Zoom buys Five9 in $14.7 billion deal to prepare for a post-pandemic world

New York/Hong Kong (CNN Business)Zoom, the video-conferencing platform that became hugely popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, is spending a whopping $14.7 billion on cloud-based software company Five9 to boost its appeal with business clients.

Zoom (ZM) announced the acquisition Sunday night. In a statement, it said the move will “help enhance Zoom’s presence with enterprise customers and allow it to accelerate its long-term growth opportunity.”
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It’s called Zoom fatigue and here’s how to relieve it

Are virtual meeting platforms the new occupational hazard?

Whether it’s one too many virtual happy hours after work – meant to foster coworker camaraderie, or the day-after-day grind of back-to-back virtual meetings – it’s hard to find someone, anyone who hasn’t experienced “Zoom fatigue.”

There are many ways to manage the stress of virtual meeting platforms, and using all the tools available – email, texting, phone calls and Zoom – to communicate with one another is a good place to start.

“We’re trying to create [the personal] connection and Zoom is a tool, not a substitute for live human interaction,” said Dee Yingst, chief human resources officer at Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg.

Yingst said it’s important not to assume every meeting or interaction has to be conducted over Zoom – after all, there’s always email or a telephone call.

“Keep Zoom as part of the kit, rather than the go-to resource for everything. Find those times when you pick up the phone and go old-school,” she said.

Mixing up communications can be a great way to reduce work-related stresses. Using Zoom meetings appropriately, such as for meetings where it makes the most sense, also lessens the potential for virtual meeting fatigue or burnout.

“If a meeting could have been [accomplished in] an email, don’t make it a Zoom meeting because you’re trying to make up for not being in person,” Yingst said.

If hosting a meeting, try not to take the full time you’ve scheduled. Wrapping up a meeting even five minutes before the allotted time, allows attendants to catch their breath and take a short break before the next activity.

“With Zoom meetings we find we can stack them up,” which can become counter-productive, said Kate Arrington, professor of psychology and associate director of the Institute for Data, Intelligent Systems, and Computation at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

While Zoom happy hour events or other casual meet-ups can bring some relief to a workday, Yingst isn’t a fan, especially after a long day of virtual meetings.

“Resist the urge,” she said. “It’s just another meeting with cocktails. It makes the problem worse.”

It’s OK to hide

Aside from reducing the number of meetings per day, using techniques to be engaged but not “on” a virtual call can help alleviate Zoom fatigue.

Arrington suggests selecting “hide myself” once you join a meeting.

This feature allows you to not see yourself on the call, while keeping your video feed available to other meeting participants. They can still see you, but you can’t see yourself.

“Once you’ve checked that your lighting and background is curated, get rid of the self image, it takes away the tendency to watch ourselves, which we would never do in a regular in person meeting,” she said.
This simple act can dramatically reduce Zoom fatigue, as well as anxiety and stress over the common response of feeling “watched,” Arrington said.
“It’s an easy way to save some of the mental effort that goes into Zoom,” she said.

In addition to “hide myself” try switching the screen to speaker view, rather than having a gallery view – to avoid the “Brady Bunch” squares that can crowd a screen and become tiring to participants.

“Zoom fatigue is a new word for us, but fatigue in the workplace is not new,” said Tina Hasselbusch, owner of Social T Marketing & PR in Hellertown. When not hosting a call she will often turn the video camera off entirely when appropriate.

Her caveats include informing the meeting host in advance, and letting call participants know in the chat feature she is there, but opting not to have the video on during the call.

Hasselbusch plans her week and meetings in advance, which makes a big difference in reducing Zoom fatigue.

Avoid multitasking

Arrington said fatigue with any virtual meeting platform boils down to two components. The first is “mind wandering” or having trouble remaining engaged in the call. “The exhaustion after a meeting or a series of meetings is both mental and physical.”

The second component is the tendency to multitask during Zoom calls – whether it’s related to the call or not. Checking email or other digital devices while being on a meeting call can increase the load and demands on memory. Multitasking taxes our intellectual and our mental systems, which can ultimately make our participation less productive or effective.

Fold in the subtle timing delay in transmission processing – so slight it may not be noticeable to the human eye – and Zoom fatigue may become more likely.

“The timing is off. The non-verbal cues may be missing, altered or jittered… because it’s not as smooth as it would normally be,” she said, making the interaction even more tiring.

Hasselbusch said the transition to remote working has been huge, especially in hiring and onboarding new employees where you may not have in person contact to begin the working relationship

Work-from-home scenarios create a new level of cyber security risk

Is your business information secure? 

Now that many employees are out of the office and working from home cyber security takes on a new dimension with a workforce environment never before imagined.

“On the one hand it’s great we have all the technology and capability to do this, [because] no one planned for this,” said Daniel P. Lopresti, professor of computer science and engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

While IT professionals know the domain of the businesses they need to protect – the physical and cyber boundary around it, they and can take measures to make sure security is in place.

Remote access to data and information adds another layer of complexity to protecting sensitive information accessed outside of the workplace physical and cyber campus footprint.

 “We’re in a wild, wild west world right now,” Lopresti said.

Since quickly deploying a remote workforce employers need to plan and adjust for how the work-from-home landscape creates new challenges for IT professionals.

“This exposes tremendous potential for risk in the cyber realm,” Lopresti said.

According to the CPA Practice Advisor website “remote desktop protocol” or RDP hacks are up a whopping 330 percent since coronavirus shutdowns in March. Lopresti recommends minimizing that potential for data and information hacks by buying a new computer or having the employer buy or provide a work-dedicated device. 

Keep the company work on a separate laptop or computer from personal or children’s school activities, and be aware of the vulnerabilities exposed on video conference and virtual sharing platforms and applications such as Zoom Bombing. Zoom Bombing refers to unwanted and disruptive participation in Zoom calls by those not invited to the call.

The Zoom hack that leaked data from an estimated half million users, illustrated the weaknesses in the platform’s security, he said. 

Beyond use, passwords are a critical piece in protecting information, and not just on laptops, tablets or cell phones. Lopresti said change the default password, and make new passwords on home network and WiFi connections regularly to prevent security threats while working remotely.

“At home the user is responsible for the home network such as changing passwords regularly…because those can be compromised, too,” he said.

And powering devices down at the end of the work day is among the simplest solutions to foil hackers.  “Shut the computer down every night…that reduces the risk. A machine that is shut down can’t do any damage,” Lopresti said.

Know the risks

Education is among the most important tools in the cyber security kit, according to Sondra Lorino, president and owner of Parallel Edge, Inc., based in Philadelphia. With clients in the Lehigh Valley, she said educating clients about cyber security is paramount to protecting, their data regardless of whether the job takes place in the office, or in a remote home office set up.

“Especially right now employees are more vulnerable,” she said.

Whether a remote worker is sharing a computer with another family or household member or have “children running around,” remote employees need to be savvy about scams or emails while using their home equipment on company time. [An] employee is the main way hackers get into a system,” she said.

Which comes back to educating employees about their cyber security hygiene. Lorino said about 99 percent of security breaches happen – not because a hacker figured out the way in, but because an employee inadvertently shared access by providing information.

“They [employees] are the first line of defense,” she said.

Older equipment, along with outdated or older software versions for virus protection, ups the ante for security breaches. By replacing older equipment, updating software and making sure security patches are consistently loaded businesses can minimize the cyber risks to their data and information while employees are working remotely. 

Add in multi-factor software authentication – where layers of protection are in place and the security gets tighter around sensitive digital material.

“Multi-factor authentication on Office 365 and other apps that allow it, [means] if you do get hacked and someone gets your password for Office 365 or Google apps, they need the next level [advance],” Lorino said.

This kind of protection makes it harder for hackers to navigate and strike gold by successfully entering a system.

Secure Virtual Private Networks or VPNs are mainly used to access remote computers and have multi-factor or dual factor authentication, Lorino said. She stressed authenticating users with appropriate software or apps is a key to better cyber security from remote offices, or when accessing information or data on a server from remote locations.

While phishing and ransomware attacks are higher since coronavirus shutdowns, there are lots of ways to minimize the risk for remote workers and their employers.

Lorino expects more businesses will make use of Cloud services and software programs like Office 365, a subscription service offered by Microsoft where documents will be stored, and employees can share, access and collaborate on projects.

“Right now it’s pretty expensive to put a server or workstation [in the Cloud], but I think those prices will start coming down, and we’ll start to see more of that,” Lorino said.

Work in the cloud

Another option is to log into a workstation that is in the Cloud, while using monitors as a window into the workstation there. “It’s more secure for a remote workforce because you have more control over that environment,” she said.

Concerns about current antivirus software and regular backup maintenance – that may be unknown on a home or remote system setup – can be eliminated in the Cloud, where the employer has control over those elements. 

“I think more and more people will operate that way,” she said. “Its new technology and not a lot of people are using it yet.”

Because companies are seeing the value of hybrid and remote work options for their employees, Lopresti expects the work from home movement will continue well into a post Covid-19 world. 

“These safe and secure practices in home work environments have to become part of our everyday life, because [work] has changed forever,” Lopresti said.

Workable hybrid environments and AI will play key parts higher education’s future

The remote learning offered by colleges and universities across the country this fall likely bears little resemblance to what was happening last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic forced everything to shut down, according to technology experts in eastern and central Pennsylvania. For starters, they say, expect a lot more effort put into engagement

“The initial pivot to distance learning was focused on ‘something is better than nothing.’ Now, having spent time using these platforms, students and instructors will start to use them to their full potential – not just as a video conferencing solution,” says Clinton Eppleman, team lead, IT professional services, with Camp Hill-based Morefield Communications.

“Many educational institutions either did not have investments or widespread adoption of these systems, so they were forced to pivot and adapt in a short period. Zoom is not classroom management software, but it quickly became the communication tool of choice due to its ease of deployment and use,” he adds.

Morefield Multimedia Systems Engineer Fred Weidemann says that “hybrid environments” are the critical element in what is going on in higher education these days, citing a recent Morefield project where the company helped York College’s MBA program to offer a ‘hyperflex’ attendance policy where students could attend in-person or online at their discretion.

“In the past,” he says, “we have prepared environments for remote learning, and environments for live in-person instruction. It is rare to find technology deployed that handles both models continuously.”

All of the experts agree that educational technology and higher education itself will continue to evolve as a result of the changes sparked by the pandemic.

Chris Howard, manager of advanced technology services at Morefield, sees AI having a role. For example, there could be an archive of questions from students and an AI bot that takes questions from students and provides the relevant answers from that knowledge base, saving the student and the educator time.“

AI is already making changes to things all around us,” he says. “If you have ever ‘chat-ted’ with support or customer service on a website or via a mobile app, chances are you have already interacted with AI. I think we all imagine AI being a robot that talks with us, or does chores for us, but it is really something that is starting a bit smaller.

“How about an AI bot that allows students into the meeting from the waiting room by asking a question or two with answers only known to the student? Or an AI bot that helps transcribe a class from the audio and assists on making good class notes? The amazing thing about AI is that it is always evolving,” he says.

Justin Drabouski, director of managed IT services with Fraser Advanced Information Systems, definitely sees AI making an impact in the educational arena — first by taking on more mundane and repetitive tasks as it has in other industries. “Things like taking attendance,” he says.

“Where I think it is really going to shine is around engagement, where AI can pick up in a two-dimensional environment what we humans would do instinctively if we were all in the same room,” he says, monitoring things like tone of voice, eye movements and facial expressions.

A basic example of what AI could do in an elementary school setting, he says, is mapping a student’s muscle movements as an educator is doing a phonics lesson to see if the child is shaping the mouth correctly to actually replicate the sound the teaching is making. “It could give real-time feedback to the teacher, letting him know ‘am I hitting the mark,’” Drabouski explains.

Or, by monitoring expressions, he continues, an AI might flag the fact that every time a Math professor goes to the board, student engagement starts to drop, Drabousk adds. The AI might automatically try to compensate by increasing the volume of the session or zoom in with the camera. “It might even tell the teacher not to go up to the board as often,” he says. “AI will augment the physical aspect we are lacking in a remote educational environment.

”When it comes to technology, schools have to think about security issues just like any other business, according to David Dooley, president of Whitehall-based EZ Micro Solutions.

“Personal data and intellectual property is worth a lot of money on the dark web,” he says. “Many other industries deal with this more than schools right now, but every-one needs to protect data and schools are a target. Schools should be proactive with their security and because many schools have already been hacked with ransomware.

“This sounds obvious,” he adds, “but unfortunately many schools and companies don’t do this until after a major incident. It costs a lot of money and unfortunately many people need to learn the hard way.”‘Many educational institutions either did not have investments or widespread adoption of these systems, so they were forced to pivot and adapt in a short period.

Are ready for your web job interview?

Now that in-person interviewing has been temporarily removed during COVID19, you may be wondering what is most appealing to companies that are conducting web interviews. 

Here are a few tips and tricks you should consider when you need to break out the laptop and your best virtual “game face” to get that job offer.


  1. Find a quiet, well lit place. Make sure your background is appropriate and not over-elaborate (e.g. in front of a fireplace).
  2. Ensure that your internet connection is strong in the area of the house where you are doing the interview.
  3. Test the web cam! If you have never used a web cam, set up a conversation with a friend or family member. This will ensure audio and connection are good and the presentation is good.
  4. Make sure your device – whether a laptop or a cell phone- is fully charged or plugged in.
  5. Professional attire, although at home, is KEY. You want to dress professionally. Try laying out your clothes the night before your interview to save you some time.
  6. Have a pen, notepad, and copy of your resume on your desk.

Before the interview

  1. Close all other files and web browsing on your laptop to limit distractions. You want to be fully engaged with the hiring manager and/or team.
  2. Make sure you have good posture and test the video one more time.
  3. Ask the interviewer for a phone number where you can reach them if you experience technical difficulties. Ideally, this would be done at least one day in advance.

The interview

  1. When answering or asking questions, you look directly into the camera. If you are looking at the screen it could look like you are not making eye contact.
  2. Be mindful of your posture.
  3. Lean forward a little at times to show engagement.
  4. Make the conversation as natural as possible despite the barrier (aka: physical separation). Have a conversation just like you would in an actual face-to-face interview.
  5. You can have some notes in front of you (off camera) to remind you of critical issues you want to highlight, but do NOT overuse them, or you will look odd on camera.
  6. When responding to questions from the interviewer, nod, and take a second before responding. Just in case the connection is weak, this ensures you don’t end up talking over the interviewer.
  7. Be confident in your ability and don’t get flustered if you’re asked a question that you don’t know. Maintain posture and eye contact.
  8. Express interest in the position and ask for next steps as the interview wraps up.

If Things Go Wrong:

  1. If noises, such as a siren, interrupt your video interview, apologize and ask for a few moments to mute your microphone until the noise has passed.
  2. If someone enters the room unexpectedly (READ: kids or a pet) during the interview, apologize to the interviewer, ask for a few moments, mute your microphone, and turn off your camera. Step away to deal with the interruption.

We are all finding ourselves adapting to this new way of living, so remember that we’re all in the same boat. Overall interviewers should be cognizant of that and understanding if some interruptions do occur. Just do your best to limit those interruptions, put your best foot forward, and be honest. You’ll do great!

Jamie Houvig is managing director of The Denzel Group.

Becoming an ‘app parent’: Tech that can help with family scheduling, chores and more

Parenting is fun and rewarding but also challenging and worrisome. Turns out there’s an app for that.

Parenting apps are nothing new, but instead of focusing on child development and milestones many new apps are geared toward parents. Apps can help parents be more productive, stay organized, keep track of chores and co-parent after a divorce, which may help people feel less stressed.

Nearly half (49%) of millennial parents rely on mobile apps to find information about parenting, according to a 2018 survey from Zero to Three, a national nonprofit focused on early childhood development and well-being.

For some parents a tech-centric approach may be a great fit for their family’s needs. For others this may be too much technology impinging on their parenting.

“The bottom line is every parent is different — just like kids — so what works for one mom may not for another,” said educational psychologist Michele Borba, author of “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.” “The key is to find what meets your needs and then stick with it so it becomes a routine. Then it kicks in as a habit and makes things easier to parent.”


’25th hour of their day’

Families are looking to enhance their parenting with technology tools that will “give them the ’25th hour of their day’ and ways to stay connected with their family, friends and their support structure, be it neighbors or internet-bors,” said Priya Rajendran, co-founder of the S’moresUp app, a family management platform that recently announced a collaboration with BSH, maker of smart appliances from brands including Thermador and Bosch. With the integration of the S’MoresUp app and the Home Connect digital assistant, parents can program appliances to assign chores, such as empty the dishwasher or load the dryer, to specific family members.

Parents are not looking for technology to replace their current methods but to bring automation and consistency to it, Rajendran said.

A recent S’moresUp study of over 600 parents found that over 90% primarily consult their extended family and friends when they run into parenting issues. Few discuss parenting issues with their net-bors (citizens of the internet), but that number is growing, Rajendran said.

Parents can manage complicated family schedules with the schedule and task management tools they use at work, but these tools were developed for work environments and have limitations, Rajendran said.

“The non-tech ways used in the past — charts, boards, etc. — work, but it depends on the parents doing a lot of the heavy-handed work like reminding, tracking, updating and measuring the progress. If parents don’t get the time and energy to follow through, the system breaks,” Rajendran said.

Think of apps as a partner and not as a replacement.

“Apps are here to help the parents offload some of their burdens on reminding, tracking and monitoring,” Rajendran said.

Social distancing due to COVID-19 has changed the way we look at technology and apps, especially as classes for kids are being delivered over Google Classroom and Zoom video conferencing, and apps like FaceTime are being used to stay in touch with friends.

Because of this, it’s “essential to put the technologies that are available to good use,” Rajendran said.

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