9 effective tools for business productivity

Smart practice

Friday 03 November 2017

Simple ways to make your team more efficient

When teams use the right tools to work together, they can make huge gains in productivity – and the final outcome. Developing new ideas, solving problems and getting things done more efficiently sounds great. But with an ever-growing list of apps and programs available, where do you begin?

We’ve rounded up nine of the best tools that really work for small and medium businesses – covering some old favourites and new options.


Communicate clutter-free

The popular chat-driven collaboration tool Slack ($6.67/$12.50 per user per month, free plan available) was created to simplify business communication and reduce meetings and unwieldy email threads.

It’s useful for both in-house and remote teams. You can organise chat threads and topics into channels, and upload and share documents for discussion.

Slack automatically archives every conversation, and your archive is searchable – so there’s a written record of every conversation. It also integrates with a huge range of other productivity apps, and can work seamlessly across multiple devices, platforms and operating systems.

While Slack works well on a small scale, some organisations might benefit more from a more structured platform – something like enterprise social network Yammer (from $3 per user per month), which is intended for team building as much as communication.

Like Slack, Yammer lets you organise chat threads into relevant groups. It also gives each user their own profile, integrates with MS Office and SharePoint allowing collaboration on documents, and keeps users updated on projects in their feed.

If the social network model appeals, it’s also worth keeping an eye on Workplace ($1–3 per user per month), the recently launched enterprise version of Facebook, too. With a lot of the familiar, well-loved features of the main Facebook site (and totally separate from users’ personal accounts), its interface should come naturally to many employees – cutting back on the cost of training staff in a new platform.


Meet more efficiently

Communication tools like Slack could curb time-wasting meetings. But when a face-to-face is needed, there are some good tools available to make them as effective as possible.

Do ($10 per user per month, free plan available) is a standout. You can think of it as a checklist of things to do before, during and after a meeting to make sure everyone’s time is spent as productively as possible. Set agendas, keep notes, create outcome lists, and track and follow up on the progress of those outcomes – all from the one platform. It’s archived and searchable, which keeps everyone accountable. And the insights feature lets you track the time (and money) you spend on meetings.

If you need to meet remotely, try Google Hangouts – part of G Suite ($5/$10 per user per month). Hangouts lets you make voice and video calls straight from your computer or mobile device, hold videoconferences, and live-stream meetings. It also has a built-in accountability feature, with the ability to revisit past Hangouts.


Collaborate in the cloud

Gone are the days of in-house server maintenance. Businesses of all kinds now store their files and data in the cloud, quickly and securely sharing them between multiple devices and users.

For small businesses, using Dropbox as your server can be a lot more cost-effective and simpler than managing your own shared server.

Dropbox Business ($17.50/$27.50 per user per month) is one of the best platforms around. Users can upload, edit and replace versions of shared documents, with the ability to designate access (permanently or temporarily) to specific folders and files, and remotely wipe files from lost devices. And files are automatically backed up, with version history allowing recovery. Dropbox Business integrates with over 300,000 apps, so it’s likely to work seamlessly with any other tools you’re using. The advanced package even gives you unlimited storage.

For small businesses, using Dropbox as your server can be a lot most cost effective and simpler than managing your own shared server. And when collaborating on large image files, giving everyone who needs it access to a shared folder is a much more efficient way to work than email.


Manage projects and tasks

If you think of platforms like Slack as the radio and the cloud as your communal workspace, then task management tools like recent Atlassian acquisition Trello are the roadmaps, keeping you on track.

Trello (from $9.99 per user per month, free plan available) is a web-based task management app available on desktop and mobile. Many users like to think of it as their to-do list, but it’s a lot more flexible and interactive than the traditional pen-and-paper variety.

Trello lays out tasks and projects on cards that you can drag and drop into columns and funnels across a board. The idea is to keep teams focused on their priorities and manage competing imperatives.

Assign members and due dates to each card and it integrates with other apps, including Slack. It’s open to the way you work – software companies use it to streamline their product development process, while recruiters track job candidates through interviews. And unlike other project management tools, Trello gamifies the process with features like voting.


Bring it all together

Many of these tools integrate with each other, but to create an extra degree of efficiency consider an automation service. These work behind-the-scenes to create ‘cause and effect’ links between all your tools.

IFTTT (If This Then That) (free) lets you set up automated ‘recipes’. For example, every time you get an email with an attachment it will save to Dropbox. Or whenever your competitor makes a new blog post, you get an email notification. Zapier (from $20 per month, free plan available) is a lot like IFTTT, but it allows for multi-step automations (this happens, then that, then something else) – and it integrates with more than 750 business productivity apps.


Reach your productivity potential

However you choose to boost productivity and collaboration, it’s important to regularly evaluate whether your systems are working – and whether they could be improved. There’s no point spending time on Slack if your staff work more productively in person.

Most of these tools integrate with common workplace software, but make sure they will work alongside your existing systems too.

Finding the perfect mix might take a little time, so take advantage of the free trials. Once you’re up and running with virtual collaboration tools, chat platforms and behind-the-scenes systems making it all work seamlessly together, there’s huge potential for return on your productivity investment.

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