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Working from home? Have you considered your ‘tech blind spots’?

Working from home in a small business can be thrilling - it's you proving yourself to the world, working your way.

Working from home? Have you considered your 'tech blind spots'?
Overlooking a few essential tech considerations can lead to a lot of trouble later on. Photo: Getty Images

It can be easy to let yourself get caught up in the excitement of making your own decisions.

However, when it comes to technology, we can often be sidelined by the essential considerations that hadn’t crossed our minds when going into business. 

Together with online telecommunications provider Zadarma, we identify some of the most common ‘tech blind spots’ that internationals encounter while working from home. 

Do you know how safe your online data is? Find out more

Securing your data

Staying safe online and securing your data is essential for anyone wanting to go into business. Fortunately, compared to even 10 years ago, keeping prying eyes away from confidential business data is much easier, even if you are in a place with a reputation for lax cybersecurity and hacking attacks. 

This is partly the fruit of bitter experience. Over the last two decades a number of data leaks, enabled by hackers, have resulted in the details of millions of customers being distributed online. This has included some of their most sensitive information, such as credit card details and medical records – exposing businesses to serious litigation. 

Consequently, the cybersecurity industry increasingly focuses on encryption, meaning that intercepted data is unreadable without the right credentials –hackers and other bad actors will just find a scrambled mess of letters and numbers. 

Therefore, encryption is built into most of the online products you use today, especially those used for business purposes. Email providers such as Gmail provide end-to-end encryption, as well as popular chat products such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. Even services that offer telephony over the internet, such as Zadarma, encrypt phone calls, so nobody can listen in. 

Ensure the online products that you use apply encryption and other security measures – such as two-factor authentication, where you must manually approve logins to services – and you can rest assured that your security needs are met, wherever you are in the world. 

Open access: VoIP technology makes business communication easier than ever. Photo: Getty Images

Keeping track of customers

As a small business operator, keeping track of your customers’ needs used to be quite tricky. Depending on your budget or size, this could depend on paper files, or a small database containing customer information. This wasn’t the most flexible or agile way of tracking customers and led to frustration on both sides. It was especially difficult for internationals, who didn’t have the space or resources to establish complex customer tracking systems. 

In the past decade, the business world has responded to this frustration and business need with the creation of Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) that allow constantly updated records of customer sales and queries to be used when communicating with clients. These database systems also allow outgoing communication to be targeted toward the right consumers, vastly reducing the amount of ‘spam’ customers receive from businesses – something that they are increasingly fed up with.

It’s safe to say that a CRM is now an essential tool for any small business, and one of the few that allow growth beyond a certain scale. There are now CRMs designed for businesses of any size, and there are also CRMs targeted at certain industries. Whatever your needs, there will be something that suits you. You may even like to consider an internet telephony package that comes with a custom CRM built-in, such as that provided by Zadarma

Discover Zadarma’s own custom-built CRM that includes functionality across multiple systems – making assisting and retaining your customers easier than ever

Weathering instability

Up until a few years ago, the measure of how successful a business was included its physical footprint – did it have a shopfront, and how complex were its communications or IT infrastructure?  Small businesses often found it hard to accurately visualize their own success in comparison. 

Recent events have rendered that idea moot. The coronavirus pandemic, overseas conflicts, and economic instability have meant that businesses have had to be flexible to survive. A recent Axios article mentioned earlier found that in some US cities, four out of five physical businesses had closed during the pandemic.

Where businesses have boomed is in the online space instead, as services have arrived to replace physical systems and products with digital equivalents. 

One revolutionary product taking businesses online is internet telephony, known widely as Voice over Internet Protocol, or ‘VoIP’. VoIP technology has meant that the types of phone exchange or ‘PBX’ found at the centre of physical businesses can now be replicated in an online manner – calls can be redirected across town, or across continents to team members. 

This is especially important for internationals, who may be part of remote teams. Also important for internationals is that VoIP  allows for the use of ‘virtual phone numbers’, making setting up phone numbers in different countries incredibly cheap. Internationals going into business can now ensure a global presence, without a massive cost, vastly increasing their customer base.

In 2022, there are a wide variety of VoIP and PBX providers, each offering a wide range of services that mean that those wanting to start a small business no longer need to outlay a significant cost to get started. 

One such provider is Zadarma, whose VoIP and online PBX solutions have worked seamlessly for millions of customers since 2006. They have ensured that businesses have secure, robust fully-featured telephony networks that bring customer data to their fingertips, effortlessly – removing one of the major obstacles for internationals wanting to go into business in 2022. 

Zadarma frees your business from physical networks and international borders, while keeping your data safe – explore solutions that fit your needs today

For members

TECHNOLOGY

12 useful bureaucratic things you can do online in Germany

Germany might be notorious for its paperwork and bureaucratic office wait times, but there are increasingly more things you can take care of from the comfort of your home.

12 useful bureaucratic things you can do online in Germany
Photo: DPA

Moving to Germany from a country that has fully embraced the digital age can mean being surprised at having to buy a stamp instead of filling out an online form. Many have lamented Germany’s less than fast transition onto the online world. 

Partly due to Covid-19 contact restrictions that have been in place in recent months, more and more things in Germany have now gone online and many hope that Germany is, as one Twitter user joked, ‘’slowly approaching the technical level of 1996″ and now entering the 21st century.

READ ALSO: How the pandemic is bringing German bureaucracy out of the 1980s

Before the pandemic, many German offices (including the Bundestag) used fax machines. Photo: DPA

Coronavirus specific:

Ummeldung

Obtaining a document that proves you have a residence in Germany is often the first step to registering for multiple other essential services.

Prior to the crisis, this meant obtaining an appointment and waiting in line. Due to the pandemic, you can now register by post or email. 

However, you can only do this if you have previously registered, and so it only applies to those changing their address – an Ummeldung.

You can email or mail the documents necessary to the Burgeramt in your new district, and they will take a few weeks or days to reply.

Registration of entry into Germany

Those travelling back into Germany from a risk area have to register upon entry to ensure proper quarantine regulations are upheld. Due to the pandemic, this process can be done online via a form found here.

Opening a bank account

Some banks, such as N26, let you open a bank account entirely online. You may be required to verify your identity, which you can also do online via webcam or email verification code.

Benefits

Elterngeld

If you and your partner recently welcomed a baby, you might be able to receive parental allowance (Elterngeld) which is a benefit given to all new parents to subside potential loss of earnings caused by the birth of a new child.

The benefit is shared between parents to give both the time to spend time with a newborn. This can now for the first time be done online, by following this form here.

Kindergeld

On the same note it is also now possible to apply for Kindergeld via an online form. Kindergeld is a monthly benefit given to all parents in Germany, to ensure that their basic needs are met.

Both Kindergeld and Elterngeld can now be filled out in one document – a Kombi-Antrag online – although they must still be printed out, signed and sent to the relevant office. 

READ ALSO: From Kindergeld to tax benefits: What changes for families in Germany in 2021

Arbeitslosengeld 

Most people are entitled to Arbeitslosengeld if they have lost their job, and also in some cases if they have quit and are on the lookout for a new position.

An important part of receiving this unemployment benefit is registering in time (usually around three months) which you can do online here. It is important to note however, that you still have to book an appointment at your local office to finish the process.

BAföG

BAföG provides crucial financial support to students during their studies. Whilst foreign students are only eligible subject to certain requirements, the application process can be done online by following this link.

READ ALSO: How to finance your master’s studies in Germany as an international student

Medical

Prescriptions via QR code

From July 1st, patients will receive their prescription from their doctor via QR code and app and transmit it to the pharmacy. The pharmacy can then inform the patient whether the preparation is in stock or when it will be ready for collection. 

This model is to be mandatory for people with statutory health insurance as early as 2022, and is set to completely replace the paper prescription.

Sick notes submitted electronically to health insurance

Until now, employees had to submit their sick note (Krankenschein) to the insurer themselves when they called in sick at work.

An ‘Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung’, or sick note, which until now the employee submits directly to their employer after receiving it from a doctor. Photo: DPA

As of January, this can be done electronically: the doctor will then send the so-called eAU (electronic certificate of incapacity for work) directly to the insurer. However, the patient will still receive a paper certificate which they can pass on to their employer.

From 2022, the employer will also be able to retrieve the sickness notification directly from the health insurance company.

READ ALSO: How Germany plans to ditch paper sick notes for digital ones

Tax

Register and pay your TV tax

Although the majority may not enjoy having to pay TV tax monthly (especially if they don’t have or use a TV) you can make the process less painful by now registering your flat and setting up a payment method online.

Apply for a tax number

Your tax number, or Steuernummer can also be collected online. It is useful primarily for freelancers and businesses. The form can be filled out online and submitted to the Finanzamt, or tax office. You can find help filling out the form in English here. If you own a business, and it moves to a different Finanzamt’s area, your tax number will also change. 

File taxes

Again, especially relevant for freelancers or those self-employed, you can use ELSTER, an online tax office system designed by the Budeszentralamt fur Steuern, or the Central Tax Office to submit your tax returns online.

The first step is to create an account and either choose to auto-fill in the form or fill it in yourself. You will receive a digital signature and be able to fill out your forms and submit them online.

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