April 4th, 2013

Productivity_April03_BEmail has become the go-to communication medium for businesses of all sizes. It's not uncommon to see people emailing one another when they could just as easily talk. While it is incredibly popular, many emails are poorly written, leading to confusion and both parties having to take time out of their busy days to clarify. This can make you unproductive, and the best way to stop this is by writing good emails to begin with.

Here's six tips that can help ensure that the emails you send get your message across. By writing quality emails, you could see your productivity increase as you will have more time to do your work instead of clarifying sloppy emails.

1. Have a clear decision or action 99% of the emails you send are to ask someone to take an action, make a decision, reply etc. So, before you write any email pause for a minute and ask yourself: Why am I writing this and what do I want the recipient to do with this email?

If you can't provide a clear answer to these two questions, you may want to try contacting the recipient through another medium, or take some time to think and come up with an answer.

2. Write it backwards Once you know why you are writing your email, the actual writing becomes a lot easier. Because you will most likely be asking the recipient to do something, why not start with the request. Simply write down, in clear English, what you want done.

It's important to be as clear and direct as possible to avoid any confusion and potential follow up emails that will distract you. Once you have stated what you want, then you can provide justification to your request, or background information.

The reason this works is because many business owners/managers/employees are busy, they don't have time to read a whole report's worth of information that ends with a request. Most of the time they will just skip to the end anyways, so why not put the most important part - the action that you want them to take - at the beginning.

3. Use lists Many poorly written emails aren't actually poorly written. They are just formatted in an inefficient manner. In most English classes, students are taught to develop their ideas or arguments through logical paragraphs, while having only one point to each paragraph. Pause for a minute and think: If you get an email asking you to make a decision on what product to buy with five paragraphs each talking about a benefit or reason, would you actually read the whole email? Chances are the answer is no.

To be more efficient, break your ideas/reasons/arguments into a list. You can usually summarize the majority of main ideas of each paragraph into a single sentence. This makes them easier for you and the recipient to read.

4. KISS We don't mean you should kiss your monitor. In this context, KISS stands for Keep It Simple and Straightforward. You shouldn't have long essays or arguments with lots of padding. Get to the point immediately and provide the essential information.

If you find yourself writing an essay or long report, email is not the medium you should be using. Instead put your thoughts into a word document that you attach to the email. In the email itself put a brief overview along with the most important points and tell your recipient to check the attachment for more information.

5. Have a relevant subject line The subject of your email is like the title of a report or news article. Without a solid subject, the chances of your email being opened and read are low. It would be a good idea to write your whole email first, then the subject.

A good subject line can A) Interest the recipient enough to get them to open it and B) Provide enough insight so the reader can infer what you want. If you look over a subject line of an email you are about to send and see that it doesn't make sense or reference the email itself, it would be a good idea to re-write it.

6. Proofread everything This may make sense now, but we are all guilty of writing an email and pressing send without reading the content over. Once you hit send, the damage is done, you won't be able to get the email back. That's why it's a good idea to read over your email after you finish.

You should look for any obvious spelling and grammar errors along with ensuring that the content makes sense. If you think it's ok, then you can probably go ahead and send it. If you are the least bit hesitant, walk away from it for a few minutes then come back and read over it again. You will likely be able to see a couple of changes.

There are many options at your disposal that allow you to enhance your and your company's productivity. Contact us today to see how our systems can help.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
March 12th, 2013

Productivity_March06_BThe dream of many an office worker is to have the option to work from home, either full time or a couple of days each week at least. For many, this is an opportunity to be closer to family and avoid what might be a long commute to work. Many companies have been happy to oblige, especially those in tech that have seen boosts to employee productivity, and benefits from increased flexibility. One major tech company looks on remote working less favorably though.

In late February, an internal memo from Yahoo was leaked. The memo contained a statement indicating that all remote and telecommuting employees will lose their jobs if they continue to work from home after June 2013.

To many in the tech industry, and indeed others who work successfully with remote employees, this might seem like a giant step backwards. There has been a fair amount of backlash on this decision from news outlets, tech experts and employees alike, especially since working from home has proven to increase productivity among certain employees.

According to the memo, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” The two key points here are ‘collaboration’ and ‘communication’. If these are both executed successfully, you have generally productive employees and increased profits.

On the other hand, technology is at a point where employees can log in to their work systems from anywhere. Combine this with video conferencing and cloud solutions such as Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365, which allow real-time collaboration, face-time in an office could be seen as somewhat of a redundant idea. If remote working is executed efficiently, you might save money, see productivity increase more than it might in a physically present team, and profits potentially rise too.

It’s certainly an interesting debate. Does physical face-time or telecommuting equal greater productivity? What we can say, is that it depends on the company and the industry to a large extent. Obviously, restaurants couldn’t operate using remote employees. But, if your business can support it, this may be a viable way to boost productivity, keep employees happy and cut expensive overhead costs such as rents for office premises.

We’d like to hear that you think. Would you rather work from home, or do you benefit from the structure and face-to-face dealings in an office? Where and when are you most productive?

We’d love to get your feedback. Let us know what your opinion is.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
February 7th, 2013

Productivity is something many business owners and their employees strive for. Most would be out of work if they weren't productive. Two of the most common productivity tools are email and the calendar. The only problem is email is usually separate from the calendar app and it can be a pain to switch between the two. If you are a Google Apps user, there is an app that brings the two together to help make you more productive.

You may be familiar with the app Boomerang which allows you to schedule emails to be sent later. Well, the developers of Boomerang also offer Boomerang Calendar for Google Calendar. This app brings three great productivity enhancing features.

One-click scheduling of meetings Gmail users know that when you are reading an email and need to look up a date, you can't easily do so directly from your email. Boomerang Calendar adds an option to 'suggest meeting times' directly in the email draft window. Pressing suggest meeting times will bring up a pop-up window of Google Calendar with lets you select different potential meeting times.

You can then generate a template in the email which will contain the suggested times. This is a lot easier than switching back and forth between tabs and sending more than one email to figure out a time and date.

Smart email scanning Another cool feature of this app is that it scans your emails for dates and will give you the option to create meetings or events directly from your email. Alternatively, clicking on the time will open your calendar in a pop-up window to the date and time to show you if you have any conflicting appointments. You can also suggest alternative times if there is a schedule conflict.

Better group planning Collaboration and teamwork are crucial these days, but it can be a chore to get employees from different departments together at the same time. This app allows you to create a group event right from Gmail with the press of a button. Pressing the Plan Group Event button will open a pop-up where you can invite team members, name the event and propose dates and times.

When you send the email, recipients will be able to sign up for the time they like, allowing you to keep track of it. This helps the group pick a time that works, and reduces the number of emails that go back and forth, which means you can spend more time on managing your business.

Boomerang Calendar is currently only available for Gmail users, and is in Open Beta testing, meaning it's free. There is no word on when, or if, this will be released for Outlook users, however the chances are high that there will be an app coming soon. If you would like to install this app, check out the website here. And if you would like to learn how our tech products and services can help you be more productive at work, please contact us today.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
January 9th, 2013

To many, the entrepreneur is viewed with admiration and jealousy. How come you have to work long hours for a company that doesn't really care about you while the entrepreneur gets to run their own life and have a seemingly perfect work-life? This view, as many business owners know, is often a laughable one as work-life balance can be non-existent. It doesn't have to be this way however and with a little work on your productivity you can actually get something akin to a good balance.

Here are three tips to help small business owners or managers be more productive and from that achieve a more desirable work-life balance.

Learn how you spend your time To be productive, you need to know how you spend your time. The easiest way to do this is to keep a log, or journal, of what you do each day. You should include everything you do in relation to work, including: travel time, Facebook breaks, time spent checking emails, meetings, etc.

The goal here is twofold. Firstly, you get a solid glimpse of how you spend each day; secondly, you can see if there is anything you do that takes up way too much time. Some experts suggest you do this for a week at least. To get the best results though, it would be better to do this for at least two weeks to a month.

There are a number of different ways you can go about journaling your activities. For the old-fashioned among us, go buy a day-timer that has at least one page per each day. For the more technical, your email programs like Outlook or Gmail have powerful calendars that you can record activities on. For the mobile crowd, mobile versions of Outlook, Google Calendar or even your phone's native calendar app will work great.

When you have your day timer/calendar app, it's time to start recording your activities. Record when you start one, and when you finish. From there, clearly label the activity. Over a few weeks, or even days, you will begin to see a clear picture of how you spend your time.

Plan to be more productive After you have figured out where you spend your time, you can begin to schedule around your strengths and weaknesses. The key here is to schedule time that is uninterrupted so you can focus on one task. If you find that you are checking your email every five minutes, it may be a good idea to schedule time in the morning and just after lunch for checking and replying to emails. When you aren't in that time period, you can work in a focused way on something else.

By sticking to a more rigid schedule you will find your productivity starts to rise. If you are having a tough time keeping to a set schedule, try using the pomodoro technique. This is where you set a certain amount of time for one task, and gradually increase the amount of time you focus on that task.

Play off your strengths If you are a small business owner, chances are you wear lots of hats. One minute you're wearing a spiffy salesperson hat while the next you're wearing an HR hat. This constant switching of roles, or doing everything yourself, is not good business practice.

If you are aware that you are constantly spending time on bookkeeping and yet hardly get anything done because you lack the necessary accounting skills, it may be a good idea to look into hiring a part-time accountant.

Many business owners struggle with delegation, as they feel the need to control everything. One way to challenge this idea is by looking at your hourly rate. If you charge $100 an hour and an accountant is $50 an hour, it makes sense to hire the accountant instead.

By outsourcing, you will find that you have more time to focus on what you're good at. As a result your productivity will rise and a better work-life balance will soon follow. If you'd like to learn more about how our IT systems can help make you even more productive, please contact us.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
December 13th, 2012

The hard disk drive (HDD) has been an essential part of computers more or less since their inception. While they have gotten smaller and increased in capacity, they are quickly reaching a point where they won't be able to go any faster, hold any more or last any longer. There is a replacement already making a splash with some great advantages, the solid-state drive (SSD).

You've likely heard of SSDs - drives that have no moving parts - and you may have even looked at the price of them. Yes, they are more expensive when compared with the aging HDD platform, SSDs however have a number of benefits over their cheaper cousins.

Here's five benefits of using SSDs in your company:

  • They're speedy - Put an SSD into a computer or laptop and you'll notice it screams. On some laptops, like the Google Chromebook, startup time can be as quick as eight seconds. This gets you into your desktop and to your work faster. While it's only seconds at each startup, it can add up to extra hours across the whole company. Access speed is also important, as traditional HDDs can access data at a rate of about 140 MB/s, while SSDs can access data at over 600 MB/s. This means your computer runs faster.
  • They're tough - There are no moving parts to most SSDs, so they are less likely to break. That's why they have been used by militaries, the aeronautical industry and the medical industry for years. Another advantage of not having moving parts is that the SSD will function in a greater temperature range, which is good news for businesses operating extreme climates, or even in the confines of hot server rooms.
  • They can help increase battery life - The power draw of the SSD is considerably lower than HDDs, which means battery life is extended. Some laptops with SSD-only drives can last 8-10 hours, compare this to six hours, (if you're lucky), on laptops with HDD. When installed in computers, there is a cost savings in energy bills too and while this might not amount to huge savings these can add up over time.
  • They last longer - HDD's moving parts mean that they eventually wear out, or crash. If this happens, the information stored on the drive will likely be inaccessible. SSDs are predicted to last far longer, which means your data is safer on these drives in the long-run.
  • They can be safer - Some SSDs utilize a memory system similar to flash drives. With an OS that can be configured to this type of memory, users can install these onto the drive, lock it and then use the cloud for media storage. Because the SSD can be locked, each time the OS is booted, it's booted into the original installed state, so malware that attacks the OS is rendered useless as all you have to do is revert the OS to it's original installed state i.e., restart your computer.
While SSDs have been around for nearly three decades, they are just now starting to make inroads with personal computers, and even business solutions for that matter. The biggest reason for the slow adoption is the price. On average, SSDs cost USD$0.65 for 1 GB while HDDs cost USD$0.05 to USD$0.10 per GB. This may seem like a big cost difference but the price in SSDs is dropping rapidly, while the price for HDDs is largely staying the same. If you're interested in learning more about SSDs and how they can fit into your company's IT, please contact us.
Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
November 30th, 2012

You've probably been sending emails for the better part of the past 15 to 20 years. They have become an essential communication tool, but did you know that there is a generally accepted etiquette when it comes to email? Most of us focus on certain rules when it comes to writing the body of the email, but few of us really look at the To; CC and BCC fields. Indeed, many people don't use these fields in the right way, which can lead to trouble in the future.

Below are some tips on how to properly use the To; CC and BCC fields in emails.

To The To field is typically used for contacts who you want to communicate directly with. If you add a few people here then you need to put their names in the salutation part of your email e.g., Hi Tom, Neena and Irina. If you are sending out a company wide announcement, or an email to your team, you can put the individual addresses in the To field and instead of addressing everyone individually use something like: Hello Team.

One of the unwritten but largely accepted email rules is that if an email address is in the To field, you're saying it's ok for other recipients to email one another regarding the email. There is a common perception that you should limit the number of people in the To field. There's no real limit on how many addresses can be included, as long as all the recipients are directly involved in the subject of the email. Even if it's 1,000 people you can still put them in.

Where this view of limiting addresses in the To box stems from is that more email addresses make the email look unwieldy and could anger people who want their email address kept private. Many users create groups and give each group a name which will show in the To field to all users. This will often eliminate the issue of people wanting their email addresses kept private while simultaneously cutting the number of email addresses people have to scroll through.

CC CC stands for Carbon Copy and is usually used for people who should know about the content of the email but aren't directly involved. As such, contacts who are CC'd are not expected to be a part of the conversation but can jump in if they want to. CC can also be used to tell the recipients that they aren't the only people who have seen this email; if you CC management, most people will see this and will likely be more inclined to follow through on the content of the email.

BCC Email addresses in the BCC, Blind Carbon Copy, will receive the email, but recipients in the To and CC fields won't see the address of those in the BCC field. BCC is most commonly used for mailing lists, or other periodicals and for when recipients request that their email address be kept private.

You should be careful with BCC though as, for example, if you are sending an email with sensitive information to one party, and you BCC another, you get in hot water if either party finds out and is not happy about what might be thought of as secret sharing.

These are just a few simple tips to ensure you follow email etiquette. If you would like to learn more about better ways to send emails, please contact us, we can help.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
November 15th, 2012

There is an 'instant' feeling to so much of what we do and expect to be done in life that this has kind of clouded the way we interact with one another. For example, if we receive an email, the sender expects an instant reply and if we don't reply within an often very narrow time frame, the sender will often move on. ‘Instant’ is a two way street, so while we have come to expect things to happen immediately, we often hate it when people want something right this minute. There is a danger this could become a big problem in the near-future.

This insatiable need for the ‘instant’ has arguably led to a decrease in the overall attention span of many people. We no longer focus on one thing and are constantly multi-tasking. Think of the last time you went out for a team lunch, what was the conversation like? More than likely you were sat around a table, talking for about five minutes before almost everyone resorted to looking at their phones, while kind of listening. Beyond that, think of the last time you had to wait for something, anything. If you're like a lot of people, you probably mumbled some comment or question as to why it was taking so long.

This instant, multitasking, relatively impatient lifestyle has started to really affect many us in negative ways. For example, looking at a forum post with over three pages of entries, most people will read the first few visible posts and then skip to the end and read the last post. If the post contains lots of text, most people bust out the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read) and skip most of the information, potentially missing the most important parts.

If this was on an important sales contract and you skipped over the section that detailed how your company would be compensated because you just didn't have the time or patience to read it, you could irreparably harm your business, simply because you didn't feel like reading a few extra paragraphs.

Before you go throwing the computer out the window - many businesses simply can't afford to get rid of it, or can't operate without it - you should take a step back and track how you utilize technology in your daily life. Look for gadgets, devices and even websites that distract you and take steps to decrease their use. Using a timer with a set amount of time during which you concentrate on work, and another with a smaller amount of time for breaks could be a real big help.

There are thousands of other ways you can increase your productivity, regardless of your reliance on technology. Which do you find work for you? Let us know.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
September 13th, 2012

Have you ever been sitting at your computer at work, buried up to your ears with somewhat trivial tasks and wished you could do all this from a more comfortable environment, or your home even? You’re not alone, and many professionals have switched over to a remote office, where they connect to work via the Internet. The one downside to this is it can be a chore for managers to ensure remote employees are productive.

Here’s five tips on how you can better connect with and manage your remote workers, freelance or otherwise, to help ensure optimal productivity.

Establish workflow As your employees work off site, they will set their own hours. This means they have to rely on their own discipline to get work done. Because of this, it will be hard for you to set/control their hours, which means you’ll have to trust them to get their work done. You should be aware of when they prefer to work, simply by talking with them, and be flexible with their schedules.

Working with remote workers is a two-way street, and while you should know your remote employee’s schedules, they should also know your schedule, and how you work. If you answer emails in the morning and have meetings in the afternoons, be sure to let them know that you expect/will answer their requests before lunch, for example.

Communication is key As in most businesses, communication is key to both a happy and productive workplace. You, as the manager, need to ensure that an open line of communication with your remote employees exists. This could be as simple as a telephone number or VoIP account that’s always on, (within reasonable hours of course), or an instant messaging platform. It’s important to ensure that you find out if your employees have the tools to complete their job.

Two-way feedback, both positive and negative, is also an important part of the communication process. You need to provide near constant feedback, even on small issues that would ordinarily be glossed over in physical interactions, while encouraging your employees to do the same.

Remember: you’re the boss Many bosses with remote employees find that the employee seems to run the show, and getting projects or tasks completed on time can be a bit tough. As the boss, you need to clearly explain what is expected of remote employees, why it’s expected, and the consequences of not meeting expectations. If there’s a problem it’s up to you to try to fix it.

Most importantly, if you work with strict deadlines, you need to ensure that remote employees are not only aware of the deadlines but are held accountable for them. If deadlines are missed, you may want to find another employee, remote or otherwise.

Provide a secure platform While the majority of remote employees connect to the office from their home, there’s a chance that they may connect from other locations, like coffee shops or libraries. A large percentage of public Wi-Fi connections have little to no security, and the last thing you want is to have your data breached due to unsecure connections.

This means you should provide remote employees with a secure way to connect to the office. Some solutions include virtual desktops or a secure laptop. Providing a secure connection isn’t enough, you need to ensure your systems can actually handle remote connections and that IT support is available for remote workers. The added benefit to this is that you can better monitor productivity, as the systems can be monitored using the same software as is used for computers in the office.

Judge by the final product Productivity is not easy to judge when you can’t physically see someone sat in their seat. For remote workers, the easiest way to monitor productivity is by the quality and consistency of the final product turned in compared to the time it took them to provide it. In reality, remote workers should complete tasks in about the same amount of time it takes employees who work onsite. The time and date of submission shouldn’t enter into decisions unless there are deadlines.

Employees that connect remotely can offer companies who employ them many benefits too and if you’re interested in employing remote staff, why not contact us. We can help find a solution that will work for both parties for best productivity all round.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
August 21st, 2012

In the last productivity article we discussed using webinars in your company. Webinars are a great way to train people or increase interest in your brand or products and can help you reach a wider audience. If you’re interested in hosting a webinar there are a number of steps you should be aware of in order to make it a success.

This week we present to you six steps to planning a successful webinar.

1. Is a webinar the right tool for the situation? When planning a meeting or training session, you should take into account who your audience is, the purpose of the meeting and the message you’d like to get across. Some messages are better delivered through other mediums, or in-person. If you’re hosting a seminar that’s scheduled to last longer than 2 hours, webinars are probably not the best medium to use, while a 15 minute introduction of your products to a potential client will go over well as a webinar.

2. Who will speak/ who will be support? If you decide a webinar is the medium to use, you need to assemble staff to help you run the webinar and choose the person who will speak. If you have experience addressing small audiences and running a powerpoint and related visuals while doing so, you can do it by yourself. If not, it will help to have a support team to help answer questions, run visuals and acting as tech support.

3. What format will you follow? Like any meeting, webinars require a format to be successful. Will you or your speaker be addressing the audience like a traditional classroom with questions and comments to come later? Or do you want to run more of an open forum and discussion where the speaker moderates? Picking a format will help you develop the content and maybe predict outcomes.

You should also pick how you will host a webinar. If you’re unsure with the options available, please contact us, we may have a solution.

4. Create an agenda When you feel the webinar is almost ready and the key ideas are in place, you can set an agenda. Try to make an educated guess on how long it will run for and how long each part will last. Write the schedule down and include extra time for technical issues and questions. By sticking to an agenda you can better stick on schedule, get the message across and your audience won’t get lost and shortly thereafter be bored.

5. Publicize For any webinar to be successful, you need to publicize who is speaking, when the event will happen, the topics it will cover and what programs will be used to run the event. It’s important to get this to as many people as possible, so put the info on your website, share it on your social networks and create an email to send to participants explaining the event and rundown.

6. Practice A few days to a week before the webinar, you and your support team should conduct a dry run of the event in the location it will take place. This is an important step as it can help identify technical issues and weak spots with the presentation itself. If you have staff who are unfamiliar with the technology or the process, this is also the time to train them.

By following these general steps, you will have a solid foundation with which you can host a successful webinar. To learn more about using your computer systems for communication, please contact us.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
July 12th, 2012

One of the most tiring things for small business owners is attending seminars and presentations. While they often give you great ideas on how to improve your business, they’re a tiring affair, especially when you have to travel to get to them. Technology has a great way for you to attend/conduct seminars via the Web, a webinar.

Webinars are an interesting topic, and a great way to boost your business. Because of this, we have a two part article on them. In part one, we provide a broad overview of webinars. In part two, to be published next month, we have some tips on how to plan a successful webinar.

What exactly is a webinar? A webinar is an online seminar or presentation attended by parties who are not in the same location. Attendees log in to the webinar and participate using a webcam. This is similar to video programs like Skype which allow people to communicate across vast distances, the only difference being, there are more than two people communicating.

The great thing about webinars is that they can be recorded and posted online for everyone to view. As the attendees participate virtually, their companies can save transportation costs while still receiving the valuable message of the presentation.

When should I use a webinar? There are a nearly unlimited ways you can use webinars in your company, the only limit is your imagination. Many small businesses use the webinar as a way to connect with their customers, and build a stronger relationship between internal and external factors. Some companies will host a webinar to explain more about a part of the organization, or address frequently asked questions.

Another common use of the webinar is to host a learning session. You, the subject matter expert, want to teach your students, the attendees, something they didn’t know before. By acting as the expert, people are more willing to trust and rely on you. In general, with situations where you want interaction between parties or to reach a wide audience, a webinar is a good medium to do so.

If you’re looking to host a webinar and are unsure of how to go about doing so, please give us a call, we may have a solution for you.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity