Tips to use for successful remote meetings 

Compared to in-person meetings, there are some additional factors to consider for your virtual meetings ahead of the call and in the meetings themselves. In this post, we provide tips for both hosts and participants about how to get the best from your remote meetings.   

Online meeting tips for meeting organisers 

Keep them structured 

Make sure an agenda is created and distributed in advance of the meeting, and that it can receive any relevant feedback from participants. Agendas are an important line of defence against digressions during remote meetings; with a concise list of discussion topics and action points you can keep discussions focused and on-topic. During the meeting as well, you should reiterate the agenda to shore up more alignment in the call. Allow for some time to discuss and explore questions and answers so that unanticipated points can be navigated.  

Plan ice breakers 

If your meeting involves engaging with strangers, organising an ice-breaker activity can be a great way to get a rapport going between participants with an activity that allows people to bring themselves out a little during the call. This can set a relaxed and conducive atmosphere to the meeting’s proceedings.  

Appoint a lead or moderator 

Like the orchestrator of a band, a meeting moderator or leader is a specific person who can direct the meeting in a harmonious and skilful way. A meeting leader can take charge of key tasks such as outlining the agenda, keeping discussions in line with a timetable, and ensuring the conversation remains on-topic.  

Provide access links and invitations in advance 

Ensure that instructions to join the meeting are clear and easy to navigate. For a more formal online meeting, issue calendar invitations to your team and create access links using your preferred conference platform. Make sure that everyone can access the platform before the call, it can also be helpful to send out reminders.  

Assign roles 

If there are several presenters and themes, it is a good idea to assign jobs prior to a remote meeting. Who will be the note-taker? Who oversees follow-up? What are the presenters’ names? To avoid any hiccups, be sure that these topics are discussed and actioned beforehand. 

Make sure your platform works properly before the call 

Before the call, test the platform with one or two persons to make sure they all function. When there are numerous callers, this is very crucial as unanticipated access issues can emerge in meetings.  

Stick to a time limit 

Just because everyone is at home doesn’t mean they will all be available after the allotted time. Just as you would do for in-person meetings, observe the hard stop time for virtual meetings to keep them focused, productive, and seamless for yourself and attendees.  

Invite the right people

Keep meeting invitations to those who it will be most relevant for. It’s conceivable that those who don’t take part in a call won’t need to be there later. But just in case, remember to take notes or record calls as records, and to modify your plan as necessary.  

After the meeting, share notes and to-dos. 

Remote meetings can be made more effective and lean by ensuring that actions and notes are well-defined, concise enough and are communicated to the team.  

Organise a central database of knowledge. 

A central database of knowledge can make assimilating and organising meeting materials a synch and can make for a useful one-stop shop for accessing and communicating project information in an agile way.  

Online meeting tips: the attendees 


The effectiveness of an online meeting depends on who participates. Attendees of remote meetings can use the following advice to make sure they are making effective use of their time and contributing appropriately to the meeting: 

Don’t multitask. 

Give the discussion your full attention. It is not just an act of courtesy; a focused attention helps to absorb the meeting in full and to get a feeling for subjects under discussion and the situation.  

If you aren’t talking, put the microphone on mute. 

Whilst the sound of someone’s cat meowing in the background is a lovely thing, it also provokes comments like ‘what type of cat do you have, she’s lovely!’ and the discussion can end up veering off from these kinds of distractions. Take care to keep your mic muted when you are not speaking.  

Turn your camera on. 

Face-to-face communication is a key aspect to building relationships and encouraging effective teamwork. This is possible in large part because of the camera. Ensure that it is switched on! 

Make sure you have the right gear. 

To show oneself in the best possible way, spend money on a high-quality webcam and microphone. Webcams and microphones that come with laptops and PCs are usually functional but are not of the best quality. This can be money well spent, especially if you work with a remote focus.  

Prepare your workspace before the call. 

To concentrate on the conversation, it will help to have a clear and quiet setting. You can also prepare with other measures such as a notepad and pen.  

Keep your voice clear and slow. 

Video conferences frequently have interruptions including technical network glitches that can distort the sound and video quality of calls. If you talk slowly and deliberately, your voice will be heard and understood better. 

Be thorough and descriptive. 

As remote calls have the opportunities and limitations of screen sharing and audio, by being detail-conscious and aware of how your audience may be digesting what you’re presenting, you can tailor your communication to be more detailed and clearer to ensure that everyone is on the same page in the discussion.  

To illustrate your points, share your screen. 

If required, you can screen-share information and documents for more clarity. You’ll save time and screen sharing helps others and yourself to learn more, more quickly.  

Want to capitalise on the potential of your technology? Contact 4TC Today 

4TC take time to understand the daily challenges that your business faces. We then provide cost-effective tech solutions to these issues that will help you save time, protect vital data, and enable you and your staff to be more effective with your time management. Alongside our proactive IT support, we will ensure that your staff are using the technology at their disposal in a way that works for them, whilst making sure that they are educated on how to use it as productively as possible. The right Cloud solution has the power to revolutionise your business forever – utilising your IT to its full potential is essential to guaranteeing that you and your business can thrive and grow into the future. If you would like to find out more on how 4TC Services can provide affordable tech management for your business, drop us an email or call us now for a full demonstration. 

Get more value from Virtual Meetings 

Remote meetings are becoming more frequent and appear to be here to stay in the modern working world. Despite the fears around issues such as home Wi-Fi going down, noises and the impromptu appearance of pets and children in meetings, overall, these fears have not materialised in a way that would make the office an obvious better choice; the office can also feature noise, distractions and technical issues after all. 

In all, it is increasingly clear that virtual meetings can be just as productive, if not more so, than in-person meetings. However, this new format does present new risks too, particularly in relation to preparation and attendance, technical issues and the risk of digressing from the topic at hand.  

This piece runs over the challenges of remote meetings and gives some guidelines for how to find a remote meeting provider that meets your needs. In our next piece, we’ll discuss how to hold effective remote meetings using specific tips and actions.  

The challenges of remote meetings 

Remote meetings can be lengthy internet conferences with participants from all around the world or brief 1:1 sessions. One of the clear benefits of remote meetings is that they facilitate live collaboration between staff members from across the world. Since there are no longer any geographical limitations, a wider spectrum of talent is now accessible. 

A remote meeting differs from an in-person meeting because it takes place virtually. Whilst an obvious difference, there are some unique challenges that arise as a result:  

  • They can affect our ability to read body language and emotion; virtual meetings have been associated with the idea of ‘zoom fatigue’, as it can take more energy to read these visual cues through a virtual interface. 
  • Issues with the audio and visuals, due to technical barriers or settings; ‘You’re on mute!’.  
  • Working together across different time zones and shifts 
  • Hardware and software dependencies creating differences in accessibility and experience 
  • Distractions and technical limitations in the home office  

Remote meetings tend to follow the same format and protocol as in-person meetings, despite the additional technical obstacles and geographic distance.  

How to choose the right tool for remote meetings 

When selecting a platform for remote meetings, several criteria should be considered. It is important to consider the elements that are unique to your team and organisation. For larger and smaller gathering and other requirements, different tools may be better suited than others.  

Consider the following elements when you consider your remote meeting options: 

  • Your team’s size 
  • Time zones and locations 
  • Sharing of screens and visuals  
  • Having the ability to schedule in advance 
  • Platform uptime and reliability 
  • Team hardware for accessing remote meetings 

How you run your meeting is just as important as selecting the finest platform to host it on. A productive online meeting requires careful planning, keeping track of ideas and activities, central information storage and ensuring remote access to the materials. 

Online tools have also emerged increasingly for managing meetings, including digital whiteboards, mind maps, and cloud-based note storage to take notes instantly. The tools to support the meetings, like the meeting software, may vary by requirements. For example, to document a project meeting, you may require a basic Word document or bring in project management software including Kanban boards to capture and organise the insights and actions of the meeting.  

It’s crucial to have a tool that facilitates clear decision-making for the team, collects fresh ideas and information, and stores it for future use. 

One such tool is Microsoft Teams 

Microsoft 365’s collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, is a leading cloud office tool that encourages teamwork, video conferencing, document sharing and workplace collaboration. 

Teams was released in 2017 as a rival to Clack for online communications. Since its release it has grown quickly to become one of the world’s most popular collaboration tools, driven in no small part by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been so successful, that Teams has been dubbed the company’s fastest-growing business app in its entire existence! 

Teams has emerged as one of Microsoft’s key workplace productivity and collaboration tools partly because of the necessity of remote working that emerged from the pandemic. Businesses scrambled to set up virtual meetings for remote employees. As businesses closed and sent employees home in March 2020, Microsoft observed a 1,000% spike in video meetings. Teams users also increased dramatically, from 32 million at the beginning of March to 75 million by the conclusion of the month. 

Microsoft quickly added new features to enhance remote working capabilities to take advantage of the fast changes in working habits, and to reduce the fatigue that became associated with video conferences. One of the key features, called ‘together mode’, produces a virtual environment, like a conference room for example, where participants’ video feeds are cropped and gathered in more natural settings to create a shared area that feels more suited to collaborative dialogue. 

It has many meeting-friendly features. distractions are lessened with the addition of real-time noise suppression. Deep learning techniques isolate the speech signal from undesired background noise. Basic video call features like custom backdrops, screen sharing, hand raising, recording, breakout rooms, and live captioning are also available within the Teams app to further enhance the meeting experience. 

How can you determine what is effective for you? We encourage getting clear on your criteria and scouting out the virtual meeting providers that can meet your needs. Even better, a meeting provider that can integrate its software with your other applications can offer additional benefits, such as automation, streamlining and enhanced communications across your organisation.  

Want to capitalise on the potential of your technology? Contact 4TC Today 

4TC take time to understand the daily challenges that your business faces. We then provide cost-effective tech solutions to these issues that will help you save time, protect vital data, and enable you and your staff to be more effective with your time management. Alongside our proactive IT support, we will ensure that your staff are using the technology at their disposal in a way that works for them, whilst making sure that they are educated on how to use it as productively as possible. The right Cloud solution has the power to revolutionise your business forever – utilising your IT to its full potential is essential to guaranteeing that you and your business can thrive and grow into the future. If you would like to find out more on how 4TC Services can provide affordable tech management for your business, drop us an email or call us now for a full demonstration. 

Inside Microsoft Copilot: A Look At The Technology Stack

AI on laptop

As expected, generative AI took centre stage at Microsoft Build, the annual developer conference hosted in Seattle. Within a few minutes into his keynote, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, unveiled the new framework and platform for developers to build and embed an AI assistant in their applications.

Branded as Copilot, Microsoft is extending the same framework it is leveraging to add AI assistants to a dozen applications, including GitHub, Edge, Microsoft 365, Power Apps, Dynamics 365, and even Windows 11.

Microsoft is known to add layers of API, SDK, and tools to enable developers and independent software vendors to extend the capabilities of its core products. The ISV ecosystem that exists around Office is a classic example of this approach.

Having been an ex-employee of Microsoft, I have observed the company’s unwavering ability to seize every opportunity to transform internal innovations into robust developer platforms. Interestingly, the culture of “platformisation” of emerging technology at Microsoft is still prevalent even after three decades of launching highly successful platforms such as Windows, MFC, and COM.

While introducing the Copilot stack, Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s CTO, quoted Bill Gates – “A platform is when the economic value of everybody that uses it exceeds the value of the company that creates it. Then it’s a platform.”

Bill Gates’ statement is exceptionally relevant and profoundly transformative for the technology industry. There are many examples of platforms that grew exponentially beyond the expectations of the creators. Windows in the 90s and iPhone in the 2000s are classic examples of such platforms.

The latest platform to emerge out of Redmond is the Copilot stack, which allows developers to infuse intelligent chatbots with minimal effort into any application they build.

The rise of tools like AI chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard is changing the way end-users interact with the software. Rather than clicking through multiple screens or executing numerous commands, they prefer interacting with an intelligent agent that is capable of efficiently completing the tasks at hand.

Microsoft was quick in realizing the importance of embedding an AI chatbot into every application. After arriving at a common framework for building Copilots for many products, it is now extending to its developer and ISV community.

In many ways, the Copilot stack is like a modern operating system. It runs on top of powerful hardware based on the combination of CPUs and GPUs. The foundation models form the kernel of the stack, while the orchestration layer is like the process and memory management. The user experience layer is similar to the shell of an operating system exposing the capabilities through an interface.

Let’s take a closer look at how Microsoft structured the Copilot stack without getting too technical:

The Infrastructure – The AI supercomputer running in Azure, the public cloud, is the foundation of the platform. This purpose-built infrastructure, which is powered by tens of thousands of state-of-the-art GPUs from NVIDIA, provides the horsepower needed to run complex deep learning models that can respond to prompts in seconds. The same infrastructure powers the most successful app of our time, ChatGPT.

Foundation Models – The foundation models are the kernel of the Copliot stack. They are trained on a large corpus of data and can perform diverse tasks. Examples of foundation models include GPT-4, DALL-E, and Whisper from OpenAI. Some of the open source LLMs like BERT, Dolly, and LLaMa may be a part of this layer. Microsoft is partnering with Hugging Face to bring a catalogue of curated open-source models to Azure.

While foundation models are powerful by themselves, they can be adapted for specific scenarios. For example, an LLM trained on a large corpus of generic textual content can be fine-tuned to understand the terminology used in an industry vertical such as healthcare, legal, or finance.

Microsoft’s Azure AI Studio hosts various foundation models, fine-tuned models, and even custom models trained by enterprises outside of Azure.

The foundation models rely heavily on the underlying GPU infrastructure to perform inference.

Orchestration – This layer acts as a conduit between the underlying foundation models and the user. Since generative AI is all about prompts, the orchestration layer analyzes the prompt entered by the user to understand the user’s or application’s real intent. It first applies a moderation filter to ensure that the prompt meets the safety guidelines and doesn’t force the model to respond with irrelevant or unsafe responses. The same layer is also responsible for filtering the model’s response that does not align with the expected outcome.

The next step in orchestration is to complement the prompt with meta-prompting through additional context that’s specific to the application. For example, the user may not have explicitly asked for packaging the response in a specific format, but the application’s user experience needs the format to render the output correctly. Think of this as injecting application-specific into the prompt to make it contextual to the application.

Once the prompt is constructed, additional factual data may be needed by the LLM to respond with an accurate answer. Without this, LLMs may tend to hallucinate by responding with inaccurate and imprecise information. The factual data typically lives outside the realm of LLMs in external sources such as the world wide web, external databases, or an object storage bucket.

Two techniques are popularly used to bring external context into the prompt to assist the LLM in responding accurately. The first is to use a combination of the word embeddings model and a vector database to retrieve information and selectively inject the context into the prompt. The second approach is to build a plugin that bridges the gap between the orchestration layer and the external source. ChatGPT uses the plugin model to retrieve data from external sources to augment the context.

Microsoft calls the above approaches Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG). RAGs are expected to bring stability and grounding to LLM’s response by constructing a prompt with factual and contextual information.

Microsoft has adopted the same plugin architecture that ChatGPT uses to build rich context into the prompt.

Projects such as LangChain, Microsoft’s Semantic Kernel, and Guidance become the key components of the orchestration layer.

In summary, the orchestration layer adds the necessary guardrails to the final prompt that’s being sent to the LLMs.

The User Experience – The UX layer of the Copilot stack redefines the human-machine interface through a simplified conversational experience. Many complex user interface elements and nested menus will be replaced by a simple, unassuming widget sitting in the corner of the window. This becomes the most powerful frontend layer for accomplishing complex tasks irrespective of what the application does. From consumer websites to enterprise applications, the UX layer will transform forever.

Back in the mid-2000s, when Google started to become the default homepage of browsers, the search bar became ubiquitous. Users started to look for a search bar and use that as an entry point to the application. It forced Microsoft to introduce a search bar within the Start Menu and the Taskbar.

With the growing popularity of tools like ChatGPT and Bard, users are now looking for a chat window to start interacting with an application. This is bringing a fundamental shift in the user experience. Instead and clicking through a series of UI elements or typing commands in the terminal window, users want to interact through a ubiquitous chat window. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Microsoft is going to put a Copilot with a chat interface in Windows.

Microsoft Copilot stack and the plugins present a significant opportunity to developers and ISVs. It will result in a new ecosystem firmly grounded in the foundation models and large language models.

If LLMs and ChatGPT created the iPhone moment for AI, it is the plugins that become the new apps.

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The Sobering Truth About Ransomware—For The 80% Who Paid Up

Newly published research of 1,200 organizations impacted by ransomware reveals a sobering truth that awaits many of those who decide to pay the ransom. According to research from data resilience specialists Veeam, some 80% of the organizations surveyed decided to pay the demanded ransom in order to both end the ongoing cyber-attack and recover otherwise lost data. This despite 41% of those organizations having a “do not pay” policy in place. Which only goes to reinforce the cold hard fact that cybercrime isn’t an easy landscape to navigate, something that’s especially true when your business is facing the real-world impact of dealing with a ransomware attack.

The Sobering Truth For 21% Of Ransom Payers

Of the 960 organizations covered in the Veeam 2023 Ransomware Trends Report, that paid a ransom, 201 of them (21%) were still unable to recover their lost data. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, who knows, but the same number also reported that ransomware attacks were now excluded from their insurance policies. Of those organizations with cyber-insurance cover, 74% reported a rise in premiums.

Although I feel bad for those who paid up to no avail, I can’t say I’m surprised. Two years ago, I was reporting the same truth, albeit with larger numbers, when it came to trusting cybercriminals to deliver on their promises. Back then another ransomware report, this time from security vendor Sophos, revealed that 32% of those surveyed opted to pay the ransom but a shocking 92% failed to recover all their data and 29% were unable to recover more than half of the encrypted data.

The Decision To Pay A Ransom Is Never A Binary One

Of course, as already mentioned, the decision to pay is not and never can be a totally binary one. But ,and I cannot emphasise this enough, it is always wrong.

You only have to ask the question of who benefits most from a ransom being paid to understand this. The answer is the cybercriminals, those ransomware actors who are behind the attacks in the first place. Sure, an organization may well argue that it benefits most as it gets the business back up and running in the shortest possible time. I get that, of course I do, but maybe investing those million bucks (sometimes substantially less, or more) in better data security would have been better to begin with?

But, they may well argue again, that’s what the cyber-insurance is for, paying out the big bucks if the sticky stuff hits the fan. Sure, but the answer to my original question remains the same: it’s the ransomware actors that are still winning here. They get the pay out, which empowers them to continue and hunt even more organizations.

Ransomware Has Evolved, But Security Basics Remain The Same

Then there’s the not so small matter of how most ransomware actors no longer just encrypt your data, and often your data backups, if they do so at all. Some groups have switched to stealing sensitive customer or corporate data instead, with the ransom demanded in return for them not selling it to the highest bidder or publishing it online. Many groups combine the two for a double-whammy ransomware attack. I have even reported on one company that got hit by three successful ransomware attacks, by three different ransomware actors, within the space of just two weeks.

Which brings me back to my point of ensuring your data is properly secured is paramount. Why bother paying a ransom if you don’t fix the holes that let the cybercriminals in to start with?

“Although security and prevention remain important, it’s critical that every organization focuses on how rapidly they can recover by making their organization more resilient,” Danny Allan, chief technology officer at Veeam, said. “We need to focus on effective ransomware preparedness by focusing on the basics, including strong security measures and testing both original data and backups, ensuring survivability of the backup solutions, and ensuring alignment across the backup and cyber teams for a unified stance.”

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