Your Association-Better

Your Association—Better: Client Testimonials

Alliances Management has recently produced several videos that highlight different parts of the company. Our latest video showcases snippets of interviews with three clients from some of the world’s leading technology associations.

The video begins with Philippe Martineau, Chairman of the Board of the OSPT Alliance, who describes how Alliances Management helped them identify additional aspects of managing their association that weren’t apparent at the beginning of the partnership. Speaking of Alliances Management, he said, “You didn’t just come to do what we asked you to. You actually came and brought much more than we anticipated.” He also mentioned that, in terms of contribution, Alliances Management “over-exceeded” their objectives.

Another testimony featured in the video comes from Christina Hulka, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer with the FIDO Alliance, who speaks highly of the partnership between FIDO Alliance and Alliances Management staff. She noted the flexibility, ability to work as part of the team, and availability of the staff at all hours of the day. “The quality of their work is also incredibly good,” she added. “They have a ton of commitment… They’re always available. They’re really great advocates for the technology as well as participating on the staff and being part of the team.”

And finally, Kevin Gillick, Executive Director of GlobalPlatform, focused his comments on the strategic aspect provided by Alliances Management. He also spoke of the quality work and ongoing support of the Alliances Management team and explained: “When our Board gets together and we have meetings to discuss, long-term strategy, the technical roadmap of the organization or other high priority topics, we find a partner in Alliances Management that knows our industry.” He added that “their responsiveness and their timing on getting things done is exquisite.”

Each interview was coordinated separately, at different times over the past year and without any specific theme or direction. What’s interesting to note as you watch the video, however, is how each of their opinions seem to paint a picture with a common theme: how managing their associations with the help of Alliances Management makes them, well, better.

If you would like more information about the different services we offer and the kind of support we can provide for your association, please contact us.

Effective Board Infographic

An Effective Board for Technical Associations in Three Steps – Infographic

Establishing and maintaining an effective board is essential for an organization’s success. Alliances Management created this infographic to highlight and define the three key steps to successful board management for technical associations.



Benefits of Product Certification – Infographic

Product Certification: why bother?

The majority of product certification programs utilize a third-party evaluation process to validate a product against specific standards, specifications, or requirements. The process can be rigorous and can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to achieve, it all depends on the product and marketplace expectations. But, in the end, the benefits help drive product success from both an industry and consumer perspective.

Product certification benefits cover several areas from consumer trust to regulatory requirements. We created this infographic to describe and highlight the many benefits to product certification.


Benefits of Product Certification Infographic

Alliances Management – About Us – Video

When it comes down to it, it’s our staff that makes Alliances Management different.

Plan Events Effectively While Working Remotely

As an event planner during this time of the pandemic, most in-person meetings have likely been postponed for the foreseeable future and we’re all anxious for events to return. It’s likely for those first meetings, you’ll need to schedule venues and plan remotely. For us at Alliances Management, this is business as usual as we have been planning events remotely since 2006. With years of experience, we have come up with some standard questions and items of concern to go over with the hotel before signing the contract, as well as some tips for communication during the event.

Step 1: Preliminary Research & RFP

Sourcing the right vendors without an on-site visit may make some planners anxious. Traditionally it would require an event planner to personally visit prospective venues to check the meeting rooms, sleeping rooms, banquet area, and nearby restaurants/attractions so you can provide an accurate report to your client. However, we regularly plan large international events via email, phone call, and virtual meeting. The first step is to distribute a Request for Proposal (RFP) to a dozen or so properties that might meet client requirements. The RFP require responses to the client’s most important, inflexible criteria in addition to meeting room size, number of sleeping rooms, proximity to local events, etc.

Step 2: Detailed “Site Review”

Complete responses to properly written RFPs enable meeting planners to eliminate some options. With proposals in hand, the time for a more complete “site review” is in order. Replacing a physical walk-through is possible with a number of steps:

  • Photos & live video chat of the meeting rooms. Detailed pictures, virtual tours, and questions with your contact at the hotel will allow you to determine if there are any pillars that will block the presenter / screen, whether the shape of the room will work, if there is natural light, and if the property is sufficiently updated.
  • Floor plans. Reviewing floor plans identifies how close each of the meeting rooms are to each other, whether stairs / escalators / elevators will efficiently accommodate group activity, where lunches and breaks will be held, whether common spaces are conductive to the client’s needs and whether lunch and break spaces are appropriate.
  • Drawings of the meeting rooms. Drawings help to translate whether the hotel’s space will fit your client’s required setup: is the room too long and narrow, how many screens will be required, will there be sufficient aisle space, will an AV booth obstruct views, are there enough power outlets?
  • Photos of the sleeping rooms. While most of your work is focused on the event spaces, sleeping rooms for the attendees are also important, as it’s likely the first place they’ll be stopping after a long day of travel, and the space they’ll return to after a long day of meetings and/or seminars. Adequate videos or video chats can show if they’re sufficiently updated, if there is adequate space for relaxation, and more. Keep in mind they usually look better in photos than they will in person.
  • Customer reviews. Reading reviews can be helpful, but it’s best to focus on themes in more recent reviews: are there common points of praise or complaints?

Step 3: Setting up for success on site.

At this point, if the event planner will personally attend the event, communication with the venue will be similar to all other events: maintain communication with the venue to verify event details such as the meeting schedule, food and beverage needs, timing of meals, audio-visual requirements, and more.

If the event planner will not personally attend the event, it will be important to document the decisions and plan for those who will be onsite. We recommend an in-depth Meeting Summary document that defines meeting times, room setup diagrams, onsite contact information, break times, and all other logistical issues that onsite personnel may need to address.

During the event, it’s vital to keep your lines of communication open with both the venue and your on-site contact. This may be something new for planners since typically you would be physically present at the venue. Ask the best way to reach them should an urgent matter arise and try to have multiple ways to reach your contacts.

Planning your first event remotely will be different, as you’re used to being onsite to resolve any issues. You may wonder, will this work? It may sound like an old cliché, but passion is one of the most important traits an event planner should possess. If you enjoy and love what you do and want to give the best experience possible to your clients, then you’ll find a way to make a spectacular event – from the comforts of your own home.

Additional Contributors:
Maylin Sta. Ana
Yelle Dela Cruz

Starting a Technical Association:
Considerations, Steps, and Insights

As member-driven, collaborative entities that produce a technical output, ‘technical associations’ operate differently than non-technical groups like homeowners’ associations.

How a technical association differs from other types of associations

According to the American Society of Association Executives™ (ASAE®), there are nearly two million associations in the United States1. But these groups are not created equal. Ranging from charities and churches to professional trade associations and homeowners’ associations, it would be impossible to provide catch-all recommendations across all association types. This article limits its scope to technical associations that are comprised of members who work collaboratively to produce a technical output.

A technical association brings together competitors and industry partners with technical expertise who are seeking to achieve a technical objective for their industry. For example, USB and Bluetooth were adopted as standards for allowing information transfer, EMV “Chip” payment cards were conceived as a more secure way to pay at retail establishments, and various mobile technologies (e.g. 3G, 4G, 5G) have been deployed by companies throughout the telecommunications industry. What these technologies share is a groundswell of support from technical companies that realized the value to their entire industry of aligning on standard ways of doing things.

Technical associations’ outputs differ, but the participants, structure, and operational practices are similar, as is the basic process of starting one of these technical associations.

Determining whether a technical association is the right means to accomplish an industry’s technology needs—as well as how to implement that association to be as efficient and fair as possible—requires evaluating the following steps:

Step 1: Is an association right for your goals?

Starting an association to accomplish technology objectives is not something that should be undertaken lightly. It is first important to understand an industry and determine whether starting a technical association is the best course of action.

Understanding existing technologies and identifying unmet needs

Technical problems can be solved without a technical association; private companies do this every day. An association can be helpful in situations where an individual company’s technological innovation cannot meet an industry’s need, nor could it be addressed with a smaller collaboration. Starting a technical association is a substantial effort that should only be undertaken if other solutions are not available.

Evaluating market maturity

A key step in evaluating whether to start a new technical association is assessing market maturity. New industries often experience a proliferation of innovation, competing products do not work with one another, different systems cannot communicate, and solutions are rolled out independently of one another. As an industry evolves, there are points at which most participants conclude that “if only X were done the same way across the industry, everyone could sell more products and services.”

The decision to standardize or align is a mechanism that enables an industry to take the next step in its maturity. For example, the innovation of a USB port to transmit data meant that printers could be sold to a consumer who had purchased ANY brand of PC instead of having to make a different product for each consumer.

Safeguarding innovation

Before moving forward with an association, it is essential to ensure that there is a sufficient groundswell of support for the idea and that the industry is not still in the strictly competitive stage. Standards or best practices are valuable when there is an agreement throughout the industry that there is an aspect of the market that no longer benefits from competition and that aligning on a standard would allow the market size to grow. It should be noted that the technical characteristic that is being standardized should not prohibit market innovation; companies will still compete in the market, but in different ways.

Consider as one example the payments industry association, EMVCo: the “EMV Chip” card has standardized the communications protocol between the card and terminal so that any card issued according to the specifications can be used at any terminal built according to the specifications; however, banks and other companies still offer different types of credit products, interest rates, rewards programs, etc.

Generating industry consensus

Starting a new association requires involvement and buy-in from several key industry players (and often their legal teams). There needs to be a sufficient amount of buy-in from enough major parties to get the industry to agree to align; if too much of the market looks at the desired technical output as a threat to their business, the output might be unsuccessful. To propose a technical association is to ask potentially distrustful competitors to collaborate. There needs to be an overarching reason that is sufficient to counter that distrust, and the mission of the organization needs to be defined clearly enough that there will be confidence that working on that technical area is in everyone’s best interests. If that reason is adequate, establish a group of crucial participants, ensure that they support the idea, and build a consensus. Think about which key companies are going to be involved at the inception of the organization and which companies could be brought in over a period of time.

Step 2: Defining the mission and scope of a new association

Once it has been determined that an industry is being hampered by the lack of technical standards, specifications, or best practices—and that accomplishing these goals cannot be achieved through other means—it is time to define the mission of the organization.

A mission needs to be clear and focused. Something too broad (e.g. “we’re going to standardize all mobile phone products and services”) will naturally encroach on the competitive sphere and discourage participation, whereas something that seeks to expand the size of the market without encroaching on competitive efforts (e.g. “we’re interested in defining a communications protocol that can be universally used by any mobile phone, device, or app developer to transmit information between them”) is limited enough so that participants can conceive of the benefits without believing that the effort will prevent them from competing.

This mission should seek to encourage broad participation from across the industry, limit the scope of the technical activities, establish short-, medium-, and long-term goals, and create clarity for participants regarding how and when this mission would be changed.

Types of output

A primary purpose of technical associations is to produce an output that can be used throughout an industry. Identifying the outputs that an association aims to produce will help focus efforts. Consider the following common types of output:

  • Standard – Will the technical association seek to establish a standard that it wishes to be ratified by ISO or another globally recognized standards body?
  • Specification – Is the objective to produce specifications that define certain aspects of product development, with the aim of interoperability?
  • Best Practices – If standards or specifications are impractical or impossible, perhaps there are simply guidelines that the industry could follow to improve interoperability.
  • Requirements – Perhaps an industry would benefit from establishing clear requirements regarding certain features, communications protocols, etc.
  • Certification/Compliance Program – Will the technical association seek to establish approval or evaluation programs that allow product developers to establish that their products conform to a standard or specification?
  • Registry – Some technical bodies merely require a registry of products, services, or companies. This can take the form of a company or product ID that would be issued and serve as a universal identifier that can be implemented across the industry.

Scope of association activities

The association’s mission can also begin to establish the scope of activities that the association will and will not engage in. For example, many technical associations benefit from liaison agreements with other technical associations; some of these associations’ work product boils down to connecting the technical work of one association to that of another, with the objective being to resolve a different industry problem.

Only once a clearly defined mission is established—and key industry stakeholders agree that the organization’s mission will be an asset to the industry—is it time to start the association.

Step 3: Forming the association

To ensure that a new association will run effectively, founders should consider the following areas before a launch.


Founders should establish the governing structure of the association, including the following:

  • Clearly defined bylaws – Comprehensively articulating the day-to-day rules for governing and running the organization will keep matters running smoothly and prevent future disputes. The bylaws must include a clear Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy.
  • Board Structure – Different technical associations benefit from having different board structures. Some missions and industries justify preserving guaranteed board seats for larger and/or founding organizations. Other boards are comprised of 100% elected positions, whether by industry vertical, company size, or other. Founders need to establish how the board is comprised, how members and executive directors are elected, whether different rights or obligations accrue to different participants, whether founders have additional rights, term limits, and more.
  • Funding – Careful thought must be given to how the technical association will be funded. Initially, it is common for founding members to contribute to the association’s bank account to pay for operating expenses, but how will funding be maintained? Some associations receive ongoing injections from founding members; others have per-member dues that vary based on company size or membership tier; other technical bodies generate revenues from products or services that they launch, such as a product certification or ID registry program.
  • Committees or working groups – The bulk of a technical association’s work will be accomplished in committees and working groups, so it is important to clearly define how they will be established and governed, what their specialties will be, how new initiatives will be agreed upon, and how disputes will be resolved. Establish the rights and responsibilities of the groups’ chairperson or presiding officer to determine what they can do unilaterally and what will need group consensus and approval. Some associations benefit from larger committees working broadly on the organization’s mission, while others prefer smaller more specialized working groups dedicated to resolving specific technical matters

Operational considerations

Before launch, establish the operational processes of the organization and identify technology platforms that can facilitate the organization’s objectives. The following should be considered to establish how the work of the organization is realistically going to be accomplished:

  • Meetings – How should the organization’s working groups and board of directors meet? Biannual face-to-face plenaries are common for technical associations, can help give the organization’s output a defined schedule, and are beneficial for productivity. Outside of face-to-face events, working groups will frequently need to meet remotely using secure virtual meeting platforms like GoToMeeting, and establish organizational guidelines for meeting times, length, frequency, participation, etc.
  • Facilitation – To facilitate both types of meetings, the association must determine the processes and obligations for detailed record-keeping, like minute-taking, writing and distributing agendas, scheduling meetings, tracking action items, and balloting, as well as event planning if the meetings are face-to-face. The association should define roles within the meetings for participants like Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, etc., as well as their associated responsibilities.
  • Association Management Software (AMS) – AMS platforms serve as the central hub for all of an association’s operations. A good AMS provides complete management of memberships, groups, and permissions down to the individual level. It facilitates member signups, partitions information for appropriate access by groups, defines working groups, facilitates group or broader email distribution, sets meeting invitations, allows individuals to access all the resources and groups for which they have permission, and more. Many AMS solutions also issue invoices, collect payments, and manage the flow of finances (membership dues, event tickets, etc.) from front-end to QuickBooks or other back office financial software. Some AMS solutions, via Open APIs, can also tie in with third-party vendors and provide solutions for all aspects of an association’s business, such as the following:
    • Email campaigns (e.g. Mailchimp or Constant Contact)
    • Document life cycle management (e.g. Documentum or Tizra)
    • Video storage and management (e.g. YouTube, Venmo or Twitch)
    • Balloting (e.g. SurveyMonkey)
    • Action items and project management (e.g. Asana)
    • Single Sign On (SSO) support to existing WordPress sites

A final, important operational consideration involves who will be responsible for overseeing the association’s operational functions. Whether an association management company is tapped to manage operations or the functions are assigned to a member of the organization, it is essential that these procedures are properly defined in advance of the launch.

Creating and managing technical output

To determine the process of actually creating technical output, the following considerations should be examined:

  • Technical expertise – Establish what types of technical experts are needed to accomplish the organization’s technical output and decide how to use these experts. This expertise may come from within member companies, or outside technical help may be needed. Once these experts create the organization’s work, they will then likely need to put that output down on paper (or code, multimedia, or other, depending on the output).
  • Technical writing – If the organization produces technical writing, decide whether it is practical to enlist volunteer members or whether outside technical writers are needed to help hone the documentation. Many new organizations start with donated specifications from members and later begin creating their own.
  • Access control – As the documentation is being created, determine how members wishing to review it will have access to it at different times in the process (through the AMS). To encourage paid membership, ensure that certain kinds of technical output are shared solely with members rather than shared publicly.

Legal considerations

Starting and maintaining an association raises several legal matters. While the nature and relevance of these will vary by organization, here are a few key considerations.

  • Formation & Governance Agreement(s) – Critical legal documents that would be required in order to form an association would include an LLC Agreement (if incorporated) and Bylaws. An LLC Agreement should outline the governance structure, liabilities, intellectual property rights and obligations, and member eligibility and obligations.
  • Website: Terms of Use & Privacy – The organization will likely have a website on which technology standards or specifications will be published. Legal Terms of Use governing use of these documents should be crafted with legal counsel. A Privacy Policy will also be required for the organization, as well as an ongoing assessment of privacy policies and compliance for the organization.
  • Participation Agreement(s) – Aside from the formation-related legal documents, an organization should also consider what terms will apply to the persons or organizations that participate in the work of the association. These agreements may or may not contemplate various participation levels, which could each have their own rights and obligations related to intellectual property licensing, fees, terms, and confidentiality.
  • Certification or Approval Agreement(s) – Many technology associations publish standards or specifications to which vendors may seek product certification/approval. Agreements are needed in order for a vendor to obtain, and for the organization to provide, the certification or approval services. Other related agreements may be required for labs or auditors.
  • Trademark(s) – The organization may also own a host of trademarks to be associated with the organization and its specifications or standards. This suite of trademarks will require legal counsel to help obtain, maintain, and enforce. For marks that should be licensed for use by third parties, Trademark License Agreements will also be required.
  • Governmental Regulations & Compliance – Technical bodies may commonly find they are subject to a host of governmental regulations, such as privacy, antitrust, export control, and communications, to name a few. Depending on the precise mission and scope of the technology association, competent legal advice should be obtained to ensure the organization does not run afoul of these regulations. Antitrust regulations in particular are especially relevant to such organizations. It is common for the stakeholders in technology specifications or standards to be competitors. For this reason, technology standard organizations must be critically mindful of the antitrust implications of their work and should obtain appropriate legal advice to ensure the organization develops and enforces strong practices to avoid anticompetitive pitfalls.
  • Consultant or Master Services Agreements – Depending on the structure of the organization, it may require the services of a third party to provide various operational or consultant services to support the functioning of the organization. Agreements governing those relationships will be required.
  • Human Resources – If the organization will have its own employees, legal advice related to human resources, and all its associated rights and obligations governing the workplace environment should be sought.

Financial management

To ensure that the organization’s money is well-managed and to establish proper oversight, the organization needs a set of financial controls and approval processes. A well-written financial control manual establishes the rights, privileges, and restrictions of each member in order to facilitate day to day transactions, ensure timely payments, and prevent fraud.

Note that a good AMS will facilitate much of the association’s day to day financial needs. It will collect member dues upon signup, manage renewals, generate invoices, interface with accounting software, and more. While these automated processes enable the association to be more efficient, financial controls establish who is allowed to process which transactions and when.

The most important objectives of a Financial Control Manual include the following:

  • Who is a signatory on the association’s bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial systems? Because these individuals may rotate as new members join, it is also important to establish clearly-defined mechanisms with these financial entities for how to change signatories or access rights.
  • Who is responsible for approving distribution of the association’s money? Organizations with a financial controller or relatively few outbound payments may wish to funnel all approvals through a single individual, in which case it is important to establish a backup plan to ensure that the association can function effectively when this individual is on vacation or ill. Other associations will benefit from allowing the respective Chairs of working groups to approve payments related to their work—perhaps only in accordance with Board-approved budgetary items and only up to a maximum amount (with a higher amount requiring a secondary organizational approval).
  • Which other members or service providers have access to which information? Associations with broad member insight into operations will need to prepare reports to ensure that membership remains informed about the association’s financial health. Associations that work with an association management company will need to establish rules within their systems and financial institutions to define which individual(s) at the association management company are allowed to do what on behalf of the association.
  • How does the association do its budgeting? Forecasting is one step in a broader budgeting process. Associations should define how and when forecasts are created, how frequently they are reviewed, and when budgets are reviewed and approved, i.e. monthly, quarterly, or annually. The Financial Control Manual should also establish if and when anyone within the organization is authorized to spend any money that has not been previously budgeted. For example, should a President or Chair be allowed to spend $500 on something related to a group’s overall mission, or should the Board first be consulted and the budget amended?
  • How are the association’s books maintained and reviewed? Associations should have established processes for keeping and reviewing financial statements. While the AMS may automate most invoice issuance and collection of funds, there should be independent review of an association’s finances to ensure not only that there is not fraud, but also that current operations are meeting expectations and that the organization’s future looks sustainable. Furthermore, the manual should establish parameters for when and how the budget can be amended.

Step 4: Launching and maintaining the association

Launching an association should be part of a well-defined strategy for how the organization will become successful and accomplish its long-term objectives. Plan for subsequent successes, announcements, or releases that will follow the organization’s launch to create a cycle of accomplishment in the following ways:

  • Execution Strategy – While this has been discussed throughout the document, there needs to be an understanding of the organization’s roadmap (e.g. when specs or updates will be released). This can also include the target date to add new members, when to spin up new objectives, etc.
  • Marketing / Promotion Roadmap – The organization must have a plan to demonstrate to the industry that progress is being made. This includes publicity, but it needs to be meaningful publicity that revolves around actual, relevant accomplishments.
  • Operational Checkpoints – This is the notion that an association’s leadership needs to adapt to what is currently evolving in the association. A strategy and roadmap are great, but a number of factors can lead responsible leadership to pivot, like new industry developments, new technologies, financial difficulty (or being flush with cash), etc.

The launch process needs to be a component of the overall strategy for the organization’s ongoing successful initiatives. The launch does not stop on launch day; it is a constant process of continuous output and evolving strategies.


Setting up, launching, and running a new technical association will involve extensive planning and forethought. From analyzing existing technologies to setting up financial controls and launching the organization, this article has aimed to provide insights that can guide a new organization’s formation and prevent any oversights or snags.

An association management company can help a new organization navigate the countless details that inevitably arise during this process. Alliances Management is a strategic consulting company that specializes in managing international technical associations.

Ted Archer, COO
Frankie Commans Jr., IT Manager
Danielle Mattison, Technical Writer
Julie Peterson, Director of Legal Operations


Contact Alliances Management for more information.




1 How Associations Power America. The Power of A & ASAE.  Accessed 2 April 2020.

Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 8 – What Not to Do

What Not to Do When Working from Home

Mistakes we’ve witnessed and how to avoid them

Over the past seven posts in our Coronavirus & Working from Home series, we’ve shared our insights for effectively working from home, covering childcare, technology, security, routines, flexibility, and distractions. As many of us try to cope with working remotely for the first time, however, and despite these best practices, the reality is that mistakes will be made.

Over the years we’ve worked with a lot of other companies whose employees also work from home. For this post, we asked Alliances Management staff to share the most glaring blunders they’ve ever seen or heard about.

Here are some final recommendations in this series based on the pitfalls we’ve witnessed over the years.

Unintentional video conferencing

Be careful not to hit the “share video” button when you just woke up to make that 5 a.m. call or just came inside from a sweaty run. If you’re using a new application for a call, show up several minutes early to the meeting and get familiar with the settings so your disheveled face doesn’t accidentally show up on everyone’s screens. A sliding webcam cover is another way to ensure you’re only on video when you want to be.

Pro tip: if you use Zoom for virtual meetings and want to use the video feature but aren’t looking your best, there’s a “Touch Up My Appearance” filter to help you look more polished even if you’re still in your pajamas.

Avoid awkward virtual meetings

  • If you just woke up, speak to someone for at least 5 minutes before opening a call. Others can tell when you haven’t shaken off that “just woke up” voice.
  • Make sure your Bluetooth is disconnected if you are using your phone, so that when your spouse leaves to take the kids to school, the car does not pick up the conversation, so that they can hear your meeting and you can’t.
  • Don’t share your screen until you’re absolutely ready—participants may learn way more than they wanted to about you. On a related note, don’t multitask when you’re sharing your screen, or people will see your email, Facebook feed, and more. Chat applications like Skype often have “Do Not Disturb” features you should turn on when you’re presenting so you don’t receive notifications, and collaboration software like Microsoft Teams allows you share only what you choose to.
  • Get used the fact that there will always be technical issues. The trick is being prepared to deal with them.
  • If you’re not a techie (and even if you are), learn how to check and adjust your mic. You don’t want to be “that” person who never said a word on the call because you couldn’t figure out how to get your mic working.
  • When there’s an echo on the call and you’re certain it’s one of the other 20 callers, check it out and mute your own microphone. Most likely, it’s you!
  • Make sure your room is lit when you do a video chat. It’s creepy if you’re totally in the dark.
  • Always double check to make sure you actually hit the “mute” button; otherwise, your sneaky bathroom breaks won’t be so sneaky, and everyone will overhear you shouting at your kids to shush. If your connection is wonky and you think you dropped a call, check again before you start swearing about your internet provider. Your coworkers can often still hear you, even if you can’t hear them.
  • It’s also important to make sure that you are NOT on mute when you’re wondering why no one is responding to your very valid points.

When kids, pets, and significant others are your coworkers

  • Make sure to discuss with your significant other that the timing of your daughter’s birthday party—with her 15+ friends—doesn’t start until after your last call of the day (or that they don’t play pin the tail on the unicorn just outside your office window).
  • Be sure your significant other uses her quiet voice when singing “Let It Go” in the shower after her mid-morning workout.
  • Teach your children to not use the bathroom right outside your office during morning calls, or at the very least, to shut the door.
  • Always close your laptop if you’re leaving your desk, even if it’s just to get a drink in the next room. Guess who loves to hang out on your warm keyboard deleting all your email? Your roommate’s cat.
  • If your daughter has a habit of bursting into your office to ask for something exactly at the moment that you unmute yourself, a lock on your office door might be appropriate.

A Few Final Recommendations

  • Always set two alarms. It’s easy to take it too easy in the morning since you’re already at work.
  • Don’t sit hunched over your computer on your couch all day long; your health and productivity will suffer.
    ○ Change up where you’re working. A huge benefit of being at home is being able to change up your environment when you’re feeling stagnant. If it’s warm, sit on the porch outside if you’ve got one.
    ○ Take breaks often, walk a little and stretch.
    ○ Stand up when you’re working if you can. Try setting an alarm on your phone to help you get into a standing/sitting routine–30 minutes standing and 10 minutes sitting works for us.
  • Review your chat messages (e.g. on Skype) before you hit “send”.
  • Learn the right acronyms for emojis before you hit “send” in Skype 😉.
  • In the absence of a physical workspace where you can chat a bit and catch up with your coworkers’ lives, set up a virtual “watercooler” group to share pictures and goings-on so you don’t feel too isolated from your colleagues.

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]

Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 7 – Security

Ensuring the Security of Data & Devices: Protecting Company and Client Information

Even in normal times, companies that allow their employees to work remotely should perform risk assessments of their remote workers’ computing setups, as this is essential to protect company and client information. For companies without such processes in place, now is a good time to implement them.

As general guidance, companies should consider the following:

  • Agreed security measures and tips should be incorporated into a company’s official employee and cybersecurity policies.
  • Dedicated training sessions should be held for new staff.
  • Companywide security awareness trainings should be scheduled, especially when companies update their security policies.
  • Newly remote workers should be given a quick refresher course about how the company’s official cybersecurity policies translate into a remote environment.

Secure devices

Companies’ IT and security managers should establish clear policies about how employees should connect to the company’s systems (and specifically to which parts of the systems depending on the level of sensitivity of the data). This policy should define which devices are allowed to access which systems and information. It is usually best for employees to use company-issued equipment only, whenever possible, be it laptops or wireless devices, for the following reasons:

  • As they will have configured it by themselves, IT personnel will be able to better manage and monitor company-issued equipment.
  • Security protocols enforced by professional software and technology are typically stronger than what is usually installed on personal devices — it’s best to use evaluated and certified tools such as encryption software, antivirus software and firewalls.
  • It is probably not a good idea to use the same computer that the kids use to play online games.

Once you’re working on an approved device, consider the following security issues and best practices.

Digital security while working remotely

  • Avoid public Wi-Fi; if necessary, use personal hotspots or some way to encrypt your web connection, for example use a VPN IPsec solution or activate point-to-point encryption on your home box.
  • Keep work data on work computers, as opposed to transferring data via USB drives or Bluetooth from or to other personal devices, typically for using a home printer or any other practical reason.
  • Use secured online backup systems (with proper encryption activated), as opposed to using your own local backup disk or non-controlled online solution.
  • Encrypt any sensitive data sent through emails or stored on your device. Many user-friendly tools exist for this.
  • Do not use random thumb drives, but rather, dedicated professional USB drives with proper labels, for any sensitive data transfers between computers.
  • Install security software and ensure software updates and operating system updates are turned on.
  • Use Virtual environment and/or VPN IPsec solution to access the company network.
  • Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication for enhanced protection.

Password security

Many employees take the easy route when it comes to defining passwords.  They want something that is easy to remember, so they select passwords that are simpler and apply them to numerous systems.  IT departments should, rather, insist that for all company hardware and online access, staff adhere to a well-defined and strong password policy. The following are considered best practices for passwords:

  • Never write down your passwords. If passwords must be written down, then they must be secured in a safe or a locked file cabinet.
  • Never send a password through a non-encrypted email or messaging platform (e.g. Skype).
  • Never include a password in a non-encrypted document.
  • Never tell anyone your password.
  • Never hint at the format of your password.
  • Never use the “Remember Password” feature of applications like web browsers and email clients.
  • Report any suspicion of your password being compromised to your company’s IT and security managers.
  • Only change your password if your company’s IT department explicitly instructs you to do so. Beware of emails asking you to enter or change your password, even if they look official.
  • Be aware of anyone who can see you type your password.

Physical security while working remotely

Workers who print documents or possess other confidential client information should take additional steps to physically secure that information in their homes:

  • Lock your doors as soon as you leave your work area.
  • Store any printed documents in a lockable filing cabinet.
  • Equip your home office with a cross-cut paper shredder (at least ‘DIN3’ compliant) to destroy any confidential printed information as soon as it can be disposed of.
  • When traveling, always take your computer with you and never leave it alone such as in your car while going shopping.

Finally, social engineering is a particular risk that could give rise to successful attacks from hackers if employees are not properly warned. It consists of luring unsuspecting workers into retrieving confidential data from them. In order to avoid this, proper training of remote workers about such techniques (e.g. phishing) and ways to avoid being tricked should be a key facet of your company’s overall security practices. It will also allow them to be conscious of security risks and to take ownership of the more global security measures enforced by the company to apply them in the best way possible.

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]

Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 6 – Staying on Task

Working from Home — Staying on Task & Being Productive

“I could not do that,” many tell me after learning that I work from home. Some fear they would get distracted by that next load of laundry (“I’ll just get it started”), which leads to discovering the handle to the cabinet needs adjusting (“This will just take 5 minutes”), which leads to ordering a replacement handle online (“Glad to have this quick task taken care of!”), and the next thing you know, little by little, a chunk of your work day is gone and your work to-do list remains. It’s like an adult version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”

On balance, one of the biggest perks of working from home is the freedom to manage your own time as you see fit. But working from home doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you let yourself get too distracted by the little things around your home, you may find it difficult to be productive. So how can you ensure that starting a load of laundry (a 5-minute task) doesn’t turn into a compulsion to then fold it all and put it away (a 30-minute task)?


I find that you are more likely to keep doing the thing you are already doing. Leverage inertia by starting your day with work tasks no matter how much needs to be done around your home (see Part 5 of our series for tips on getting your day started). If you don’t start the laundry at all, you’re less likely to get sucked into the related follow-on tasks around your house. Additionally, if you start your day with your work to-do list, without many of the typical office distractions, you may become engrossed in a project and be surprised to look up and find that you’re able to finish in record time.


If you are new to working from home and you do not already have a dedicated office space, try to avoid working in the most distracting part of your house. If your kitchen has a stack of papers you’ve been meaning to go through, consider not sitting at the kitchen table so that it doesn’t feel like the pile of papers is staring at you.

Airplane Mode

Whereas an office colleague could previously stop by in person with a “quick question,” you may see that these “quick questions” are migrating over to your emails or chat platforms instead. The dinging of new email and chat message notifications may be more distracting than usual. In the physical office, you might close your door to shut out those distractions. In this remote world, consider incorporating the door-shutting equivalents: “Airplane Mode” or “Do not Disturb.”

And let’s be honest, the internet – available to you whether you are at home or at an office – is one of the deepest distraction rabbit holes there will ever be. We live in a world where you can google anything at any time, and it can be easy to lose yourself mindlessly researching whatever happened to that friend who moved away in 8th grade. Switching your computer to airplane mode is like a virtual locked door that prevents those distractions from getting to you in the first place. And if you’re already in airplane mode, the act of moving your mouse cursor over to the button to turn airplane mode off may be enough to stop you from going down that rabbit hole to begin with. There are more sophisticated tools available as well. For example, StayFocusd and WasteNoTime are some popular Chrome extensions that actually track and/or limit the amount of time you can spend on certain sites and will block you from accessing sites that may challenge your self-control more than others.

Don’t hesitate to use these tools to block out digital distractions for a period of time so you can focus on a work task. But, as always, communication is key. If you are going on airplane mode, let relevant colleagues know so they aren’t left hanging wondering why you aren’t responding to their urgent need (“Hey, I need to focus on finishing this project. I am going on airplane mode, but I’ll be back in an hour.”).

Long-Term Projects & Discipline

Each day, once your list of immediate tasks is taken care of, it can be tempting to decide that tomorrow is a better time to start on that long-term project. Starting is often the hardest part. There may not be enough time to finish the project today, but if you get it started, you’re more likely to see real progress tomorrow. No doubt this requires discipline but will help tremendously in moving projects to completion.

Be a Leader

Use this time to shine in your newfound workspace. When the face-to-face brainstorming sessions are replaced with faceless conference calls, it can feel difficult to be productive, particularly on collaborative projects. Demonstrate leadership by offering a strawman proposal to get projects moving. Sitting in a vacuum in your remote workspace, it is often much easier to tweak or refine a concrete proposal than it will be to generate something entirely new. Be the leader and move things along by offering the initial strawman proposal that enables your colleagues to better do their jobs as well.

Keep an eye out for our next post where we’ll take a more in-depth look at the security-related implications of transitioning the workforce to home offices. Now get back to work.

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]

Coronavirus & Working from Home: Part 5 – Creating and Maintaining a Routine

Creating and Maintaining a Routine

An Employee’s Guide to Maximizing Work-from-Home Productivity

COVID-19 is creating a new frontier, with mass closures, cities on lockdown and travel bans on a global scale.  Each day is starting to feel more like Groundhog Day.  You may now find yourself working remotely, possibly for the first time and foreseeable future.  Whether this is new to you or not, you may be in for a bigger catch:  Your spouse is home, your kids are home and your pets are under the impression that it’s still the weekend.  How do you manage work productivity given the changes and distractions?

As a telecommuter for the last 13 years, with young children and a spouse that has an irregular military work schedule, I have often found myself working through important projects and conference calls while my spouse and children have been home.  While it may seem like a bonus day off to them, it’s still work as usual for me.  Creating and maintaining a routine has helped me get focused and down to work, so the chaos around does not distract or tempt me.

Loss of Boundaries

A traditional office setting creates natural work boundaries.  During the time spent within the office walls, you are open to assignments, discussions with colleagues and general work activities.  When you leave the office, your workday comes to a close and you are able to dedicate your time to personal matters.

The same connected world that makes remote work possible can blur the boundaries between work and personal.  At one end of the spectrum is the prospect of a never-ending workday; at the other, homelife can prevent you from finding quiet, space and uninterrupted time.  Routine can help establish boundaries while maintaining some separation and sanity in the process.

Where to Start

In general, you likely start your day with some combination of helping family members get ready and off to school or work, getting yourself ready for work, and then actually going to work.  With many of us no longer leaving the house, these routines may be lost.  Here are some tips for creating a routine to focus your work energy and improve your ultimate productivity:

  1. Start with an activity to signal to yourself (and others) that you are beginning your workday. Maybe you still get dressed in something beyond loungewear, or maybe it’s completing a morning workout, walking the dog or simply pouring that first cup of coffee.  Whatever it is, it should be something that works for you and gets your mindset ready to say “goodbye” to the family and transition to work-mode.
  2. Head to your workspace. If you have a home office, this is simple.  If you do not, finding that physical separation is sometimes easier said than done.  Any space will do as long as it has the technical requirements (desk, computer, internet access and preferably a comfortable chair) as well as the mental requirements (quiet, non-distracting and ideally, a door).  If you find yourself needing to work remotely with young children and no other adult support, I suggest waking up early or focusing critical work during naptimes or after your children’s bedtime.  In a pinch, I’ve setup a movie or game and forged ahead.  It’s never easy and not ideal, but again, can be manageable if needed.
  3. Map out your day. Without an office setting, you may not be receiving the assignments or direction you typically rely on to carry out your day.  Working remotely requires a certain amount of self-motivation, direction and autonomy.  To maximize productivity and my momentum through the day, I start each morning by reviewing my calendar, skimming my email inbox and creating a checklist specific for that day.  This way, I can plan my schedule around any conference calls and work efficiently in the time I have between.  While my email inbox will certainly add to my daily to-do list, I always have recurring projects and tasks.  I have found that the latter are best managed (and remembered) through a checklist app, accessible from any connected device.  My app of choice is ToodleDo, but there are many available.
  4. Schedule time for breaks, lunch and especially an end to the workday. Without the “water cooler” in the office or casual conversation that starts in passing, breaks may not naturally occur when working remotely.  However, they are needed for self-care, to mentally recharge and avoid burning out from a never-ending workday.  It’s also a great way to take advantage of the fact that your family is just a room or two away and find some time to connect (or help).  Then, at either the end-time set by your employer or the completion of your checklist, leave your workspace behind for the day and mentally unplug.

Kids need a Routine Too!

If you are finding yourself working remotely with kids that are out of school, create a routine for them as well.  Children need and crave structure.  Not only does it help them to understand what is happening next and what you expect from them, but it provides them with a sense of security.

Considering the age gap of my own children, I’m finding myself in the somewhat new territory of working remotely while potentially running a homeschool and preschool of sorts for my 11 and 3-year-old.  To get us all ready, we spent some time creating a schedule together for the upcoming weeks.  Doing it together helped them to understand what we are going to do (and why) and set some expectations and ground rules.  Including them in the process also allowed them to have some ownership and control.  As a starting point, we used the excellent schedule resource provided here, but in all honesty, the next few weeks will be a combination of the schedule and a free-for-all.

To some extent, we are all dipping our toes in uncharted waters.  Whatever your circumstances, a routine will help.  Hopefully, the experience and knowledge we’ve acquired over the years at Alliances Management will help you navigate these new times and offer some relief, clarity for moving forward and, at a minimum, knowledge that you are not alone.

[About this Series: Since its inception in 2006, Alliances Management ( has operated as a 100% virtual, distributed workforce; today its staff members work in a dozen U.S. states, Europe, and the Philippines.  In light of employers reconsidering face-to-face work because of the proliferation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we decided to write a multi-part series to share some of our thoughts and best practices about remote work. Read the entire series here.]