Tips to Maximize Online Learning

Tips to Maximize Online Learning

Tips to MAximize Online Learning

In this time of Social Distancing, you may be contemplating how to obtain your CEUs. There are many organizations offering Webinar training. Your ISA Chapters, green industry associations, and other training companies are offering classes online.
Webinars are a great way to educate yourself and earn CEUs.

They are usually done with a power point and a chatroom for you to ask questions. There is an instructor that you listen to but do not see. Usually the attendees are muted so as not to interrupt the speaker and disrupt the flow of the webinar. These classes usually are finished in one to two hours.

Meetings, as compared to Webinars, are much more interactive. The instructor has a Power Point presentation and you can see the instructor also. These presentations usually last three to five hours. The attendees are muted, but at certain points in the presentation, the attendees can either ask questions through typing them in the chat room, or unmute their microphone to verbally ask questions. This type of learning is more interactive and social – you are attending with your industry peers and can see all the attendees.

There are benefits to online training: you are in your own home or office setting, you can get a drink when needed, you can stretch your legs by walking around and, the best, you can even attend the workshop in your PJs if you want to. Other benefits include being able to select from a wide range of topics, not having to travel, getting to interact with arborists around the country, and reduced cost since the presenters aren’t having to travel, either!
Here are some rules for being courteous when attending an online meeting:

1)Show up on time. You may not disrupt the presentation by logging in late, but you may miss important information.

2)Keep your microphone muted unless asking a question. In most formats, the person running the meeting has the control to mute all mics and will do so since even the slightest background noise causes significant distraction.

3)Turn off your webcam during the presentation. Nothing is more likely to illicit giggles than to have the presenter turn off their PowerPoint presentation and the software defaults to someone watching (or worse – not watching), unaware that his or her webcam running.

4)Wait your turn. In a live setting, you can see who has a question or when a presenter is ready for an interruption. In webinar, especially when not everyone is on webcam, you may need to rely on cues such as hand-raising icons or questions posted in chats. Some presenters will let you know that there will be breaks for questions.

5)Ask questions concisely. Webinars are focused; be sure your questions are, too. Avoid wasting time in lengthy introductions, and don’t self-promote or spend a lot of time sharing your opinion before asking a question. If you have comments, ask yourself if they will help others before commenting.

6)Don’t use the chat room as your personal water cooler. Just like you would not stand in the back of the room gossiping with someone while a presenter was lecturing, refrain from using the chat room just to socialize.

Even after social distancing restrictions are lifted, online webinars and meetings will continue to be an excellent and affordable way for arborists to learn and to earn CEUs. Check out StreamsideGreen.com for upcoming online training opportunities through a partnership with Victorian Gardens, ArboRisk, and Bandit.

Written by: Margaret Hebert

Written by: Dawn Thierbach

Cash Flow Tips for your Work Comp Policy

Cash Flow Tips for Your Work Comp Policy

Even though the majority of states have recognized arboriculture as an essential service, an obvious concern as to what the future of our economy will look like is growing. According to some of the roundtable discussions mentioned in the TCIA monthly magazine, along with numerous conversations with our clients, we have heard that many tree services are starting to catch up on their work backlogs and have started to experience a decrease in new business calls.

With a decrease in workload, particularly for tree services focused on residential work, managing your cash flow can be a make or break proposition during tough times. Every dollar in and every dollar out should be analyzed. One way to improve cash flow is by really focusing on your worker’s compensation policy.

As most of you know, worker’s compensation companies ask for an estimate of how much payroll you think your company will have throughout the policy period and multiply that estimate by the rate. At the end of the policy year the insurance company will have you complete an audit to verify what the figure actually was. It is difficult to estimate that number exactly, which is why most tree services will either end up owing more premium or being refunded some.

“Pay As You Go” – A “Pay As You Go” plan allows you to pay your worker’s compensation premium based off of your actual payroll for the month prior. Because of the economic impact of COVID-19, many tree services may see lower payroll figures than originally anticipated and you may be paying higher monthly payments than what your actual exposure is for the month.

Lower Payroll – If your worker’s compensation company doesn’t offer “Pay As You Go” and you are experiencing lower payroll, have your insurance agent adjust your overall estimate to lower your monthly payments. Just be careful as payroll may spike due to a large storm season and you could end up owing a large chunk at the final audit.

Verify Most Recent Audit – If you do experience a large audit, make sure to verify everything is correct with your agent. Just last week, I experienced an audit where the worker’s compensation company accidentally counted two employees as officers, leading to a significant increase in payroll. They weren’t trying to overcharge at all, but there was a miscommunication on the way the two employee’s payroll was reported. The mistake led to a $7,000 increase in premium. If everything is correct and you experienced much more payroll than anticipated, ask your insurance company if they will let you break out the amount due into multiple payments. Most companies will work with you, especially in times like these.

Policy Deposit Premium – Another thing to watch out for on your worker’s compensation policy, is the deposit required by the insurance company. Some companies will require a 5-15% deposit that doesn’t go towards your final premium. They do this to ensure there aren’t any issues with the audit at the end of the year as insureds will sometimes not return necessary information. Make sure you ask how big of a deposit your worker’s compensation carrier requires, and check to see if it is required every year or if it is just a one-time deposit required when you first start your policy.

Furloughed Employees and New Class Code – I’ve also heard of several tree services having to temporarily lay off or furlough employees due to their state’s work restrictions or from a slowdown in jobs. The National Council of Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has recognized that the downtime in which employees are not working should not be counted towards your premium based on your tree care operations class code(s). To solve this, NCCI has created a new class code 0012-Paid Furloughed Workers During a Governmental Emergency Order Impacting Employment.

According to the Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau, “If an employer continues to pay furloughed employees their normal wages and keeps separate, accurate and verifiable records, the payroll will not be included for the basis of premium.” Be careful with this as an employee cannot be furloughed for part of the day. If any duties are performed in a day, no division of payroll is acceptable. Also, this class code is only applicable while an emergency order is in effect (I.E. until May 26th, 2020 in Wisconsin). Check with your state’s stay at home order and your insurance agent on how to utilize class codes to help with your worker’s compensation cash flow.

Feel free to reach out to Eric or myself if you have any questions moving forward. As always, stay safe and stay healthy!

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris, CTSP

Marketing During a Pandemic

Marketing During a PAndemic

One of the great American business stories came from a time of widespread uncertainty like we are facing right now. During the Great Depression, Kellog’s, the famous cereal company, doubled their marketing efforts despite the grave financial situation they found themselves in. Most companies at the time were drastically shrinking their marketing budgets to stay afloat, but Kellog’s took the risk to be different and stand out. This strategic move propelled them to record profit increases and positioned themselves at the top of the pre-packaged cereal world where they remain today.

There is no doubt, we are in uncharted territory and in the thick of something that will forever be talked about in history books with today’s pandemic. The reach of the COVID-19 touches every corner of the Earth, and no industry has been spared from its impact, however, now is the time to adjust your messaging to position the company as the go-to tree service in your community.

Here are 3 tips for marketing your business during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Update Customers and Prospects on Your Change in Operations: Share with customers and potential customers that you are still open for business and how you are taking all of the necessary precautions to ensure their safety, as well as the safety of your employees. Email everyone directly, as well as making this message known across your social media platforms and on your website. Inform your current customers how you will be handling proposals and customer contacts going forward. Communicate these safety precautions across other platforms such as Google My Business, Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.

PRO TIP: Making sure your team is sharing the same messaging regarding your updated policies and procedures is essential. Appoint a communications director to relay your message to your crew to ensure they are on the same page. Have this communications director relay exact images and text to be shared.

Don’t Forget Your Social Media: With all that is happening in the world right now, it is understandable if social media is not your company’s top priority. While it may be easy to push it off to the side, remain consistent with your posts. If you have scheduled content for social media, take time to re-evaluate and create content that is relevant to the situation. Make this content easily shareable so your message can be spread. Be aware of heightened emotions and consider the images and language you are using. For example, be cautious when posting photos with large groups and other acts that defy the current regulations. If you are sharing a photo from the past that does display this, such as from a conference you attended or a kid’s climb, make it known in your caption. Remember, if you are sharing any information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensure all of your sources are credible. The last thing you want to do during this time is spread misinformation.

Here are 5 quick and easy posts you can share on your social media accounts.
a. Share how your company is adjusting its policies and procedures as discussed earlier in the article.
b. Take a photo of the essential service your team is providing during this time
c. Highlight a team member with a short video! Introduce them, ask their role at the company and touch on some of the reasons why they became an arborist.
d. Provide quick video updates of behind the scenes fun, creative things that your business and team are doing in quarantine.
e. Keep it light and share the good things happening this month. Good examples of this include Earth Day and Arbor Day.

In this together – Focus on Your Community: The impact the pandemic has is taking tolls on the pillars of our communities. Make a strong effort to help your local restaurants, charitable foundations and other small businesses within your community. Consider hosting a giveaway on social media by teaming up with a local restaurant and purchasing gift cards for the winners. Grabbing take-out from your favorite local restaurant? Highlight them by sharing on your social media platforms. Reach out to the small businesses in your area, what are their immediate concerns and how can your company alleviate some of those fears? Food banks and other local charities are in desperate need of our support. Now more than ever is a great time to make a charitable donation or host a food drive for your local food bank or Feeding America (Of course, make sure that you comply with your current regulations if hosting a food drive). The demand for blood donors is also at an all time high. If you are in a situation where you are able to make a blood donation, check The Red Cross for local blood drives to donate.

Now is not the time to cut back on your marketing efforts. If people do not know that you are still open to do business, will they be calling you for tree work that they need? Of course not. Be like Kellog’s and get creative with more marketing during this time.

If you want specific help with marketing ideas for your company, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today. Together, we can get through this!

Written by: Amanda Eicher

Pandemic Cyber Security

PAndemic Cyber Security

One thing this pandemic is certain to do is change the way we do things going forward. We have seen companies from all industries and sizes adapt the way their employees work to ensure they can stay afloat through this crisis. Perhaps your office employees are working from home with a laptop, or maybe you’ve cut all face to face interactions with clients. Either way, the exposure for cyber risk has already skyrocketed.

We’ve been talking about cyber exposures for a number of years now. Whether it be misinformation, a phishing email coming from your businesses email, or a hacker locking up your network and holding it for ransom, the number of attacks on businesses has grown exponentially.

Below are five quick tips on how you can limit your business’ risk of being victim to an attack:

1) Passwords:
First of all, don’t make your password something along the lines of SeasonYear!, as even I could guess that. Make it something more difficult like best NFL team (Packers), year, exclamation point. That is what I do and it works great (only kidding). In all seriousness, you need to make sure you, and your employees, are using complex passwords for any login that may have personal, company, or client information on it that could be valuable. I suggest using password savers like Roboform or Dashline to make sure passwords are updated and not forgotten. Also try to enable two factor identification as often as possible.

2) Out-Bound Emails
Emails are common places, if not the most common, for an attack to occur. Especially for a business like a tree service. For example, my dad received an email from a tree service in his area whose G-mail account had been hacked. It mentioned the job, which was actually just finished at my dad’s house, and where to send money. The only reason my dad caught it was because the amount was different from what they had originally discussed. Imagine if your email was hacked and clients sent you personal information, banking info, etc. You’d be on the hook for any damages, defense costs, credit monitoring for the client, and much more. Make sure your email is secure and that clients have a clear understanding of what type of things you would or would not ask for via email. And check with your insurance agent to see if you have cyber coverage. If not, I’d strongly recommend it as it is not very expensive and offers high limits!

3) In-Bound Emails
Are your office staff members and employees trained on what to be aware of when receiving emails? Follow these tips to be safe:

A. Make sure you have a good filter for blocking out spam emails. We work closely with an IT security company and we still see some slip through every once in a while.
B. Verify the sender before opening the email, and definitely before opening any attachments!
C. Hover over hyperlinks and make sure the URL matches the source. Look closely for any typos or odd spellings.

4) VPN
If you have employees working from home or working remotely, I encourage you to look into Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s). This would often come into play for anyone working out in the field that may connect to a public network. Employees could stop at a restaurant and connect to their wifi, or go to a conference and work from the hotel. When connecting to a public wifi spot, employees are at risk of connecting to a fraudulent network that imitates the network they think they are connecting to. Employees could also connect to the original network which may have been breached, allowing attackers to obtain information during your employee’s use. Check out VPN’s like ExpressVPN or Surfshark and make sure to consider the number of devices and frequency of use before purchasing.

5)Watch Out for Spoofs
People are desperate for new information right now. We want to know what updates there are regarding COVID19 and how it impacts us and our business. Consider that times like these mean we are most vulnerable to attacks and misinformation. Try to be conscious of where you’re gathering information and make sure it is from credible resources like the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control(CDC). Consider that emails, pop-ups, etc. for “COVID19 Update!” may be click bait and encourage those in your company not to jump to conclusions.

The World Health Organization recently stated they were also in the middle of an ‘Info-demic’ due to the large spread of misinformation regarding COVID19. As the employer, it is your responsibility to provide your employees with the correct information. Utilize resources such as WHO, CDC, TCIA, and ISA, to get relevant information throughout the pandemic. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions and we’ll see what we can do!

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris, CTSP

Maintaining Focus at Work

Maintaining Focus at Work

To say there are some extraordinary distractions going on right now would be an understatement. Whether we’re worried about avoiding coronavirus or getting a job done in time, it is important that all of us remember the dangers of the task at hand.

As you know, one of the main causes for accidents is lack of attention. Below are a few tips to help your employee’s regain maintain their focus at the workplace and ensure they are getting home safe each night.

A Conscious Effort
I hope at this point every company has at least had an organized discussion as to how it will handle the COVID-19 situation. Washing hands, driving personal vehicles (See Eric’s tip on personal vehicles), and minimizing face to face interactions with clients are just a few of the practices we’ve been seeing tree services implement over the last month or so.

The question is, do these changes in the way things are done have an impact on job-site safety? I’d argue that they do. It is more than likely these changes of routine have your employee’s thinking about the likelihood of them contracting the virus while at work. A wandering mind, especially in arboriculture, can have a significant impact on the likelihood of an accident.

Make sure you are continuing to perform your job-site inspections and regular safety meetings ON TOP of the discussions you’re having with regards to COVID-19. Consider how new practices can bring in new distractions, and ask your employees if there is anything they feel uncertain about with the changes. Making a conscious effort to continue a strong safety culture in regards to your actual tree work will go a long way in making sure there isn’t a spike in accidents during this period.

Emphasize Importance of Presence
According to OSHA, the top 4 causes for workplace fatalities are struck bys, caught ins, falls, and electrocutions, all of which are obvious hazards in arboriculture. It is often a split second decision that creates these hazards and it is important to stress being present to your employees while they are on the job.

Encourage your employees to take small breaks more frequently and remind them to be aware of their surroundings. Implement a checklist or a process to make sure employees are following COVID-19 guidelines prior to beginning actual work so they don’t have to multitask. Make sure, as the owner, you’re giving your crews more time to get jobs done and prioritize jobs by importance as much as possible.

Ultimately we want to be able to provide a workplace that is as close to normal so employee’s are able to focus on what is directly in front of them.

Limit Other Distractions
We’re also susceptible to distractions at the job-site outside of COVID-19 concerns. Try to limit some of the following:

1) Unnecessary Noises – It may not be the case for everyone, but foreign noises such as radio, joking around, and cell phones can be distracting to some employees, taking their mind away from what they are working on.

2) Cellphone Use – Many companies will have different standards in terms of allowing employees to use their phones. Emphasize the dangers of distracted driving if you have employees driving personal vehicles that don’t usually drive for your company, and at the very least limit cell phone use to in the vehicles when at the job-site.

3) Stay Organized – If you don’t already have one, create a system to make sure things are staying organized and delegate responsibilities to your employees to make sure their gear is in check.

4) Home Life – Create an open line of communication so employee’s know that home life comes first and you don’t want them to be worried about any issues outside of work while at a job-site.

Given the circumstances, now is a time to boost safety standards even more than before. Do what you can to make your employees feel safe at work and not be worried about COVID-19 while they are up in a bucket or operating a chipper. Limiting outside distractions as much as possible will help keep the employees present and focused on the task in front of them leading to a safer workplace.

If you have any questions on COVID-19 guidelines or concerns as to how this has impacted your business, feel free to reach out to Eric or I and we’ll do our best to help!

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris, CTSP