Telecommuting Technology: Help If Your Company Isn’t Ready & Tips for Remote Workers

Does your business have the technology for telecommuting in place? With more local corporations mandating that employees work from home, some of our commercial clients have reached out to ensure they are prepared for a similar situation, if need be.

At ACT, like everywhere, we’re worried about people’s health and the economy. We’d like to help any local company that wants to set up the technology for telecommuting.

Telecommuting Technology for Business

On a day-to-day basis, ACT provides businesses with technology solutions that foster collaboration and increase productivity. We feel we can be especially helpful to companies that are new to remote work or that don’t have in-house technology staff to guide them through the process.

Web-based collaboration tools that enable secure document sharing, screen sharing, and tele- and video-conferencing are far more cost effective than many companies realize. For many situations, there are free solutions available to businesses. And in most cases, ACT can help a company put this technology in place remotely, without an actual site visit from us.

For those still getting used to the idea of working from home, we’d also like to share these tips to help employees have the best possible experience.

Tips for Remote Workers

  • Cut Through the Noise. Headsets are great for privacy and give all parties a more professional call experience. They cut out unwanted background noise and offer better sound quality than built-in microphones. Headsets are inexpensive and easy to find online, and some plug into a USB port.
  • Upgrade your Space, Virtually. Not everyone has a home office, or a house cleaner for that matter. And we all remember when a professor’s live TV interview was hilariously interrupted by his children. Most conferencing applications have built-in virtual backgrounds. These allow the user to be seen against a virtual background rather than the actual space they’re in.
  • Plug In. Always use an Ethernet connection when possible. If you can connect your computer or laptop to your network with a cable, do that rather than connecting wirelessly. It will provide a better quality connection, especially if there are other connected devices / web traffic while you’re working.
  • Put Yourself in the Best Light. Instead of your laptop’s built-in camera, use a webcam. Laptop cameras are lower than users’ heads, which is an unflattering angle. A webcam can be placed higher – a much better angle. Webcams, like headsets, can be inexpensive and are easy to find online.

If your company would like to discuss options and pricing for telecommuting technology, please call ACT at 781-741-5959. Consultations are always free of charge.

Staying Safe in a Connected World

The recent stories in the news about Ring cameras being hacked – or accessed – are scary. We feel this is a great time for some reminders about security.

Take a minute to think about how many Internet-connected devices are in your home. According to research from Parks Associates, US broadband households now own more than 10 connected devices. It’s important to have a safe home network.

The wired and wireless home networks ACT provides clients are secure. This means Internet-connected devices in their home are behind a firewall and can’t be accessed from the outside.

In the case of Ring cameras being hacked, there are other possible ways it could happen, even with a secure home network. We advise clients (and everyone) to follow these safety “rules:”

  • Don’t use unsecured public networks
  • Don’t use public networks for anything important
  • Never enter user names and passwords – or any personal information – on a public network
  • If your laptop or device offers security settings for public networks, turn them on / check the box
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s an option
  • For apps, devices, etc. shared by family members, don’t share login credentials when there’s an option for individual users
  • Use strong passwords and change them regularly
  • Educate yourself to recognize phishing attempts

If you’d like to have a secure home network installed, or you’re experiencing performance issues with your network, give us a call at 781-741-5959 to discuss your needs. Consultations are always free of charge.

Multi Room, Hi-Res Music Made Easy with Bluesound music systems

ACT is happy to offer a new music system option for our customers: Bluesound hi-res sound systems.

Bluesound was started by designers, engineers and other music lovers who spent their lives in the music industry. They set out to create a system that could deliver high-fidelity audio. The result is audiophile-grade wireless HiFi speakers and digital players that let homeowners stream music to any (or every!) room in their home.

Homeowners can use Bluesound to supplement or replace an older audio system, easily add more rooms to an existing system or install a music system without opening walls to run wires. With a Bluesound wireless speaker, you can also bring music outside with you.

Bluesound systems play music from CDs, records, digital files or streaming services, including Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, Tidal, iHeartRadio and many more. You can listen to your own music stored on your phone, tablet, laptop, computer or any networked hard drive.

The system is controlled with an app, which makes it very easy to operate. The BluOS Controller App is available for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Windows & Mac desktops. Bluesound supports voice control and works with Alexa and Siri.

In addition to wireless speakers, Bluesound offers soundbars, a subwoofer and stereo components. The NODE 2i, a multi-room, high-res music streamer, has digital and analog input/output options and can connect to any existing stereo amplifier, AV receiver or powered audio system. It can also play music from a CD player or turntable. The NODE 2i works with Amazon Echo and AirPlay 2. The POWERNODE 2i does everything the NODE 2i does, but also adds amplification to a system. It works with existing speakers as well as Bluesound’s speakers. The VAULT 2i can store thousands of tracks and also rip CDs in FLAC, MP3, WAV, WMA and many other formats.

If you’d like to hear a Bluesound system in action, please stop by ACT and we’d be thrilled to fire it up. And as always, call us at 781-741-5959 with any questions or for more information.

How to Keep Your Home Electronics Up and Running Through the Winter

Winter is the season of power outages in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for home electronics to misbehave after an outage. If any of your electronics stop working – whether it’s after a power outage or any other time – the first step is usually to reboot the equipment.

A reboot means turning the power off for at least 10 seconds. With cable boxes and other components, the power cord needs to be disconnected from the device or the device needs to be unplugged in order to completely power off.

Usually, rebooting is an easy fix. Sometimes devices are located within cabinetry or an equipment rack, which makes it difficult to access the cords. It can also be hard to pinpoint which device needs to be rebooted, especially for homeowners with robust electronic systems.

There are several new products available that allow ACT to assist customers remotely, preventing the need for a visit from a technician. These products can help tell which devices need to be rebooted and perform the reboots. They also help ACT get diagnostics for Internet speeds and help determine if network problems stem from an issue on the Internet Service Provider’s end.

ACT can also set up a user-friendly app our customers can use to fix common issues on their own. With the app, you can see all of your components in one place and reboot them right from the app. This can also be done remotely, which is a nice feature for second homes, homeowners returning from vacation or anyone who knows their home has lost power when they’re not there.

We know our clients don’t enjoy making service calls or waiting for repairmen or technicians. With this new class of products, in most cases, our clients can either fix home electronics issues on their own or have problems resolved via a phone call with ACT.

For more information and pricing, please call ACT at 781-741-5959.

“Alexa, Turn on Family Movie Night”

Savant Pro Can Now Be Controlled with Alexa

Savant Pro users can now control their homes using any Alexa enabled device! Alexa can control lights, music, video, shades, temperature and more using Savant Scenes.

Alexa will recognize any scenes captured with Savant. Simply say, “Alexa, turn on <scene name>,” and the scene will be activated. Tell Alexa to turn off the scene and everything will be shut down.

Alexa can also be used to turn rooms on and off, turn lights on and off and to dim or brighten lights. Say, “Alexa, set the <Room> lights to 50” to dim the lights halfway. Telling Alexa to brighten or dim the lights changes the level by 25%.

The setup is intuitive for current Savant and Alexa users. Homeowners with Savant Pro running 8.4 or higher who also use Alexa can simply download and enable the Savant Skill in the Alexa app, link the Savant Skill to their account and then tell Alexa to discover their devices.

If you’d like integrate your Savant system with Alexa and you’re not currently using the Savant Pro app, please call ACT at 781-741-5959 to discuss your needs.

Has Traffic Slowed to a Crawl on Your Home Network?

Is the Wi-Fi signal in your home strong in some rooms but weak (or non-existent) in others? When you stream movies or TV shows, does the video buffer, lag or downgrade to SD? Do your Sonos speakers just stop playing? These are all signs that your home network is not up to snuff.

Many homeowners ACT speaks with experience wireless network issues. Other common problems include weak signals, slow connections and deadzones.

If a home network is more than five years old, it probably can’t handle the traffic of an average family. Households are connecting more and more devices to the Internet. Phones, tablets, laptops, printers, gaming consoles, streaming devices, speakers, lighting, cameras, thermostats and even appliances all compete with each other for bandwidth.

ACT installs wireless and wired networks that provide a strong signal throughout a home and property. ACT also installs managed networks, which allow homeowners on mobile devices to walk throughout a home and property without losing a signal.

If you are experiencing performance issues or think your home network needs an upgrade, contact ACT to discuss your needs. Consultations are always free of charge.

ACT Wins Two Awards from Local Builders’ Groups!

ACT was thrilled to win two awards this fall from two local builders and remodelers associations! In October, ACT was a gold winner in the Best Use of Smart Home Technology category at the 2016 PRISM Awards Gala. Hosted by The Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (www.bragb.org), the PRISM Awards recognize the finest projects and outstanding achievements of professionals in the home building industry. BRAGB received almost 300 entries for the PRISM Awards this year, which was the highest number of entries in the program’s history.

 

Weeks later, in November, ACT was again a gold winner for Excellence in Smart Technology at the 2016 BRICC Awards Banquet. Presented by the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Cape Cod (www.capecodbuilders.com), the BRICC Awards recognize and celebrate excellence in building, remodeling, design, sales and marketing on Cape Cod & Martha’s Vineyard.

 

We are thrilled to be recognized for excellence in our trade by the builders, remodelers, architects, designers and other industry professionals we partner with on a day-to-day basis. The entire team at ACT looks forward to working closely with both homeowners and our industry partners in 2017 to continue to provide home technology solutions that exceed client expectations.

Sonos Wireless Audio – Is It For You?

People often call us looking for a Sonos system, and it’s easy to see why. Sonos is affordable and very simple to install, making it a great choice for a lot of homeowners. ACT is a Sonos dealer and we have installed many Sonos systems.

If you are only looking for an audio system and you mainly listen to digital music, Sonos is an excellent option. It’s relatively inexpensive and can be installed quickly because minimal wiring is required. Sonos lets users listen to Internet radio (like Spotify, Pandora, etc.) and their own digital music collections (iTunes library, Amazon Cloud Player, etc.). The system is controlled by an easy-to-use app that can be installed on smartphones, mobile devices and computers.

Sonos does have the capability to add one outside source, for example, a cable box, but you won’t be able to control that source with the Sonos app.

There are several situations where Sonos may not be the best choice for you. If you want to control anything besides music in your home (such as lighting, climate, surveillance, etc.), either now or in the future, it’s worth at least looking into other options.

If you want easy control of sources beyond Internet radio and your own digital music, Sonos probably isn’t the right choice for you.

Finally, if you want a large-scale audio system with a lot of zones throughout your property, you’ll want to investigate other systems along with Sonos. As Sonos systems get bigger, prices get comparable with other, more robust options.

Sonos has dominated the wireless audio market, but ACT is excited about some of the newer offerings on the market too. One such option is Fusion Research’s Ovation Wireless Player, which is a whole-home solution (up to 16 zones) that can be controlled with an app. Fusion Research differs from Sonos in that Fusion worked with outside vendors to make sure the Ovation Wireless Player would work with control systems, including AMX, Savant, Control4, Crestron and others.

If you’re interested in an audio system for your home, please call us at 781-741-5959 for more information or to discuss your project. Consultations are always free of charge.

Is Home Automation for “Real People?”

Home automation, smart homes, home control – there was a time when these terms made us think of The Jetsons. Today, home automation solutions are offered by cable companies, security companies, Home Depot and even apps on your smart phone or tablet.

Although most people are familiar with the concept of home automation, there is still confusion about exactly what it means and whether a “regular family” can have a smart home. Simply put, home automation (or home control) makes doing basic tasks around the home easier. For example, instead of walking around turning off lights, you could press one button to turn off all of the lights in your home, program thermostats to automatically adjust the temperature at certain times, be notified when your alarm is triggered or there’s water in your basement, or view surveillance footage and enable/disable your alarm when you’re traveling.

The terms home automation and smart home really mean a home where multiple systems are automated. This is, in essence, a home control system, which allows homeowners to control all of the different systems in their home (audio, video, lighting, climate, surveillance, etc.) with a single, easy-to-use interface. A control system can be robust, complicated and expensive, but it can also be simple and surprisingly cost effective.

For homeowners who want to start on a smaller scale, or want to control just a couple systems – maybe lighting and audio – home control is probably well within their grasp. There are entry-level options and wireless systems that are great starting points and can be easily expanded later. The convenience of a home control system is wonderful. You can use your smart phone or tablet to turn lights on and off from your car or bedside, adjust the thermostat, or turn on music in one room or throughout your home.

ACT specializes in control systems. We offer control systems from Savant Systems because they are reliable, easy to use and easy to expand later. Homeowners love Savant Systems because the system can be operated using Apple® devices (iPad®, iPad mini®, iPhone®, iPod touch®, Mac® computers) or Savant’s own line of remotes and keypads.

A home control system can be surprisingly cost effective, and if you’re looking to control multiple systems in your home, it’s worth giving us a call to learn more.

What Saves Energy and Your Sanity? Lighting Control!

On hearing the term custom home electronics, most people don’t think of lighting control systems. This is unfortunate, because lighting control can add tremendous wow factor to a home, provide added safety, offer energy savings and increase a property’s value.

The thing homeowners like most about lighting control is the convenience it offers. Lighting control puts an end to those “turn off the lights” battles families have. Lights can be turned on and off or dimmed by the usual wall switches, and with smart phones, tablets or occupancy sensors. This means never walking around the house turning off lights other people left on, or never approaching or entering a dark home.

Lighting scenes and events can also be programmed with lighting control. Lighting scenes are pre-set lighting levels that can help set the mood for different situations, like entertaining, watching television or family dinner time. With the push of a button, lighting scenes are activated.

Lighting events mean that lights automatically turn on, off or dim at certain times of the day, or when something triggers them. For example, if your alarm goes off, it could trigger all interior lights to turn on and exterior lights to flash.

Lighting control also helps save energy and extends bulb life. According to Lutron, on average, dimming an incandescent or halogen light will reduce energy use by about 20%. Incandescent and halogen bulbs last up to 20 times longer when used with a dimmer, and LED bulbs run cooler when dimmed, which can extend bulb life. If you add shade control to the mix, you can save 10% on heating and cooling costs by blocking the sun’s rays in summer or letting them in during colder months.

Another thing homeowners love about lighting control is that it’s much more cost effective than people think. At ACT, we most often use a wireless lighting control system — Lutron’s Radio Ra 2 — that can be installed without the need to open walls or add any new wiring. It can be used for just a few rooms or throughout an entire home, allows scheduled events, can also operate shades, appliances and temperature, and can be controlled remotely (i.e. when you’re away from home) using mobile devices.

If you’d like to explore the possibilities that lighting control could add to your home, please get in touch with us. We think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.