Lilach Bullock shares how the digital revolution has changed the way business work and why productivity tools are here to stay.
The digital revolution has changed the face of business. For a little while now, businesses have used digital platforms and tools to improve the ways that they engage their audience, generate new leads, and market their wares. However, until recently, digital tech has not really been used to its full potential when it comes to how businesses operate internally.
But this is changing. Many software developers are now creating business productivity and collaboration tools specifically to help businesses augment their internal processes and communications. Whilst it’s still early days when it comes to digitalising businesses’ internal operations, as more and more businesses begin to see the benefits of such solutions, we can expect to see the implementation of internal productivity and communication solutions become a business standard.
There are many benefits to using internal business productivity and communication tools. These include increased productivity (of course), improved cost savings, faster speed-to-completion of tasks and projects, the breaking down of geographic team silos due to be spread across multiple territories and / or time zones, and smarter, more consistent, two-way internal communication.
An array of different types of tools are now available to help businesses achieve varied internal objectives.
Internal social media (or enterprise social networking)
Internal social media tools uses online social networks to aid communication between people who share business interests or activities. These networks are often modifications to corporate or business intranet systems, which allow employees to correspond with one another in a more efficient and quicker way than that which was possible previously.
Like normal social media, internal social media connects people. However, in a business setting, these people will be seniors, peers, or juniors. And, since most employees will be familiar with using social media in their personal lives, internal social media may improve employee engagement by introducing a familiar and fun communication channel into the workplace.
Yammer is a great example of an internal social media solution. Billing itself as an “enterprise social network”, Yammer facilitates communication between co-workers with its easy-to-use interface and easy-to-learn social functions.
Workflow management tools help businesses scale up their productivity by allowing individuals to automate repetitive business processes, automatically finish uncompleted tasks, and visualise and analyse existing workflows.
Workflow management software can be used to identify and remove any unnecessary steps in a particular process, before modifying the order of steps to make the process more efficient. And, because workflow management software automates important processes, such as strategic and operational activities, those people who were previously responsible for carrying them out are freed up to work on other things. Workflow management tools also often reduce the amount of paperwork required to carry our particular tasks, and so have an indirect ecological benefit too.
Trello, a web-based project management application, allows users to allocate each project a “board”. A “board” contains “lists” (corresponding to task lists) which, in turn, contain “cards” (corresponding to specific activities relevant to that board’s project). “Cards” progress from one list to the next as the project advances with users simply dragging and dropping according to what stage they are at. A user can be assigned a “card”, and users and “boards” can be grouped into “organisations”. This way, responsibility for specific projects can be given to the most appropriate person in a very visual way.
Team collaboration software helps people achieve a common task. This means that these tools often include communication functions, file sharing functions, and task management functions. Using such features, teams are able to communicate, confer, and co-ordinate in an improved and more effective fashion.
Team collaboration software helps employees schedule events, track and chart a project as it is being undertaken, proof documents before release, collect and manage various forms of information, and, occasionally, create a place to interact with clients in a private online environment.
MURAL, for example, is a fantastic piece of team collaboration software that enables users to brainstorm, synthesise ideas, and collaborate with one another. By allowing users to visually organise their thoughts, MURAL gets everyone on the same page and keeps them there, and also makes finding meaningful insights and achieving more creative solutions easy.
Virtual meeting tools does, pretty much, what it says on the tin. That is, allows groups to meet virtually in a quick and easy fashion.
Whilst it’s true that video conferences and the like have been a part of business for years, virtual meeting software not only makes such meetings-at-a-distance available to almost any team, it also adds additional features, such as a simple text chat function, and instant file sharing capabilities.
Online meetings, of course, make it possible for teams to stay in contact even when geographically dispersed. This means that you can meet and collaborate online no matter what the location, operation system or time zone is. As such projects can carry on running even if one team member is in another country or just working from home. Web conferencing also removes the need to travel, since employees from different branches etc. are free to talk to one another from their respective workplaces. At the same time, removing the need to travel allows employees to focus on other projects and invest elsewhere the energy and travel budget that have been saved.
ClickMeeting is an online platform for collaborative meetings and webinars. It features audio and video conferencing, moderated Q&A and private chat, as well as full desktop sharing and control.
Time management software is designed to ensure that users maximise every working hour of the day. It’s a well-known fact that employees don’t always work in the most efficient and time-effective fashion. Time management software therefore helps users manage their time so that they are able to work to their full potential.
Time management tools may analyse how you use your computer by, for example, tracking which tasks you undertake and calculating how much time you spend on each. Depending on how this breaks down, the software may offer employees the opportunity to add timers for overly time-consuming tasks or time limits to certain particularly distracting websites.
By expressing or limiting the amount of time a user should be spending on a specific task, it is far easier for employees to keep track of how they are spending their time and what they can do to improve their productivity.
Due is an online time tracking solution specifically designed for small businesses. Due tracks every bit of time users spend on certain tasks so that they are able to see how effective they are being. The software can also be integrated with various third-part sites, such as Basecamp, Quickbooks, and Paypal, so that users can manage times and create invoices on the spot.
Business productivity tools in summary
It’s clear, then, that all of these tools can be implemented to solve many common problems facing modern businesses. And, since many of these tools operate a freemium business model, it’s easy for businesses to trial them before committing on a permanent basis.
In general, productivity and collaboration tools can help businesses save money (e.g. by reducing travel budgets or physical meeting costs such as refreshments, room hire, or lunch delivery etc.) and improve communication between internal teams (including teams working across different time zones). They also provide instant access for all users, which helps to create an “always-on” 24/7 mentality. This means that employees may perform simple yet time-consuming activities, such as checking emails, more frequently and complete small tasks even when they’re not at work. Moreover, the increased communication that such tools provide makes it easy for businesses to talk to all of their key stakeholders in real-time. And, at a higher level, there is no better way of getting key stakeholders for projects in the same virtual room at the same time, which can become impossible if done face-to-face owing to their busy schedules.
Business productivity and communication tools are becoming more popular. And as the demand for them increases, the functions they provide will become more refined and more specialised. Even now, however, many of the tools currently available are designed to help businesses become more productive in a very real and measurable way. By selecting the most appropriate tools for them, businesses really should be using these tools to improve the way they function at the deepest level.