Posts Tagged ‘Productivity’


Are You Getting Everything You Should Be Out of Google Apps?

If you’re like many small businesses, you might be using Gmail for your company email addresses. Or maybe you rely on Google Calendar to alert you about meetings and events from any mobile device. But those are just the tip of the iceberg for Google Apps. There are tons more features that help you collaborate with your team, work away from your desktop, and hold more productive meetings, both in person and virtual.

Build a Smarter Team

The great thing about Google products is they work so well together, as well as individually, especially for teams. While I’ve written about the best apps small business owners need to thrive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google Drive. When you’re collaborating on documents, sharing them in the cloud makes it easy for multiple people to access the documents and make their changes, without all that crossover of emails with different versions of that doc.You can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, and share them with anyone you want to have access to them.

And if your team isn’t in the office with you, Google Hangouts makes meetings easier. Up to 15 people can be on a call, and there are apps for mobile devices, so you’re not tethered to your desktop.

Google Calendar, too, is ideal when trying to schedule meetings for your team. You can share access of your calendar or see availability on others’ calendars, then send invites to your team. You can even include a video call in the invite (on Hangouts, of course!).

Taking it on the Go

There are compelling reasons for Google lovers to choose Android phones over Apple. They’re much more intuitive when it comes to using Google Apps, and many (like the Samsung S5) come standard with all of the apps built in. Sign in once and get access to your Hangouts, email, Drive, and calendar.

It’s the Little Things

Beyond these tools, there are plenty more. Like Google Vault, which helps you archive email and chats, making audits and legal research easy. Or Google Sites, a free tool with simple website templates. Groups let you channel your conversations into one place online, and Translate helps you understand foreign text.

Integrate What You’re Already Using

A little-known feature of Google Apps is its Marketplace (I myself didn’t even know about it until I did some digging). The apps here are from software and programs you’re likely already using, like CRM, workflow, and email marketing. Enabling your accounts to work within Google Apps streamlines the activity between the two.

For example, the Nimble app in the Marketplace gives Nimble users more functionality. It allows you to import contacts from your social stream with one click; link emails, tweets, tasks, and events to a profile; and allow your team to log into Nimble using their Google account.

You might even discover new tools, like the HelloFax app, which lets you fax documents from your Drive. Or QuoteRoller, which helps you build out quotes and proposals.

All This…at What Cost?

If you signed up for Google in 2012 or earlier, you’ve been grandfathered in to free services. But at only $50 a year (or $120 with unlimited storage and Vault), it remains an affordable option for any small business looking for easy productivity tools.

We’ve come to rely heavily on Google, and for good reason: the brand keeps providing useful tools that help us do more with our businesses.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Creating an Ergonomic Workspace for Your Employees

Stocksy_txp60acfecbxm9000_Small_302510In today’s business environment, employees work long hours, typically hunched over computer keyboards or, in a customer service environment, on the phone. Did you ever stop to think about whether your employees’ workspace is ergonomically sound? I didn’t either until years ago when one of my employees began suffering from repetitive-stress injuries and eventually had to have surgery.

Ergonomics, or the study of how to fit work systems to workers, doesn’t get a lot of press these days—which is ironic considering a new generation of employees are working in ways that can be harmful to their health. Over time, typing on a keyboard that’s not suited to them, holding their hands in the wrong position or sitting in an uncomfortable chair for long periods can lead to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck problems or even tennis elbow (which is on the rise among iPad users). My doctor recently gave me an earful about my bad habit of spending hours slouched over my laptop on the couch.

Injured employees lead to worker’s compensation claims, lowered productivity and other problems for your business. An ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure in this case! Here are some steps to make your office more ergonomic:

  • Buy adjustable chairs that offer back, neck and armrest support. If needed, invest in additional cushions to support lower backs.
  • Encourage employees to get up and stretch or walk around for a few minutes every hour. There are many online apps that can pop up on their computers and remind them.
  • Provide headsets or cordless options for employees who spend long hours on the phone, such as customer service or salespeople.
  • Laptop keyboards are a big cause of repetitive stress injuries because they’re typically smaller and flatter than desktop keyboards. If employees use laptops for long periods, a simple search for “wireless ergonomic keyboards” will turn up many keyboards you can deploy with laptops.
  • Provide a selection of computer mice and let employees choose the one that feels best to them.
  • Make sure workspaces are properly lighted so employees don’t strain their eyes. Provide task lighting as needed—for example, desk lamps or under-shelf lighting for when employees need to work on paper.
  • Encourage employees to come to you when they’re feeling pain so you can get them treatment and adjust their workspace to resolve the issue. Repetitive stress injuries take time to build, but can appear quickly, so acting fast to treat the problem is key.

Check out OSHA’s guide to ergonomics and WebMD’s guide to ergonomic injuries


How to Get the Work Done and Still Go on Vacation

Stocksy_txp611ba5ef119000_Small_293786American small business owners don’t take enough vacation. In fact, the United States is the only western nation without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Do they know something we don’t?

Most entrepreneurs would agree that time away from work is actually good for their productivity. Unfortunately, so many small business owners are afraid to take vacation for fear of missing something or the their company “falling apart”. However, vacation time is actually a good time to measure how well the company actually operates without you. If the company‘s success is all about you, it is actually a very dangerous situation. Assign someone take your place while you are on vacation and test what happens. Even though it is a risk, a company that runs without your daily involvement is more valuable to any buyer or shareholder.

When I go on vacation, I do come back to over 3,000 emails, but I also realize that no one died and nothing happened that I could not be resolved the next week. No matter how fast we think business moves, things will many times wait longer than you initially realized. While there may be a few missed opportunities, the time away will be worth the increased productivity when you return.

If you can’t leave work for an entire week to recharge, consider doing work every morning for an hour while on vacation. During this time, follow these strict rules:

  1. Set an out of out of office message on your email and voice mail. Do not respond to emails that can be successfully handled by others at the company or when you return. While this may be tempting, it is important not to engage in these conversations since they will lead to additional work while on vacation.
  2. Leave strict instructions with your staff. This should include not to be bothered unless they need your advice or approval to a situation that will be “irreversible” if it is resolved instead in a week. Never call into the office to see “what’s happening”.
  3. Have no major deadlines while on vacation. Don’t take work with you. Any business done during this week should be to new issues that come up while you are gone.
  4. Do not use your laptop, tablet or phone for work except during this one hour a day. If you forgot something that you think of later in the day, write it down and let it wait to be addressed until the following morning.

What tips do you have to go on vacation from work?


Mondays with Mike: 8 Ways You Can Accomplish More By Going Old School

I love gadgets as much as the next guy, but I had an experience recently that made me realize that sometimes, putting all your technological eggs in one basket isn’t a good idea.  My phone died while I was traveling (long story) and I was left without my clock, directions to the hotel, or even the name of the hotel that my assistant had reserved for me.  I was paralyzed until I could get some juice for my phone, and I realized that sometimes, old school is best.  Here’s a list of devices that you should always have in reserve.

  1. Calculator.  Yes, I know your phone has one, but have you ever needed the calculator while you’re on the phone?  Happens to me all the time.  A pocket-sized solar calculator with a battery backup can be a lifesaver.
  2. Typewriter.  Don’t roll your eyes.  I’m serious.  If you’ve ever needed to fill in a form that you can’t edit online, then the typewriter is a godsend.   Print the form, type your entries, and you’re all set.  I don’t use mine often, but when I need it, it’s the perfect solution.
  3. GPS device.  Sure, most phones have this function, but again – when you’re on a call and you simultaneously need directions, you’ll be glad you have the separate unit.  The bonus is that prices have come way down, and you can get a great GPS for very little.
  4. Alarm clock.  This item’s about redundancy as well, but if your phone battery dies or the power goes out, you’ll still be on time for that important meeting if you’ve packed a battery or wind-up alarm clock.  No need to make excuses for oversleeping.
  5. Compass.  Yes, really.  It never fails that the very moment that I need my GPS the most – like in the middle of Manhattan – the buildings keep my GPS from working properly.  If I know I need to head uptown, my pocket compass saves the day.
  6. Watch.  I may be old fashioned, but people who constantly check their phones drive me crazy.  If you just need to check the time, you’ll look much more engaged if you glance at your watch, rather than checking your phone and incidentally seeing the twenty new emails that need your attention.
  7. Pen and paper.  Inevitably, every time I try to use my phone’s notes function, I get distracted by a text message or a calendar alert and frequently forget what I needed to jot down.  Pen and paper in my pocket solves the problem.
  8. Polaroid camera.  I tell people that I keep a Polaroid camera just for fun, but it’s actually a fantastic leave behind.  Physical pictures are becoming so rare that they’re a brilliant way to remind a client or a friend of a momentous occasion.

I increasingly hear folks making excuses for why they haven’t managed to get something done, usually blaming their shortcomings on technology.  It’s far better to be the one person who always delivers, every time, rather than being the person whining about a dead battery and a failure to plan ahead.  Don’t be caught unprepared.  

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Get Control of Your Email

Is your email out of control? Are you constantly checking it on three different devices and feel like you never get out from under the avalanche? If your emails seem to be multiplying like rabbits, don’t despair—there are ways to get a grip and get back control of your life. Not all of the following tactics will work for everyone—but some should work for you.

  • Avoid checking email first thing in the morning. If you find that email sucks up your time and keeps you from accomplishing big projects, try designating the first hour of your day as email-free. Just be sure you use that time to work on key tasks that are crucial to your business—not busywork or checking Facebook. By dedicating a solid hour a day to focused effort, you’ll be amazed how much more you get done. (Disclosure: I offer this advice because so many time management people put it on their lists of must-do’s. Personally, I always check email first thing in the morning. To do otherwise seems counter-productive to me.)
  • Turn off email notifications. If your computer or smartphone dings every time you get a new email, no wonder you’re going nuts. Turn off notifications so you can focus instead of being interrupted every two seconds.
  • Set times for checking email. It’s human nature to seek out the new and exciting. When we’re bored or stressed, it’s natural to check our email to see if anything more interesting has come along. You’ll get more done if you set a few specific times of day for checking email—for example, one hour into your day, right before lunch, early afternoon and near the end of the day. If you let your team know about your email habits, they won’t panic when you don’t respond immediately.
  • Use filters, folders, rules and other tools. Whether you use Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail or other program, investigate the tools available on your email program to help manage email. Spending a few hours now learning how to automatically sort emails into folders, set rules for what to do with emails and using filters to ensure you don’t miss important emails (and don’t waste time on pointless ones) will save you hours each day in the end.
  • Automate and delegate. If you frequently answer the same types of emails, such as a certain kind of customer inquiry, creating templates with stock language you can edit quickly will save you time. Or delegate these standard replies to an assistant (real or virtual).
  • Pick up the phone. Sometimes we spend hours going back and forth on email when a simple phone call would solve the issue in a flash. Never minimize the value of in-person communication.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Managing Employees’ Internet Use

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Has the World Cup had your employees on the edge of their seats watching every game—at work? Today, it’s common for just about every employee of a small business to have Internet access on the job. While that generally enables your team to do their jobs more efficiently, other times it can really slow things down—or even put your business at risk from hackers, viruses and more. How can you protect your business and ensure productivity without becoming “Big Brother” when it comes to Internet use? Here are some tips.

  1. Protect. It’s easy for busy employees in a rush to accidentally click on a link or open an attachment that unleashes a computer virus. Take the basic step of ensuring your network and each computer has security software and that it’s updated regularly.
  2. Mind their own devices. More and more employees are going “BYOD,” or “bring your own devices,” to work these days. While this can seem like the answer to a budget-minded entrepreneur’s dreams, if employees use their own personal tablets and smartphones for work, it can open up a whole can of worms. In the long run, it may actually be more cost-effective to provide company-issued devices that you can control, update and monitor.
  3. Educate. No matter how much security software you install or how many automatic updates you run, most data loss occurs due to human error. Create a policy for what employees can and can’t do on their work computers, tablets and smartphones, and make sure everyone understands and signs it. Regularly remind employees of the importance of changing passwords frequently, keeping them secure, not installing software without permission and avoiding questionable emails or links.
  4. Check it out. Being on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube can be part of an employee’s job—or it could just be distracting them from their jobs. If things are out of hand, you might consider installing monitoring software on stafffers’ computers, which can tell you what websites they visit, what emails they get and what they do online. This seems like a drastic step, so a more comfortable solution may be simply for you to get out and walk around your business and interact with your employees. You’ll be able to tell who’s goofing off.
  5. Be real. Don’t pretend no one ever goofs off online. Instead, acknowledge the reality and work around it. For example, does your staff want to watch a sports event? Talk about ways people can get their work done early so they can enjoy some bonding time watching the game together. That can be just as good for your business as working can. 

Using Internet Monitoring Software to Increase Employee Productivity

Stocksy_txpe4825224HV7000_Small_184198Small business owners used to be able to walk around their offices to see the work that their employees where doing. But as organizations are have become increasingly virtual, it is now impossible for a manager to accomplish this since work is now done at client sites, coffee shops, and homes. As a result, many small business owners are up at night wondering if employees are working or just playing video games during the day.

Productivity is being impacted. A 2013 salary.com survey showed that 58% of employees waste up to 60 minutes per day on non-business related websites during the work day, not including lunch or break times.

One solution to this problem is to use an internet monitoring software service for employees. Web monitoring and filtering is traditionally installed to block adult content, phishing sites, or to reduce time wasted on shopping and social media sites. One company, Rawstream is a cloud-based web monitoring and filtering product that helps employees spend their time online productively, profitably and safely.

This tool shows the exact amount of time a user spends looking at a particular website. It gives managers the visibility to see what employees are working on in real time no matter where they are via the application dashboard and report generation function. It also allows managers to see what files are being put into sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and Cubby. The software shows who is using the content sharing apps and lists any files shared that break company policy to protect against the sharing of files containing sensitive data such as credit card numbers. More importantly, employees have access to their own web usage reports, so they can examine their own habits and learn to use their time on the internet more effectively. Managers and employees can also set time limits to access to sites or block certain sites.

There are several benefits for small businesses to use web filtering solutions. Company production can increase when employees are not wasting time on websites that have no business value. Additionally, managers can have more confidence in allowing employees to work off site, giving employees the flexibility to work in an environment they can be most productive.

Too “Big Brother” for you? Remember that just letting employees know that the company is using an Internet monitoring tool will actually boost their productivity.


How Spreadsheets Can Turn You into a Business Super Power

Posted on by Carol Roth

supermanphoneboothWhen Clark Kent runs to a phone booth and emerges as Superman, a competent, mild-mannered news man begins using an entirely different set of skills to save the world.  These days, phone booths are a rare sight, but you don’t need one to develop business super powers.  By embracing the capabilities of spreadsheets, you gain skills that help you wear the many hats (or capes) that you need to run a successful business.

You are already well versed in providing your goods or services to happy customers, but any business requires you to be equally adept at planning, organizing, analyzing, reporting and countless other activities.  So, update your superhero wardrobe and toolkit by replacing your many hats with a single spreadsheet cape that helps you super-charge your capacity to handle any type of business task (although I don’t recommend going with the superhero look of wearing your underwear over your pants). 

Here are a few great ways that you can use spreadsheets to “save the day” in your business.

Handling Administrative Tasks Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Like me, you probably view administrative activities as the evil villain in your business day.  How many of your filing cabinets contain nothing but time sheets, expense reports, travel advance requests and other forms that your employees use to keep track of administrative issues?  And how many employees spend countless hours checking the math and making sure that these forms are complete? 

Spreadsheets to the rescue!  When you switch from paper to spreadsheets for your business paperwork, you can release floor space for better uses than paper filing, while freeing employee time (or your time) for more valuable tasks.  Since my college days, Microsoft Excel has been my spreadsheet of choice (which may explain why the company is now one of my clients), so that’s what I recommend.  Microsoft Excel provides an amazing array of helpful templates when you create a new spreadsheet.  Heck, they provide over a dozen templates just for employee time sheets.  But on the off chance that you cannot find the template you need, you can probably find it online on Microsoft’s Templates page.  Browse these templates to get inspired on how you can streamline your administrative duties.

Planning and Reporting with X-Ray Focus

Spreadsheets make planning and reporting easier, more accurate and more collaborative.  By building in assumptions and using formulas for calculations, you can easily test different scenarios, such as what happens if you were able to generate a cost reduction for a key client or what happens if you doubled your revenue.  By copying the current year’s formulas, you can also project future years without having to recreate the wheel each time, which saves you time.  And your customers, lenders and accountants won’t need X-ray vision to find or understand the information that they need.

And, of course, templates are available to help you create everything from startup business plans to just about any type of financial report that you can imagine, so you don’t even need to create them from scratch. 

Use the Power of Charts and Graphs

Analyzing data can be valuable for companies to see trends and deficiencies.  Whether you have one client that is accounting for too much of your business and creating additional risk, or a continual increase in your expenditures of professional services, sometimes it is easier to see with the visual presentation of charts and graphs.  Using spreadsheets, you are just a few clicks away from converting that dry data into colorful charts and graphs that instantly make data evaluation a snap. 

Not only do charts and graphs make it easier for you to analyze data, they are great for transforming presentations as well.  

Whether you do it all in your small business or even if you have the luxury of delegating number crunching to an employee or two, your business needs consistent, accurate and professional-looking information to grow and prosper.  I hope that you will use these suggestions to replace drudgery with productivity.  Then, continue the adventure by finding many other ways to use spreadsheets to make the switch from mild-mannered business owner to business superhero.


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Five Star Tours

The leading tour bus company in San Diego, Five Star Tours and Charter Bus Company is a family-operated business that specializes in international group transportation and tour services along the Californian and Mexican coasts.

We recently met with Alfonso Hernandez, General Manager of Five Star Tours, to chat with him about how his company uses their phone system to conduct their business operations.

Located in a bustling train station, the Five Star Tours team used to have a phone system that was connected to the station’s PA. This proved to be a headache throughout their day-to-day activities, as the system consistently dropped calls, didn’t support caller ID, and wouldn’t accurately transfer calls. On top of that, they would receive conductor messages over their phone calls. It was time for a change.

We were happy to hear Alfonso report that Nextiva’s phone service gave them a 100% turnaround. They can now hear their clients clearly, and they have programmed their call forwarding functions and hunt groups to give the team more freedom of mobility.

Best of all, Nextiva gave Five Star Tours a competitive advantage. That’s the goal of Nextiva’s products and services – to make your day easier and give you a leg up on your competition. We’re glad that we were able to make that happen for Alfonso and his team.

Hear his full story here:




 
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