Collaborate, and share ideas when we can, was the advice of Vicky Hunter, MS, associate vice president for infrastructure services with the Center for Information Technology Services (CITS), as she answered the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) community’s questions about telework during a Facebook Live session on March 19.
Hunter fielded questions in real time from UMB faculty, staff, and students about how to overcome some of the technical challenges that can be encountered when working, learning, and teaching from home as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The session was UMB’s second Facebook Live event discussing telework. The first, which was a Telework Virtual Town Hall, took place on March 17. It included Dawn Rhodes, MBA, chief business and finance officer and vice president; Matt Lasecki, SPHR, associate vice president, human resources; Alana Kyriakakis, JD, University counsel; and Jonathan Bratt, MS, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management. The March 17 event can be viewed here.
Facebook Live Q&As are part of the University’s effort to keep you informed as the UMB community adapts to a learning and work environment that keeps our entire community safe and healthy.
The full March 19 Q&A is available here.
The Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: How do I access UMB applications and systems if I'm teleworking?
VH: Many of the applications are web-based. As long you have access to a web browser and the internet, you should be able to fill out your timesheet, get in to the Office 365 portal, which is where the Microsoft collaborative suite of products are located, you should be able to get to the Blackboard learning systems. All those are listed out in the CITS website. If you are able to get to a web browser, many of the various applications are web- based. If for some reason you have an application that is not web-based, hopefully your IT support staff has given you instructions on how to remotely get to those particular applications.
Q: What do I do if I need to purchase additional software or equipment in order to do my job at home? Will I have to pay out of pocket or will UMB cover the cost?
VH: The University has many software licenses agreements already in place. If you are finding that you need some particular software, I would reach out to your IT support person. They may be able to remotely install some particular software that you need, but you shouldn't have to do any kind of software purchasing on your own. Work with your supervisor and your IT support person to make sure you can get whatever software that you need loaded onto your laptop or desktop.
Q: Are there surplus UMB laptops available and, if so, what is the process of obtaining one?
VH: Depending on where you are, there are some schools as well as central IT if you need a computer to do your job. Reach out to your supervisor and they in turn will reach out to the IT support person to make sure that you have access to a computer to be able to do your telework from home.
Q: What if an employee's home computer operating system and internet capabilities are out of date?
VH: I'll take it in two parts. For your internet access, you're probably going to have to reach out to your internet service provider. If you're able to stream movies or things of that nature, then your internet access is working. So that's not an issue. But if you have an old machine at home that you're trying to use for University work, and your operating system is outdated, I would recommend that you contact your IT support person. Because again, we may be able to assist you in getting that operating system updated. So again, I wouldn't go out and buy anything. Talk to your supervisor and your IT support person.
Q: How long will UMB be able to realistically continue episodic telework to the scale? Are we prepared for the long haul?
VH: That's a difficult question to answer. We have a lot of people working on this trying to get their hands around it. As you are probably aware, the situation is changing daily, hourly. So as much information as we're receiving, we're trying to make informed decisions. Again, hopefully, we'll get this all behind us sooner rather than later. But none of us have the definite answer of when this is going to end. We're just trying to collaborate to come up with ideas of ways that we can continue to keep the operations on the campus moving forward, continuing to service the community as well as keeping our faculty, staff, and students safe in the process.
Q: There are a lot of systems out there to host virtual meetings like Webex, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard. What does CITS recommend as the best system to use?
VH: With all those systems, they're all supported by CITS. The goal was to be able to have flexibility and options. Some people are more familiar with one versus the other. For instance, Webex, most people are used to using it for video conferencing, audio conferencing, but you can also use Skype to do the same function. Teams also has that capability. It really depends on what you're trying to use it for. With Skype and Teams, they have instant messaging. I know within my group, we tend to use that a lot where you kind of just have a brief conversation with somebody through instant messaging. But again, it really depends on what you're trying to do. Over the last few weeks, there have been a lot of Microsoft Teams set up within the departments in the schools, and again, it's an opportunity for you to be able to collaborate and stay in touch with your teams while you're working remotely.
Q: Will CITS be making house calls?
VH: Unfortunately, with the state that we're in with social distancing, and trying and keep everyone healthy and safe, making house calls is not going to be an option, but many technical issues can be addressed remotely. So again, reach out to your IT support person and explain to them what you're encountering and maybe they will be able to assist you with an alternative solution. But again, this situation is a little different because we want to keep everybody healthy and safe.
Q: What should I watch out for in terms of cyber security? How do I know if a file or letter I get from the University is safe?
VH: First of all, if you don't recognize that email address, definitely don't act on it. Unfortunately at this particular time scammers and hackers are taking advantage of the situation. You can always report spam at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions, you can reach out to your IT support person. They have the tools to be able to look to see if there is an issue with particularly emails. But I also would be cognizant of if someone is texting you and you're not familiar with that person or you receive phone calls. I know recently they were saying people were even going around knocking on people's doors since a lot of people are teleworking. Just be mindful of who you're interacting with. Never give out your credential or anything of that nature. But for IT-related questions, I would reach out to your IT support person and they'll be able to help identify if it's something malicious or not.
Q: Webex had many audio issues yesterday. Is that resolved?
VH: Interesting you mentioned that. We're not sure if it's really a Webex issue. So as you are aware, everyone in the United States, as well as in Europe, is teleworking and it's all running on the same infrastructure. So we're not sure if it's something localized to you know, our setup, or if it's something more statewide. We're just still trying to investigate and we're getting information from various sources to try to figure out and troubleshoot. So, again, we're not really sure, we're trying to pinpoint exactly where the issue is.
Q: Is there anything we as employees can do to assist our CITS colleagues?
VH: If you are using the VPN, and you're done for the day and working, please disconnect from it. That frees up resources. So someone else may be able to be able to use the VPN. Again, log off of particular applications that you're no longer using. There are a lot of resources out on our website, a lot of resources out in the COVID-19 website. So I would check those out in order, to help expedite any issues that you're having, you might be able to resolve them yourself. But if not, you can call the Help Desk at 410-706-4357. But you can call or email email@example.com.
Q: Are there any things the University can provide to add to my security software, and if I need it, can I buy it through the University at a discount.
VH: If you have taken a University device home, it should already be loaded. If it's a personal device, again, there are some products that we have software license agreements that you could get at a discounted rate. You can contact our software licensing department or contact the Help Desk. And they can provide you some information regarding software related to security, things of that nature, that can help protect your machine at home.
Q: If a person is working on Windows 7, can they still be efficient in working from home?
VH: I would recommend you talk to your IT support person. And the reason why I say that is because you could get an upgrade to Windows 10. Windows 7 was de-supported back in January. That means that you're probably not going to be getting any security patches. We want your machine to be secure. I would definitely reach out to your IT support person to figure out how you can either get that machine updated by either getting the software licensing involved or them updating it for you.
Q: If a person has DSL, will it hinder their ability to work from home?
VH: It should not. So long as you can get to the internet and get to the browser for those applications that are web-based, you should not have an issue, and again, if for those systems that are client-based that you have to have the software installed on your machine, you shouldn't have an issue.
Q: As we move through the weeks and months ahead, do you anticipate our tech needs will be changing?
VH: There's a possibility. We don't know how long this is going to go on. It may identify things that need to be enhanced or beefed up because it's going longer than we anticipated. More and more people are going to be teleworking. But at this time it's kind of hard to say. We're just evaluating and looking at the situation and trying to figure out what's the next step to try and stay ahead of the curve.
Q: Is it possible to work efficiently with an iPad and not a laptop?
VH: I know some folks who that's how they operate, they enjoy working with their iPad. So I think it's a personal preference. A lot of times if you're using say, for instance, Office 365, you can get to all of your files, your OneDrive files, you can get to SharePoint. You can get to Team sites. It's just a personal preference.
Q: Is there any way the University can assist with getting employees Wi-Fi if they do not have the internet to work from home?
VH: There are some options. But again, I would talk to your supervisor. They are recommending that either don't use the public Wi-Fi, if you can avoid that at all costs because it's unsecure. And again, spammers, hackers are out there trying to steal your information. So I would look to talk to your supervisor, and potentially there are mobile hotspots, they call them jetpacks, maybe that's an option. And again, if you're going to use public Wi-Fi, then you should be using a VPN again, so that that traffic is secure.
Q: What sort of coronavirus scams and phishing attempts are out there and how do I avoid them?
VH: We have some of that information on the CITS website as well as the COVID-19 website. As I mentioned before, some people are sending emails and trying to entice you to click on some links. Again, that's a no-no. We have people who are texting and saying, ‘Oh, I have all this information for you. If you're interested, text one.’ And again, you didn't solicit that, it's unsolicited texting. Don't respond. You may have people calling your house and I'm sure we're all getting a bunch of robocalls. Again, don't respond. And if you get any emails, report them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Can I save University information to my personal device if that's what I'm using to telework?
VH: We would recommend and we strongly, strongly, strongly, encourage you to use OneDrive or SharePoint. It's secure, you will be able to then access those files when you're back to work. But we are not recommending that people store University data on their personal devices.
Q: What is CITS doing to assist the departments that have new laptops that need to be set up for use during this telework period?
VH: For those who are getting new laptops, we actually have imaging software that I know the computer support team and central IT are expected to deliver on laptops in a couple of days, and that's what they're going to be using to image those devices so that people will be able to use them as necessary.
Q: I'm worried about privacy. If I use the VPN for work, will the University have access to my personal computer?
VH: No. What we're trying to do is prevent malicious attacks from getting your data. And hackers can be pretty clever. But if you're on your home network, that's different. But if you're out using a public Wi-Fi, which probably most of us will not be out in the public based on, you know, latest developments. But I do know that some of the vendors, Comcast, Xfinity, they're offering Wi-Fi services. Just be mindful that if you're using those services, they've kind of lessened some of the security features in order to push it out to the masses, and that's why we're recommending you use VPN.
Q: Why do I need a Duo account if I'm using my personal device?
VH: A Duo account is a security mechanism that is considered a two-factor. It's a second factor for authentication. If by chance your password was compromised, they would need that second factor in order to prevent them from being able to access your data. So it's just another layer of security that only you know, that the hacker wouldn't have access to, and to prevent them from getting to the VPN.
Q: Are actions being taken within CITS to make sure that the staffers themselves are not overwhelmed during these times?
VH: We are rotating as we need to on-site. Most people are teleworking, but we are short-staffed on-site. And some of the other departments within CITS are on-site. We're trying to do the best that we can. But again, it would be helpful if you use some of the resources that we have out on the COVID-19 website and the CITS website to do some preliminary investigating, just to kind of minimize some of the calls and the questions that come in. But we are here to support folks if they have IT issues.
Q: What are the best ways for instructors to continue to conduct classes if we can't meet in person? Are there best practices for students and instructors to connect virtually?
VH: I do know some of the faculty are using Collaborate, and that's because they are familiar with Blackboard. And so I do know that some of them are communicating content with their students via that mechanism. I would strongly encourage them to work with each other across schools, gain ideas from each other. Not reinvent the wheel to kind of figure out what's working, what's not working for some other schools. It's a challenging time for everyone. And so I think it's going to be helpful if we can all just, you know, bounce up ideas, share ideas, and collaborate where we can.
Q: I have an older laptop with little RAM. Running Webex can be difficult. Is there a way that employees will have access to more appropriate hardware?
VH: For a University device typically what we're doing, we're looking at when we purchase a device, we're looking at the technical specs to identify based on the software that we know we're going have to load on there to make sure that it can accommodate based on performance. For home machines, that's a little tricky. So I would recommend that you have a conversation with your IT person. They may be able to help you identify certain processes that you could suspend or turn off, that might give you a little boost in performance.
Q: My kids use a laptop, my husband uses a desktop, and I'm on iPad. Can having everyone using their device at the same time slow my Wi-Fi connection down significantly?
VH: It depends on your plan at home. And that varies. So I can tell you from my own personal experience, I have not had that issue but it again depends on what data plan or what Wi-Fi internet access plan you have set up, but there could be a performance hit depending on what you have set up. So I would contact your ISP, your internet service provider.
Q: Can we access Adobe remotely?
VH: Anything that you were doing here [at the office], you should be able [to access]. If it's web-based, you should be able to access it at home.
Q: I use my mobile hotspot when I need to get online for personal reasons but it is not always reliable and can be weak at times. Can you recommend another solution?
VH: You could also use your cellphone as a hotspot. It depends on the data plan that you have. So I would recommend that you contact your phone carrier. Or if that's not an option, talk to your IT support person and your supervisor. And maybe there's an alternative solution that you could put into place.
Q: Am I required to install a specific antivirus software? I'm working on my home computer.
VH: From a home computer perspective, you should be running antivirus regardless if you were teleworking or not. You should be running anti-virus. There are free ones out there. But if you're running Windows 10, there's a built-in one, you should make sure that that's turned on. If you don't know how to do that, you can either contact your IT support person or you can go to the Microsoft support site. There are instructions there on how to do that. But there are some free ones out there as well. And that information is also out on the COVID-19 website as well as on the CITS website.
Q: Do you have any recommendations about tutorials that I can use to help me while I'm teleworking?
VH: I would recommend you go to Skillsoft, the e-learning website that's set up by HR. There's a ton of courses out there. Microsoft has a ton of videos, as well as the CITS website. They are offering some web-based training classes, the training group that's coming up in the next couple of days and weeks and months to come. So I would recommend going to the CITS website, going to the particular vendor's website, they're all offering videos. Because this is not a unique issue, everyone's kind of scrambling trying to get as much information as they can. But go to the CITS website and the COVID-19 website for some information first.
Q: I share a computer with my children and my husband. What can I do while working remotely and sharing that technology with them?
VH: It sounds like it's a personal device because we don't recommend you sharing your work computer with your family or friends. So that's going to be a challenge if it's your home device. So if it's your home device, I again would reach out to your supervisor and your IT person to see if there's some way that you could get a different device that is dedicated to work. But again, if it's a University device, we strongly, strongly, strongly recommend you do not share that device.
Q: Do you have any last recommendations or things that you want people to know in regard to teleworking?
VH: I would just stress for people to have patience. It's a trying time for everyone. Leadership, the community, we're all in this together, and we're trying to get through this with as little pain as possible. But it's uncharted territory. So, again, collaborate, communicate, and be safe.