Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Should You Allow Telecommuting?

Should you allow telecommuting? The answer is yes, as many as possible, as soon as possible. I know. I know. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer recently told all of her telecommuters to come back to the office claiming employees are less productive at home. But do we really want to follow the lead of the company that passed up the opportunity to buy Google and Facebook on numerous occasions? And as anyone on Yahoo Mail can tell you, the decision has not improved service. Aside from bashing an incredibly successful company, I do have a strong case to make for telecommuting. Consider the following 2 reasons:

1) Money

As the economy struggles to grow most companies are still looking for ways to increase profit and productivity. The biggest expense, by far, of almost all companies is employees, making it the obvious place to look for fat to trim. The problem for most organizations is all the fat got cut between 2006 and 2010. Now there is nothing but muscle.

The second biggest expense for most companies is space. In addition to the monthly rental on space there is the cost of heating and cooling the space, lighting the space and cleaning the space. Employees that work from home offer all of that for free. That’s right. A free space, with free heat and air, often the phone service is free. A company that allows 30% of its employees to work from home could possibly give up 20% of the space currently being rented. That could mean big money, even for small companies.
You can save money on new hires as well. Studies show that prospective employees are often willing to work for less when allowed to work from home.

2) It’s Really Easy Being Green

The greenest thing any company can do is allow employees to work from home. Imagine just 10% of the work force no longer on the roads every morning and afternoon. What would that do to the total fuel consumption of the world, not to mention to the bank accounts of the employees? The people left on the road would probably use less fuel as well, in that there would be less traffic, less stop and go, resulting in shorter commute times. It’s something you could mention in company news, how you are doing your part to lessen the world’s dependency on fossil fuels.

The Down Side

You know those problem employees you have, the ones that spread negativity? If they have to come in every day while others are allowed to work from home they will reach hither to unseen levels of nastiness. At every opportunity they will make insulting remarks suggesting those not at the office are not actually working but are watching soaps and playing with their kids. I like to remind them that I will keep that in mind if they are ever up for a telecommuting position.
The other downside is some people actually do watch soaps and play with their kids. And it can be a problem. Most telecommuters are very conscientious and are at least as productive as the employees at the office. Those that aren’t should be brought back in immediately, or fired.

The Big Questions

So the big questions for most managers are, who should be allowed to work at home and how can we implement it. Those are tough questions but Tool Kit Café can help. If you are contemplating a new telecommuting policy or are experiencing trouble with your current telecommuters consider The IT Telecommuting Policy Tool kit. It has everything you need to create your policy, determine who should be eligible and who should not, training for telecommuters, support policies, contracts and more.

Have any funny or not funny telecommuting stories to share? Post them here or email the editor. We love to hear both sides of an issue.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat’s Tips for Appropriate Office Attire

Most of us in the IT world would like to think the old stereotype of the computer person who dresses badly and doesn’t “fit in” no longer applies. After all, IT professionals are just that: professional. Unfortunately the reputation lingers.

Express yourself

The fact is, clothing is a form of expression. Sometimes our attire speaks louder than we do, but is it saying what we want it to? The outfit shown in Figure A is a good example of something some pros wear to work. Those techs are expressing “I am not concerned with impressing anyone. I am my own person.” However, the message received is most likely “Hi, I’m the office lackey. Need anything heavy moved?”

Figure A

These cloths say “grunt worker.”

Figure B illustrates another common mis-communication through attire. The IT pro who dresses like this to the office may intend to express “I’m young, I’m hip, and I am in great shape.” The message heard is probably “I like to use the office like a singles bar, and I’m prowling for dates.”

Figure B

 Figure B

IT pro or someone looking for a date?

Some people who dress in similar fashion to the examples above will disagree with me.  Those who do should look at their careers and ask, “Do I miss out on a lot of promotions or projects I want? Do people often ask me to perform menial tasks that are not my responsibility? Do I get a lot of unseemly attention?” These things happen to everyone from time to time, but anyone who has one or more of these experiences regularly or more often than their co-workers might want to consider a change in attire.

Most companies have written policies on dress code and, obviously, those codes should be followed. Don’t stop there though. It’s a good idea to go beyond the least acceptable. “I won’t do anything more than I have to” is not a good message from any employee.

So where should the IT professional look for clues on what to wear? The best examples at any given company are those in positions of power.  If the executives tend to wear golf shirts and slacks, like the outfit shown in Figure C, the safe thing is to do is wear the same kinds of clothing. It’s an easy and clean look. Dressing similar to the boss is a great message. It says “I’m one of you, part of your tribe. It’s safe to give me the important projects and promotions.”

Figure C

Figure C

Boring but safe in a “business casual” office.

Contrary to popular belief, there are still a few companies left where business suits are the norm . Law firms and financial institutions are good examples. While it’s always best to wear suits in a formal office, if that’s just not possible, an acceptable substitute can be dark dress slacks with long-sleeve dress shirts and dress shoes. For the finishing touch, men should add a nice tie and women should add a jacket, as shown in Figure D and Figure E.  Most men who wear suits to the office remove the jacket as soon as they arrive, so a man with no jacket fits in. The opposite is true for a woman. A jacket adds the same formality to a woman’s ensemble that a tie brings to the man. An added benefit is a jacket provides a female tech with more pockets for phones and tools, something her slacks often fail to do.

 Figure D

Figure D

Geeks can wear ties too!

  Figure E

Figure E

A blazer makes casual attire more professional.

Regardless of your company culture there are a few “Don’ts” that apply in most any office.

  • Sexy or Revealing clothing: An office is not a pick up place. Wait until after hours to show off that killer body.
  • Stains or tears: Dress like a homeless person and you may just be treated like one.
  • Ill fitting clothing: If you lose or gain weight, adjust your wardrobe to compensate. Looking as if you’re going to pop a button or drop you pants is no way to be taken seriously.
  • Grubby sneakers and overly scuffed or dirty shoes: Money spent on appropriate office attire is wasted without appropriate shoes.
  • Flip Flops: Fashionable as they are, they have no place in the office. Save them for your days off.

Fashions for the IT Mind

If your IT career isn’t going where you hoped take a look in the mirror. Do you see a manager staring back or do you see a grunt? If your reflection is more like the latter, consider a change. To learn more about what it takes to be a successful IT manager download this free tool,  IT Management 101 by Mike Sisco. It’s an incredibly valuable resource for any IT manager.

Are you dressing for success?

Let us know what you thought of this article by posting a comment below or email the editor.

Software Review: Good Technology’s mobile application tool illustrates need for mobile device email policy

In this column, I’ll tell you how one Big IT Shop solved the problem of how to enforce the email information security policy in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) era when 95% of their employees access corporate  email via smartphones, tablets,  and company-issued laptops.

One ISO’s “Good” solution for enforcing email policy

I recently consulted on information security governance with the Information Security Officer (ISO) for a company that provides professional services in the financial consulting industry. The firm’s experts travel all over the place and use  all sorts of devices to get their work done, and the ISO needed a way to secure  sensitive information transmitted via corporate email on the approved devices.

The ISO implemented the mobile content management solution from  Good Technology (“Good”). For the record, I don’t have any affiliation with Good, and I wasn’t involved in the process of selecting Good as this company’s third-party service provider. I’m writing this plug of their system based on my review of  reports that come out of the Good system, and they’re impressive.

In a nutshell, the solution helps enforce information security policy in two important ways:

1) It monitors all outgoing email messages and attachments for sensitive information.

2. It generates a report that goes to the Information Security Department showing which users have violated company policy regarding the use of  sensitive information.

Here’s one cool thing about the Good solution. You can configure it so that only work email – email that goes through the company’s email gateway – is monitored by the Good app. So if someone forwards confidential information from the corporate email account to a cloud-based account, that violation of policy will show up in a report.

Suppose one of your employees with a smart phone leaves the company? In that case, you can use the Good solution to remotely wipe all of the business email messages and contacts from the phone, without deleting any other data or apps.

 Sensitive information, you say?

In this case study, the definition of sensitive information is very clearly stated in this company’s information security policies. The problem is, the people who needed to know what the rules are  – the mobile device users – weren’t reading the information security policies. My recommendation to this ISO was to add the rules about sensitive information in email to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

If you don’t want people forwarding corporate email messages to their cloud-based email addresses, you need to tell them.

Use this free download from ToolKite Cafe’s BYOD toolkit to gauge your BYOD readiness

If you don’t currently have a formal program in place to manage your BYOD users, ToolKit Café’s BYOD Toolkit can help. The BYOD toolkit contains standardized templates and sample policy documents you can quickly customize for your organization.

Try before you buy

If you’d like to look at the type of material available in the BYOD toolkit, you can download a free sample BYOD audit program. This sample audit program provides step by step instructions to help you figure out what you have and what you need in the way of policies and procedures related to managing your BYOD users.

Talk Back to ToolTalk Weekly

If you  liked this column, please post a comment below. Follow this link to read another ToolTalk Weekly software review:  Recuva saves the day when files get deleted.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing People: Introducing A Great IT Boss

One of my first jobs was a low level employee on a phone support team. It was a good job for a twenty one year old college drop out. The pay wasn’t bad. The surroundings were pleasant. I worked nights so I was able to go back to school during the day and eventually earn my degree. The company even paid for it. In some ways it was a tough job though. We were rated on the number of calls we took. More was always better. On busy days calls could exceed 100. We were often monitored then critiqued. It could get pretty stressful.

The art of Critiquing

Some of the managers seemed to think their job was to find out what the employees were doing wrong and make them stop. The guy I worked for, I’ll call him Rob, seemed to think his job was to encourage employees. Sure he monitored our calls from time to time, as was required but when he talked to us about them it was more about what the did right than what we did wrong. In the end he would mention what we could have done better but his critiques usually made us feel better about ourselves and our work instead of worse.

The Problem Employee

I remember a specific support analyst on my team that first year than none of us thought would make it. Chris was passed from team to team and always seemed to be on probation for being late, leaving early and just generally not doing a very good job. Finally she was put on our team under Rob.

Chris told me about their first meeting. Rob started out by asking her if she wanted to be on his team. She said she was OK with it. He said he asked because she didn’t seem like someone who particularly liked her job. Chris agreed. She did not like her job. Rob said that was OK. Liking the job was not required. He told Chris that not everyone was cut out for phone support and there was no shame in quitting. Chris asked if Rob was firing her. He assured her he was not. If she wanted the job it was already hers and all she had to do to keep it was be decent at it, show up on time and do her share of the work, but if she did not want the job she was not doing herself any favors by staying and doing the job badly. Rob asked Chris to think about it and let him know what she wanted to do.

Learn From the Best

I heard the story a year later. Chris had been off probation for more than 9 months and was one of the better employees. She told me that she still didn’t care for the job but it was the best that she could get at the time and Rob was right. Doing the job well did make her feel better about herself and her work.

What I learned from that conversation is that no manager can make an employee do a good job. We can’t micromanage them into or even threaten them into it, but we can treat them as intelligent adults and accept no less from them. Rob didn’t bother to list Chris’s short comings. She knew them. He just asked her to be honest with herself and him and to make a choice. That method doesn’t always work. Some employees never learn and have to be fired. But in that case Rob prevailed and both he and Chris were better off for it.

For more tips on being a great manager you can have a great role model like Rob but you can also get what you need from the Practical IT Manager Gold Series, a fantastic tool kit by Mike Sisco, containing tools and templates designed to make you the best manager you can be.

Add your two cents

Do you know a great IT manager? Please tell us about that person or share your thoughts by posting a comment below. Follow this link to read about a couple of really bad IT managers:

Introducing the Worst IT Managers Ever


Managing People: Introducing the worst IT Managers ever

In this column, I’ll tell you about the worst IT managers I’ve ever worked for, with,  or alongside.  After you read about this story of unbridled arrogance, I dare you to tell me a story about another IT manager who is worse.

Worst IT Manager #1: a heinous crime against a friend of mine

I was consulting in a big IT shop in the healthcare industry and one of my friends, a full-time employee, started looking for a new job. She found the job she thought was the perfect next step for her career. She applied for the job and accepted an offer. The story should have ended, “She gave her notice and went on to great things at the new company.”  But no.

The problem was that her new employer-in-waiting was an IT vendor for her current employer. Mind you, she was not recruited by the vendor. She saw a job advertised and applied for it. She got the job on her own merits. But then someone from employer-in-waiting called my friend’s manager as a courtesy to say, “Hey by the way, we hope you know we didn’t go after [name withheld].”

Her boss didn’t let the guy finish his sentence. He started cussing and moaning about how dare they try to steal HIS employees out from under his nose, and don’t they know they have a clause in their contract that says they won’t recruit our employees and, bam! This pathetic excuse for a human being used his position as Managing Director of Operations and Telecommunications and How to Loosen a Jar from the Nose of a Bear to intimidate the vendor. Plainly put, he threatened to take away their business if they hired my friend away.

Pop goes the job offer

Just like that, the vendor caved and called my friend and said, “We regret to report that we’re weak and spineless and we’ve caved in to your current manager’s request that we withdraw the job offer we made you.  So so’, but you know.” They said if she quit her current position, they could offer her a position in six months, if one is available at that time.

Does that just suck? So I award the dishonor of #1 Worst IT Manager Ever to the guy who played “god” with my friend’s life as well as her professional career. He picked up the phone and screamed at the vendor instead of, of I don’t know, calling my friend into his office and asking her why she wanted to leave? Maybe mentoring her in her career instead of sabotaging it?

I award the dishonor of #2 Worst It Manager Ever to the guy who caved in. I don’t care what’s in the written agreement between the parties, he should have held his ground and said, “Now wait a minute…” and worked something out and, oh I don’t know, stood up for my friend’s right to freedom to work wherever she wants to work.

Regarding the contracts: change your policy

Some of you will say “Come on, Jeff, if there’s a clause in the contract about not recruiting each other’s employees, then #1 Worst IT Manager had every right to be mad.”  In my opinion, anything in a contract that limits someone’s ability to pursue a better opportunity should be ignored. Common sense and common decency should trump antiquated contract terms.

We’re not talking about situations where the Chief Scientist or Chief Engineer is jumping ship to the current employer’s competitor and, in doing so, will harm the current employer. We’re talking about people who administer systems, for crying out loud.

Use the Gold Series Toolkit to improve yourself

If you might be one of the “bad managers” I’m ranting about, here’s what you should do instead of playing God with other people’s lives and careers: Use the Practical IT Manager Gold Series to improve your own performance. This toolkit, written by Mike Sisco, contains dozens of useful tools and templates designed to make your life easier.

If you’re wondering what makes the Gold Series so special, here’s a free sample from the toolkit to whet your whistle: The New Employee Offer Letter Template. 

This download is free to all Toolkit Cafe Registered Members. Please login to download

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I’d like to bring your attention to the next-to-last sentence in the welcome letter:

{Employee first name}, we are excited about you joining our company and believe that you will make an excellent addition to our team.

Notice that you’re asking your new hire to be an “excellent addition to [y]our team.” You’re not asking the new hire to sign on unconditionally for the rest of his or her life.

What’s your wost IT manager story?

To comment on this column or to nominate your own Worst IT Managers ever, please post a comment below or send me a note at [email protected]

7 things YOU can do to create a greener office

If you believe, like we do at ToolKit Café, that no man or woman is an island and that we all have a responsibility to take care of our planet, then we hope you enjoy this set of seven keys to being green at work.

1. Wear clothing that can adjust to the poor environmental controls that all offices seem to have.

This tip provides a virtually free and extremely easy way to use less energy. The large spaces and number of people in most offices make it virtually impossible to control the office environment to everyone’s satisfaction. Making it worse are the folks who hide small heaters under their desk. Don’t be one of those people. Instead, wear light clothing in layers, no matter what time of year. The ability to remove or add a jacket or sweater as  the office temperature fluctuates (or you move from room to room, meeting to meeting), enables you not only to be comfortable, but more productive.

2. Instruct your callers on enabling power management software.

The EPA estimates that providing computers with “sleep mode” reduces their energy use by 60 to 70 percent. Help Desk analysts who are concerned about unnecessary energy use are in a perfect position to encourage this practice. Many calls are filled with awkward moments where both the analyst and the caller are waiting for a reboot, a program to download, or any number of annoying computer delays. These times are a great opportunity to ask the caller if they are using power management and instruct those who aren’t. Don’t preach or even inform about the need to be green. Save that for your personal blog. If the caller isn’t interested, drop it. If there seems to be interest, use the time to set them up.

3. Turn off printers and other desktop devices when you leave work.

Many offices leave shared systems running during off hours. As wasteful as it is, it’s understandable. Waiting for printers and copiers to warm up is can be a hassle. A good solution is to work in a team. Ask coworkers who share your concern to take responsibility for turning devices off and on. If early birds are willing to take the power on responsibility those warm up times won’t affect productivity.

4. Create a Car pool forum or database for coworkers.

With gas prices creating more and more concern ride sharing is a great deal more attractive to many workers. Offer to set up a way for would be car poolers to find each other. If your company doesn’t have a employee forum ask management to allow or even help you create one for ride sharing. Green is hot so they may be more receptive than they were in the past.

5.  Clean up the old coffee mugs hanging around the office.

Most offices have break rooms with sinks. The cabinets under those sinks are generally loaded down with disgusting old mugs left by previous employees. Take the initiative to clean them out and offer them to employees who are still using paper or Styrofoam cups.

6. Reuse water bottles.

Even though we’re finding out that much bottled water comes from a tap and not a spring, we’re still buying it. Probably because a cold bottle of water is very convenient. Instead of throwing the plastic bottle in the recycling bin consider real recycling. Refill it with tap and put it in the fridge for the next day. It’s just as convenient as the $1.00 bottle in the vending machine and it’s free.

7. Don’t use cubicle lights when overheads are on.

Most cubicles are equipped with lighting below the overhead bins. They are great after hours when the overheads are turned off. During the day they are unnecessary and should be kept off.

How green are you?

We want to know what you think about these seven tips, so please post your comments below and share your tips for a greener office.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing the dangers of IT support

Many years ago, when I was head of a regional IT support team for a very large corporation, I was asked to swap out a router card in one of our larger warehouses. Normally this would not have been a problem. We kept spare cards for all the routers and it was easy to schedule a 30-minute downtime while the work was done. However, this warehouse was different. For some reason, long before I took over support, the network center was installed in a box that hung from the ceiling, 30 feet up. To make physical changes, a tech had to stand in a cage while a forklift raised the cage to the top of the highest shelf. Once there the tech would step out of the cage and straddle an open area about three feet wide.

Fear versus Phobia

Some people refer to a fear of heights as a phobia. I think that is just wrong. Phobias are baseless fears. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure falling from a 30-foot high rack to a concrete floor would have an adverse affect on my ability to keep the few brain cells I have left trapped in my head, not to mention what it would do to my limbs, neck, and spine.  I really did not want to change that card so I asked if any other team members were willing and got a volunteer right away. That might sound like problem solved, but the volunteer had a head, limbs, neck and spine as well, and even if he wasn’t worried about them, I was. I had no sleep the night before the scheduled change.

Research your Risks

The card change went off without a hitch and everyone laughed at me for being such a wimp, but I was not happy. As a team leader I felt like my first responsibility was to make sure that no one on the team was killed in the line of duty.  I know that sounds like an easy task, since we were in a suburban office building and fighting computer viruses instead of the Taliban, but when a regional manager demands people travel by fork lift, it becomes a problem. I needed to do some research.

Put Safety First

I found that, like all large companies, we had a corporate safety policy and we were not following it. I was able to arrange for special training in working in high places and safety gear. We still had to go up in the cage, but the cage was chained securely to the fork lift first. Also we got safety straps and hooks to secure us to the racks before we stepped out of the cage.   It made things a great deal safer.

What I learned from that experience is being prepared for potential danger and protecting your team is just as important for an IT manager as it is for beat cop. It may not come up as often but when it does you want to be ready. That’s true about everything in management. Few managers are prepared the first time an employee must be fired or when large numbers of assets are discovered missing.  We never forget a lesson we learn the hard way, but sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others. Mike Sisco has that experience and offers it to us in The Practical IT Manager Gold Series, 10 books can get an IT manager though any crisis. I highly recommend it to any and all IT managers. I also think it’s a great investment for the IT tech who would like to manage. IT’s never too early to learn to think like a pro and learn to lead a team practically.

What’s your danger zone?

Have you or members of your team had to deal with dangerous situations while trying to provide IT support? Post a comment below and tell us what you think about workplace dangers for IT professionals. Are your people at risk?

Update your security training with “Never click on any antivirus message EVER!”

IT managers of companies from county government offices to Fortune 500 companies have one very important thing in common: They employ humans. Sadly, no matter how much coaching and training and reminders we give users via email, Webinar, Web-based training, and PowerPoint presentations — sometimes they get it wrong. This is the story of one such user.

Ransomware strikes in 2013

I thought ransomware was relegated to mythical status, the Kraken of malware killed by the Perseus network perimeter operating system (PNPOS). But no. I got a call this week from a frantic user who said, “I got a message from AVG saying it found an infected file and to click here to remove it, and when I did, I got this weird screen saying the FBI had impounded my computer because of illegal activity, and I have to pay $500 to get the computer released!” Srsly.

Say what? I trotted myself down to the client’s office and sure enough, this user who should have known better had invoked a bad case of ransomware.  It said that if the user entered the numbers from a certain type of prepaid card, the computer would be released in 1 to 4 business days after that. (Y’right.)  My Emergency Repair Disks (ERDs) in hand, I rebooted and booted from CD and got error messages about a corrupt boot sector. I got to a command prompt and by DIR command there appeared to be data, but I couldn’t get devices recognized to copy files off. It was a mess.

Lesson Learned: Remind users about malware

We drilled a hole in the hard drive of that PC and configured a new one. This user was embarrassed because, frankly, she should have known better. It was hot, she was stressed, she clicked without thinking.  In big corporate network environments, we like to think it’s next to impossible for a user even to get a chance to enable malware. But if it gets through, someone will click on it.

Do you do periodic information security training with your users? If so, make sure that you remind users what you want them do if and when they counter suspicious emails or pop-up messages.  If you don’t do annual information security training for all users in your organization, start now. First, you can write a short email reminding All Users that if ever they see a message about “cleaning” or “removing an infected file” or the like, they should click on what? Class? Class? NOTHING! Remind your users to call the help desk if they get any suspicious email or pop-up messages on their work-provided computers.

Need a malware policy? Download our template as a free sample of our Ultimate IT Policy Toolkit!

If you don’t have a formal policy in place that tells users how you as IT manager are implementing antivirus solutions on your network, it may be hard to enforce violations of common sense IT policy, like, “don’t click on or download anything you weren’t expecting, even messages about infected files.”

The Malware Security Policy includes several rules that you can customize to define the malware policy for your organization. Here’s the rule that’s relevant to telling users what to do (and not to do) if they encounter malware:

Users must not attempt to eradicate computer viruses. If users suspect infection by a virus, they must immediately call the IT Department and refrain from attempting any type of troubleshooting on their own. Computer virus eradication must only be performed by authorized personnel who have been approved by the IT Department to do that work.

Download Toolkit Cafe’s Malware Security Policy Here!

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Have you dealt with ransomware?

If you or your users have encountered ransomware, share your experience by sending an email to [email protected] or by posting a comment below.


It’s the end of webmail as we know it

With apologies to R.E.M., it’s the end of webmail as we know it. Big, corporate webmail, that is. As a consulting IT manager, I  feel fine (about it), and so should you. To add your two cents to the discussion, please take a minute to participate in ToolkitCafe’s Summer Email Survey below.

Why your webmail policy should be no policy at all

Recently, I wrote about my feeling that IT managers should  have a clear email security in place so  users who bring their own devices or accept the devices issued by the company know what they’re supposed to do to protect private business information. In that piece, I reported that a large company was taking Outlook Web Access (OWA) away from their users.

In that environment, the IT Department also took away the ability to synchronize Outlook with plain Web mail. Smart phone users must install and use the approved application (GOOD) if they want to continue getting work emails on their phones. And users still have the option to use the company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), but gone are the days when employees can log into work email via OWA from any hotel-lobby PC or wifi hot.

Take our survey and watch for the results

To share your opinion about the end of webmail, please post a comment below or, to comment privately, send a note to [email protected].



Take ToolKit Café’s Summer Email Poll

If you take away webmail, will your business operations implode?

Here at ToolKit Café, our virtual team members connect via Gmail accounts. However, we’ve heard from a number of readers who say their companies are changing the way they provide email access to their users. Please help us identify trends in email access by taking our Summer Email Poll. Bookmark and check back for the results.