5 Ways Technology can Connect us this Holiday Season

With the snow falling outside and holiday songs playing in the malls (I’m assuming they’ve started playing, I haven’t actually been to a mall for a while), our thoughts turn to the time of year when we gather together to eat, drink, and be merry. While hopes are on the rise for coronavirus vaccine, we still have to face the reality that our holidays may not look exactly like a homecoming in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Normal Rockwell homecoming painting

The Homecoming Norman Rockwell December 25, 1948

COVID cases in Canada are once again on an upward trend, so travelling long distances and enjoying extended family get-togethers is off the table. Which means we need to find virtual ways to enjoy each other’s company.

Now I don’t know about you, but the weekly FaceTime call to parents and siblings has become a bit repetitive. With none of us going anywhere or doing anything, the most exciting thing we can find to talk about is which episode of The Queen’s Gambit we re-watched last night, and who is winning in the pool for “most number of days worked in PJs in a row”. With everyday feeling like a Wednesday, the hope for the holidays is that we can shake things up a bit. For anyone feeling the same way, following is a list of ideas for how to use your technology to spend time with family and friends this season, including online games, how to watch movies together, a virtual gift exchange, and even some suggestions for this year’s office party.

Start with a Plan

Begin by picking a time when you can all get “together” and decide how you will all see each other. Will you use FaceTime, a Zoom call, Houseparty? What platform is everyone comfortable with? Consider doing a test run to make sure everyone knows how to use the chosen platform and decide where to set up your devices so you can all see each other. 

Online & Mobile Games

man and woman playing games on smart phones

Turns out you can be physically distanced and still play the old classics like Uno and Scrabble. This link will help you host virtual game nights over the holidays.

Game Pigeon, available through the App Store on iPhones and iPads, allows you to play basketball, pool, chess, paintball, word games, and more through iMessage. It’s a fun way to feel connected and pass time while you’re waiting for your online shopping cart to update.

For Android users, there are alternatives to Game Pigeon. And in the event that you have an iPhone and your sister has an Android, there are still lots of cross-platform games you can play together.

Not Into Gaming?

Are you used to watching Home Alone together as a family and finding the movie title hits a little too close to home this year? This article provides links and descriptions of seven different ways that you can sync movies while you chat about these strange Home Alone fan theories at the same time.

Man and woman with popcorn watching movie on laptop

Need Something New to Talk About?

In case you do just want to talk but have run out of topics, check out this extensive list of conversation starters.

Creative Gift Giving

Gift giving can be fraught with tension at the best of times. If you’re not getting together to exchange gifts this year, check out this link for creative ways to exchange gifts virtually, as well as a few good gift ideas too.

two people exchanging gift with fireplace and Christmas tree in background

What About the Annual Holiday Office Party?

If your office is dealing with the disappointment of missing out on the yearly holiday karaoke, consider pulling together a virtual office party instead. While it may seem unconventional, there are a lot of benefits to the virtual party: no storms or bad weather threatening to postpone or cancel the event, no one has to drive long distances or cover cab costs, no long buffet lines or special diets to contend with, and no navigating freshly fallen snow and ice in three-inch heels. It also requires a lot less planning and organization.

holiday decorations surround a laptop screen with man and woman on screen wearing Santa hats and toasting with champagne

Set the Venue

First, pick the date, time, and “venue” (Zoom, Teams, or whatever other platform your office is comfortable using) and send out email invitations inviting everyone to the online party.

Pick a Theme

Decide if you want a theme: prizes can be awarded to participants who best embody the theme with outfits, decorations, virtual backgrounds, or dressed up pets.

Select a DJ

Pick a DJ and have them select a Spotify playlist or create one of their own. (Pro tip: Ask everyone in the company to notify the DJ of their favourite holiday song. This helps everyone feel more involved.)

Eat Together

Make sure everyone gets to eat together by sending Uber Eats gift certificates to everyone in the company a day or two ahead of the event. This way you can all order food to arrive at a specific time and enjoy together (no more cold buffet leftovers after 95% of the attendees have taken the best items!). 

Distribute Prizes

Have door prizes in the form of gift cards that can be mailed out, or physical items which can be ordered online and shipped to the winners’ homes. 

Use Technology to its Fullest Advantage this Holiday Season

Let’s face it, 2020 is going to live on in our collective memory as being a challenging year, to put it mildly. Not being able to be with friends and family IRL is going to make it harder for many of us, so we might as well use technology to its full advantage and find creative ways to spend time together this holiday season. Because if it’s going to be holiday none of us ever forget, we might as well make it a holiday to remember!

Worldline Wireless gives Canadians affordable data options

We are beyond excited to announce the launch of our new Worldline Wireless division, designed to help you save money on data.

The days of choosing cell phone plans based on minutes and text messages are long gone – now, it’s all about the data. Apps for texting and calling dominate app stores and most apps rely on data. But data costs in Canada are some of the highest in the world. In a new study from UK Company Cable.co.uk analyzing 5,554 mobile data plans in 228 countries, Canada ranked 209th with an average price of $12.99USD for 1GB of data.

Our new product announcement comes on the heels of a ruling by the Canadian government that wholesale Internet rates set by the CRTC last August may be too low. This is disappointing for Canadians hoping for more affordable options for Internet services.

“Canadians have had to pay higher rates for cellular data than many other countries around the world. We wanted to give Canadians more affordable options for LTE data, and we’re doing that with Worldline Wireless,” says Mike Brown, our Chief Sales and Marketing Officer.

4 wireless plans starting at $9.95

Worldline Wireless offers high speed LTE to keep you connected. We have options starting as low as $9.95 per month for light users, with larger plans as high as 10GB for heavier users. But these aren’t just data plans; Worldline has also released a new Mobile App, allowing users to send and receive phone calls using data.

What are the benefits of Worldline Wireless, beyond saving you money?

Worldline’s Wireless service has:

  • No contracts.
  • No penalties: you can upgrade or cancel your plan at any time.
  • No overage charges.
  • No fear of running out of data: we have affordable top-up options.

That’s the kind of risk-free flexibility and fairness we believe in.

“We’re always listening to our customers, and constantly fighting to provide better options for consumers in Canada. Worldline customers have been asking for wireless options for years, and we’re super happy to be able to launch this exciting new product,” said Mike Brown. “We hope these new options come at a great time for our valued customers, who may be facing additional challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

More information about Worldline’s new Wireless services can be found on Worldline’s website.

Backpacks for Kids to equip 150 children for school this year

It’s been eight years since Peter Cross’s youngest daughter was getting ready to attend her first year of school in the Dominican Republic. Peter had moved there in 2005 to run one of Fibernetics’ call centres as VP of Contact Center Operations. He got married and adjusted to life in a country where water and electricity are not to be taken for granted. But it wasn’t until his wife, Rosa, took their daughter shopping for school supplies, that he realized education is also a luxury for many children.

“My memory of school in Canada is that paper and pencils were available for anyone who needed them, but students in the Dominican are required to supply their own textbooks, workbooks, paper, writing implements, coloured pencils, and a uniform. And if they can’t afford those items, then they can’t attend school.”

Kids in the Dominican Republic, ready for school thanks for Backpacks for Kids

Kids in the Dominican Republic, ready for school thanks to Backpacks for Kids

Peter called the Fibernetics leadership team back in Canada. Giving back to community has always been a part of who Fibernetics is; happiness is a core value for us, and we’re always looking for ways to increase the well-being of our staff and customers, as well as the communities we live and work in. The leadership loved the grassroots charity idea Peter was pitching to support families and spread happiness and well-being in the Dominican: Backpacks for Kids.

Backpacks for Kids is one of our home-grown initiatives to help change lives and the communities we live and work in. It warms our hearts to think about what an honour it is for us to help these amazing kids. – John Stix, Fibernetics Co-Founder

Peter and his family distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to local children

Peter and his family distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to local children

Every year, funds are raised through employee donations, company BBQs, and company contributions to enable Peter and a team of volunteers from Fibernetics’ Call Centre, to buy backpacks and fill them with school supplies specific to different age groups; from primary children who need crayons and glue, to teenagers who need three-ring binders and dividers. Each backpack also contains a gift certificate to be redeemed at the uniform shop for a few pairs of pants, shirts, and a pair of shoes so that one backpack gives a child everything they need for a year at school.

The first year, Peter and Rosa scheduled an event in their backyard to distribute the backpacks. Word spread in the community and on the day, fifty children arrived.

Kids sit, waiting for the handing out of backpacks to begin

Kids sit, waiting to receive their backpacks

“I quickly became known as the ‘school supply guy’. People would just show up at my house or at the Fibernetics Call Centre. We helped everyone out as much as we could, and everyone was so grateful. One year a woman showed up with a bottle of milk for us. She’s a farmer, as many are down here, and that’s all she had to give. It was so meaningful to us to receive it.”

Word continued to spread and the next year, eighty kids showed up. Soon the list grew to 150 names long.

“There were too many kids and parents to host at my house, so we moved the event to the company parking lot and started providing lunch too, with hot dogs for the kids. It was great.”

Peter and kids

Peter and kids with their backpacks

While Peter doesn’t like to boast about the time he and the team at the Fibernetics Call Centre devote to our in-house charity, the rest of us at Fibernetics Head Office in Cambridge, are happy to do it for him. Backpacks for Kids is a huge undertaking every year. A binder with lists of families who need supplies is maintained and updated every year. Peter goes out to the stores and negotiates deals to buy as many supplies as he can. Then he takes it all home where he, his family, and Fibernetics staff volunteers pack each backpack with the supplies each child needs. They make sure to always have extras on hand for those who aren’t on the list, like the three young boys who showed up one year, running into the office parking lot with no shoes on, each looking for a backpack to call their own.

Fibernetics call centre employees volunteer to unpack and sort school supplies (with some help from Peter's daughters!)

Volunteers from the Fibernetics call centre unpack and sort school supplies (with some help from Peter’s daughters!)

Peter sees first-hand the lives that are being impacted and his dream is to see the Fibernetics family continue to support this initiative for many years to come.

We’ve seen some of these kids every year over the course of almost ten years. It’s overwhelming to look at a child and realize that the Fibernetics family is the reason why this individual is able to go to school. It’s incredible to realize that without these supplies, they wouldn’t get an education at all. We’re changing the life path of entire families, just by providing something as simple as a backpack and a uniform. – Peter Cross, Fibernetics VP of Contact Centre Operations

Two boys peer into the backpacks, excited to see their new school supplies

Two boys peer into the backpacks, excited to see their new school supplies

pete on couch with backpacks

Peter at the Fibernetics Call Centre, filling backpacks with socks to complete the school uniform

This year Peter and his team are looking for a new way to distribute backpacks as COVID19 will prevent them being able to host everyone at the office. He’s already getting calls from families who are anxious to know if Backpacks for Kids will be continued this year.

Times are tough for everyone, but especially for families who rely on a backpack to ensure their child can get an education, and Peter says the families are grateful to hear that Fibernetics has pledged to provide 150 backpacks again this year.

COVID19 or not, we will not stop supporting Backpacks for Kids as best that we can. Thank you to all Fibernetics staff, along with Peter and his family. – John Stix, Fibernetics Co-Founder

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about exactly when schools will reopen in the Dominican Republic. But one thing is for sure: when the schools open, Fibernetics wants the kids to be ready.

Cloud vs Local: Keeping Your Data Safe

Best case scenario, the past few months gave you a lot of time to do those things you “always meant to do”. You’ve read all about the pros and cons of minimalism, started exercising at home, and found a new hobby to distract yourself from the fact that your team isn’t playing.

Have you backed-up your phone and your computer? 

If that’s another one of those things you planned to get to “someday”, what better time than now? 

It’s not likely you need convincing that backing up your computer is a good idea, but in case you do: If your computer is the only place all of your photos and documents are stored, and something happens to it, your data is likely gone. Forever. Enough said. 

But where to start?

CLOUD STORAGE

At a bare minimum, the first step is ensure you’ve switched on any cloud backups that are part of your computer or phone operating system (iCloudOneDrive, Google, etc) which should take care of the majority of your documents, photos, and texts.

Advantages: Cloud storage is convenient. Your data being “in the Cloud” means it’s stored on a server somewhere and you can access it anytime you want from any Smartphone with cloud icon for data backupsdevice (as long as you have an active internet connection). Once you select and turn on a cloud service, it takes care of everything for you, making it simple and easy to use.

Cloud storage adds a layer of protection: your data is physically housed somewhere else so if your computer loss is due to theft or damage, your data is safe and secure. Also, cloud services have redundancies built in: your data is distributed across multiple locations so you’re very unlikely to lose it in the event your cloud service server experiences theft or damage. 

You generally pay for what you use. Cloud storage is based on a subscription model so you’re not paying for a lot of space you don’t need. 

Disadvantages: Cloud storage relies upon a good internet connection to keep updating the latest version of your data, and for restoring from a backup. So during a power outage or while travelling, any updates you make locally may be lost, and not all data may be available to you. Also, restoring from backup can take a long time, relative to a local restore.

If the data you’re storing is very sensitive, then unauthorized access to that offsite data may be a concern, but unless you have a branch of MI5 in your basement, it’s probably not going to be an issue for you.

While your operating system’s backup service will backup the majority of your content, it won’t always backup all of your computer settings or the applications you’ve installed. This can make migration to a replacement device more cumbersome than simply clicking “restore from backup”.


LOCAL EXTERNAL DRIVE

For a more comprehensive backup, consider a local external drive: a physical device you either plug into your computer or add to your network for all devices on that network to backup to.

External hard drive for storing data and restoring from backups

Advantages: Backing up your data and restoring from a local backup is much faster than cloud storage. It doesn’t rely on an internet connection and it’s much easier to create multiple snapshots of your data. So, depending on how frequently you backup, your data is constantly up to date and you can roll back to earlier captures.

Disadvantages: When using a local drive there is the additional step of managing the backups and performing backups on a regular basis. To mitigate this, consider purchasing a NAS (Network Attached Storage); a hard disk on your network that allows any properly configured computer within range to backup to it automatically. This is especially advantageous for families with many devices. It’s expensive but it holds a lot of data, making it a one-time purchase.

Another disadvantage is the physical location of your local drive. Having your external hard drive in the same location as your device means that if your data loss is due to fire or theft, it’s possible your hard drive will be destroyed or stolen also. 

Ultimately, a combination of cloud storage and an external drive provides the best coverage. A combination gives you the assurance of your data being safely stored at an external location, while also giving access to your most up-to-date data quickly and easily in the event you have patchy internet service such as when travelling or in a remote location.

External links for more information:

How to backup to iCloud

How to backup to OneDrive

How to backup your Android phone to Google

How to save text messages

The best external hard drives for Macs and PCs

Keeping Kids Busy During COVID Isolation

Like many of you out there, Worldline employees are adjusting to this new reality of spending all of our time at home, finding ways to balance our work life, home life, and, for many of us, kids.

If you have children at home who would normally be in school or day-care, there’s a challenge in knowing how to fill their days. Today Worldline employees are sharing how their kids are staying busy. We hope you’ll find something here that works for you:

Start by Constructing a Schedule

Kids who attend school are accustomed to a daily schedule. Routine provides a sense of safety and predictability which is always important for children but is especially vital during this time when there is more stress and uncertainty.

Mother Helping Children With Homework

Khan Academy has a sample daily schedule. Consider giving that a try, or sit down with your kids and agree on a schedule which includes some or all of the following:

  • meals and snacks,
  • lesson times to work on language, math, and science,
  • music practice,
  • free time to chat and game with friends online, watch tv or movies, or read books
  • crafts
  • chores,
  • daily exercise

Participate in Daily Chores

Kids helping house chores

If you’ve never implemented chores in your home, this might be a good time to start. Parents who are working from home need space in their day to get their work done and they don’t want to end their workday with a huge amount of tidying-up. Getting children involved in cleaning up after meals, vacuuming, and doing laundry, helps develop their self-esteem as they see that they are an important part of the running of the home. Search the internet for “age appropriate chore charts” to get an idea of what your kids can do to help out.

Enjoy Hobbies and Learn a New Skill

Portrait of little asian girl drawing and coloring on table

Time that’s not being filled with school, extra-curricular activities, and traveling back and forth, can be devoted to learning something new. Free online tutorials and apps can be found for pretty much anything you or your child might be interested in: learn a new language, take up a new hobby like knitting or painting, learn to play an instrument, or investigate a subject you’re interested in. Some of our Worldline kids are searching for free Lego instructions to create new structures, trying their hand at cooking, downloading colouring pages, using Duolingo to learn a new language, and using Khan Academy and education.com to help with school work.

Keep in Touch with Friends

Portrait of smiling teenage girl using digital tablet while lying on sofa, watching videos or browsing internet, copy space

One of the most popular apps to arise out of this time of isolation is HouseParty, a face to face social networking app which allows users to chat, play in-app games, and even move between different rooms as if they’re at a real house party. Worldline’s teenagers are especially enjoying this app right now as a way to stay connected with large groups of friends, but even the Worldline adults are using it to host Saturday night “parties” and catch-up with each other socially.

We hope you found something here that will help fill your kids’ days. Watch our social media and future blog posts for more recommendations on how to find balance during this stressful time. We hope you’re staying healthy and safe.