional connection points is more affordable and straightforward than laying more cable or fiber. It is possible to transfer a wireless P2P system to a new location, something that’s impossible to do with a hardwired network.

Wondering if wireless point-to-point is the network solution you’ve been looking for? Get in touch with the wireless P2P experts at Now IT Connects. We can find the wireless P2P or other network solution that’s the right fit for your needs.


Case Study: Upgrading a Construction Company’s IT Infrastructure

upgrading construction company's IT infrastructure_now it connects

When Lakehead Constructors was moving not one but both of its locations, IT director Matt Dallam knew it was time to upgrade the company’s IT infrastructure from localized servers to cloud-based solutions. He knew the upgrade would make the company’s entire operation more efficient, but he didn’t realize just how much more time he’d be able to redirect to other projects.

About Lakehead Constructors

Based in Superior, Wisconsin, with an office in Aurora, Minnesota, Lakehead Constructors is a commercial construction company that got its start in 1916 building large-scale harbor facilities. Today, the Lakehead team completes large-scale commercial and industrial construction projects across the Upper Midwest. Since its staff is split between two locations and maintains a large field crew, the company relies on its IT infrastructure to keep its team connected and productive.

Lakehead Constructors’ IT Challenge

Matt knew that most of Lakehead Constructors’ IT infrastructure was reaching end-of-life, and some legacy hardware and software were well past that milestone. With the company’s impending moves at both of its locations, it was a great time to upgrade its localized IT infrastructure and move to cloud-based solutions that would require less hands-on maintenance and allow the company to scale.

Now IT Connects’ IT Solution

Matt contacted Now IT Connects for help moving their on-premises systems to the cloud. After reviewing Lakehead Constructors’ IT needs, the Now IT Connects team chose Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Exchange to host the company’s servers, email, and other applications. Older switches and routers got upgrades, and the Now IT Connects crew installed new firebox equipment as part of an improved cyber security plan.

The Result

Now that Lakehead Constructors’ system is cloud-based, the crew has an easier time working remotely. The improved IT infrastructure is easy to manage and maintain and offers much more peace of mind than the on-premises system did. Since the new system has been in place, Matt has spent less time on weekends managing the hardware, too.

“Since working with Now IT Connects, our system has been much better everywhere,” explains Matt. “It’s faster, it’s more secure, and I spend less time on infrastructure and network management.”


Cloud-Based Computing for the Remote Workforce

Cloud-Based Computing for the Remote Workforce

The past year definitely made the case for cloud-based computing, as the cloud is what empowered many companies to move to a remote workforce in 2020. Cloud-based technologies have more than proved their worth these last 12 months. If you’re still running your business off local servers in your office, or have hobbled together several cloud-based technologies out of necessity, it’s time to get strategic about the cloud.

The Case for Cloud-Based Computing

Imagine a workweek where every tool you need is at your fingertips, whether you’re at the office or at home. These tools work seamlessly together. The document or spreadsheet you’re working on is automatically saved and backed up, so you never lose your work or your data. You never accidentally delete an email. The recording of your last meeting with your client is available to review as soon as it wraps up, and you can share your notes from that meeting with your colleagues with a click of a button. When you log off for the weekend, you know all of your data is safe from harm because it’s protected by two-factor authentication and automated backup.

That’s what cloud-based computing can do for your workweek. It takes away many of the frustrations you have about storing and sharing files, collaborating with your team, and backing up physical servers.

Choosing a Cloud-Based Server

So, how do you go about moving your operations to the cloud? Find an IT partner like Now IT Connects! Having a knowledgeable, professional, and cloud-smart team like us takes the stress out of setting up your new work environment. We have the product expertise, know-how, and experience to develop a cloud-based strategy for your company.

Our favorite cloud computing tool is Microsoft Azure. It’s built specifically for businesses and contains hundreds of apps so you can move your entire operation to the cloud. Azure uses AI and machine learning to uncover data insights and keep your data safe.

Microsoft Exchange is an email and calendaring tool that helps teams communicate more efficiently. It’s highly customizable, has tools to foster collaboration, and makes setting appointments a breeze. Microsoft Exchange email servers are highly secure so your inboxes and data are continually protected.

Making the Migration to the Cloud

It’s easy to grasp the benefits of migrating your business operations to the cloud. The hard part is making the move to your new cloud-based system. Migrating any process from one tool to another is complicated and time-consuming, which is why we recommend you work with an experienced team of IT professionals. The Now IT Connects team will work with you to design a cloud-based solution for your business, then complete the migration and implementation for you.

Ready to learn more? We’re here to help. Contact Now IT Connects today to discover with the cloud can do for you.