32 Tips to Choose the Right Work Solutions
Advances in technology happen much faster than ever before. We now see major jumps in user experience, speed, storage, and more with each new release instead of each year, decade, or century. The goal of the technology we use at work is to make us more productive. But with that comes challenges.
When done wrong, technology can rob us of productivity and/or distract us with too much data, too many notifications—and not enough useful insight.
See our infographic, "5 Most Dangerous Creative Productivity Myths—BUSTED!" for more issues that interfere with productivity.
Oftentimes, the work technologies that we hang so many of our hopes on can be outright rejected by our teams—regardless of their potential value, we get a big fat goose egg.
Undoubtedly, the ability to select and implement the right tools to meet our challenges is more important than the technology itself. But this isn’t easy.
To help you, we’ve provided 32 tips you and your team can use as you evaluate the technology you use in the workplace and decide what stays, what goes, and what will take your company to the next level.
1. Evaluate What You Have
First things first. Take a look at what tools you’re currently using and see what adds to your success and which tools and tech bring you pain and challenges in efficiency.
A post at Zapier.com says that before handing your team tool after tool after tool, something that seems new and cool, look at existing processes and workflows and decide which new tools could specifically match or improve them.
As SmarterU founder Dan Belhassen says, "Workflows are what you are going to have to live with. Features are just bullet points. That will be the difference between being satisfied in a year or looking for another tool in a year.”
2. Generally Avoid Productivity Killers
When considering the uses of technology, a team must ask, “Is it disruptive or adaptive?”
A recent study from CareerBuilder listed the following as some of the biggest productivity killers in the workplace:
- The internet
- Social media
These especially need to be evaluated as possible ways to be more productive or possibly as work distractions.
3. Understand Smartphones are a Blessing and a Curse
As the CareerBuilder study shows, one piece of tech we use in the workplace that needs a closer look is the smartphone.
The blessing is that it has made teams more accessible. Employees can check their email and instant messages or accept meeting requests from school plays and the doctor’s office.
As long as there are guidelines in place for what kind of availability is expected outside of business hours, this kind of tech at the finger can be a huge benefit.
The curse is that smartphones can be distracting when used too often for personal reasons at work and do contribute to employee burnout. A recent Work-Life Imbalance Report survey revealed that 40 percent have said that a bad work-life balance has ruined time with family and friends.
4. Know The Pros and Cons of the Internet
The internet can be a huge help or a productivity nightmare. Some of the pros include easy access to fact checking and competitive research, as well as better and faster access to customers and their behaviors.
But with the benefits come the cons. Time suckers such as clickbait. Memes, personal social media, and comments sections lead to a spiral of endless distractions. Take a closer look at this piece of technology to see where its benefits can be amplified.
5. Recognize Instant Messenger Apps Help and Hurt
Instant messaging has become an indispensable tool in the workplace. You can get questions answered in a moment without traipsing over to someone’s desk and awkwardly waiting for them to acknowledge you. And it’s more likely to be answered in an IM before it’s answered via email.
But let it get out of hand and it can be a constant nag all day long, keeping you from pushing forward on pressing projects. And often it isn’t archived, so important project details sent this way won’t have a record to refer to in the future.
One way to improve on this tech is to use the messaging and comment features inside your work management solution. This way, all questions about a particular piece of work are collected and archived alongside the other details about that job.
6. Make Sure Your Team uses the Right Tool for the Job
As we’ve mentioned on this blog many times before, email and spreadsheets have their place. But using them collectively as a tool for work management makes it almost impossible to understand who has done what or what changes have been made.
Instead of trying to make another tool into something it’s not, discuss upgrading to a purpose-built platform that’s specifically made for work management and collaboration.
7. Remember Email is Your Frenemy
Sure it’s an upgrade over snail mail, fax, and interoffice memos. And it remains the primary means of communication in the office today. It can be beneficial when used to schedule meetings, get a quick update, or for subscribing to industry newsletters.
But in our 2016 State of Enterprise Work Report, 43 percent of workers blamed “excessive emails” for getting in the way of their work. People view email as a one-tool-fits-all solution, but it can’t be that.
When evaluating technology for your team, take a look at whether or not you use it for things it was never designed to do. Things such as task management, project management, and approval processes that should occur in its own tool or face-to-face.
8. Avoid Using Paper for Anything but Personal Notes
There are still those who would call a paper notebook a valuable piece of work technology. To those people we say the main problem with paper as a work tool is that it can’t sync with your desktop or your mobile device.
Make sure your team is tracking everything crucial to a project inside a digital medium and leave the paper to personal reminders and doodles of their latest D&D; character.
9. Realize Sometimes You Might Just Need a Simple Add-On or Integration
Depending on the tool and the size of your team and company, you may just need your existing tools to integrate in a way that gives them broader functionality. Double check your software tools’ integrations and you could save your company some of its budget.
For example, Workfront integrates seamlessly with email, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, SharePoint, Salesforce, Adobe Creative Cloud, and many other essential business tools.
10. Make Sure the Tool Solves a Problem
You’re going to keep getting sales calls. One of the most important things you can do before agreeing to hear them out or see a demo is to know what technology needs you have and what problems you need those to solve.
Success for your company is not about the tool. It’s about the people operating the software and how they use it to solve problems and improve the business.
11. Know the Metrics you Need the Technology to Track
It’s tempting to be impressed by features of a piece of technology. But what the tech does is not nearly as important as what it can tell you about what it’s doing. There is no better way to prove its value.
Marketing consultant and best-selling author Jay Baer says:
“Understand before you buy the software how you will measure its internal impact. … Not only will it make it much easier for you to know whether to renew, but having your metrics established beforehand will also make you a much more thoughtful shopper when you’re kicking the tires of competing software tools.”
12. Demo, Demo, Demo—it’s Time Consuming but Worth It
Because you’ve done your homework and you know your pain points and challenges you hope to combat through new tech, you’ll be able to provide your needs and success metrics to the software company sales rep ahead of time. That way your demo will be tailored to those circumstances.
“And, if you can make it work with your schedules, I find it is best to do the competing demos as close together as possible. Best case scenario is you do them all back-to-back-to-back and then have a team meeting to discuss, while it’s all still fresh in your mind,” writes Baer.
13. Run a Pilot or Trial
If the software offers it, try a pilot program. This will help you test whether or not the problem you’re trying to solve with new software can be solved with it.
“Pilots accomplish two key things. First, they prevent you from fully migrating to a tool that might not work. Second, it proves to your team that you’re committed to solving the problem, not just changing software. If it works, your solution earns credibility,” writes Teamwork.com.
With an up-close look at the software, you’ll better know what you’re about to invest in.
14. Know What the Technology Costs
This means you not only need to know the cost of purchase, but of implementation, and how much it will take from the budget to upkeep. Baer adds, “Also realize that the software cost isn’t your only expenditure. Time spent operating the software is a major expense.”
15. Use Tech that Provides Visibility
Avoid using tools with limited access by the team for work projects. Email is best used for specific communication between small groups. However, tools like this should not be used for project management or proofing or collaboration.
Evaluate how your tech provides visibility to the whole team (or doesn’t) and decide if you’re willing to accept the tradeoffs for tools that don’t let teams access and see a project's entire lifecycle.
16. Find Tech that Provides the Big Picture
Teams need tools that let them see the big picture and how their work has an effect on the larger set of projects.
“A solution that allows me to ‘empty the mind,’ as it records all that I have to do, so I never have to rely solely on my memory,” writes experienced project manager Ivan Rivera.
This real-time information helps people decide between all the pending tasks and enables reorganization of tasks as needed. More than that, technology today must not only be available at the office but also push important notifications to your smartphone.
17. Try Online Collaboration and Sharing Tools
Tools like Workfront or Dropbox are quick and efficient ways to manage files, content, and approvals. Instead of requiring you to send attachments and revisions back and forth between clients, creative teams, and account executives, an entire team stays up to date and looking at the latest versions in the cloud.
Tara Mulhern of Webtek says, “These files can be accessed anywhere versus just on the network in your office, will always be synchronized, and you can easily share documents, photos, and videos.”
18. Avoid A Word of Hurt
Microsoft Word is great for document writing, but not the most up-to-date tech for team collaboration. If you ask multiple people to review a document simultaneously, the copies multiply, each with their own tracked changes. The poor coworker tasked with combing through and combining feedback won’t be happy.
19. Try Tools that Allow Real-Time Collaboration
Word has its problems when it comes to collaboration and visibility. Google Docs, on the other hand, hosts documents online, allowing multiple reviewers to edit at the same time while leaving feedback that the whole team can see.
20. Boost the Power of Existing Technology
Explore the full suite of tools to see what else can solve a problem. Take a look at all the Google Apps. There may be some underused apps or features that will benefit the team. Lesser-known Google Keep, for example, allows you and members of your team to put notes and to-dos in a single source and see everything just by scrolling.
21. Play with Other Methodologies
Fences and Trello are technologies that help teams organize work within various Agile methodologies. A complete work management system is preferred, but in a pinch, a "Kanban Board" helps organize the flows of work to be done.
If another methodology works better, you can be sure there are tools for it.
Better yet, a platform that caters to all work methodologies equally, like Workfront, would be the most helpful to a team that desires methodology flexibility.
22. Use Technology for Meetings
Many of us work on teams distributed throughout the world. Your company may have developers in India, writers in Belarus, and marketers in the UK. Take a hard look at technology that helps to provide real collaboration across these global teams. This can bring its own unique challenges.
To more effectively work together, use video communication tools to better bring everyone into the loop.
“We push people to use video calls rather than voice or chat only,” writes Kelsey Uebelhor. “Video calls help people get to know each other while avoiding potential communication issues that can occur when only using chat.”
23. Put Work Front and Center
While many pieces of tech have fancy bells and whistles, one of the most important things to evaluate in new tools is whether or not all of your collaboration and status sharing happens in a centralized online space. This way, tools like email become an accessory to the tool—not the tool.
24. Collaborate in the Cloud
Softchoice Advisor says that with Adobe Creative Cloud your team sees the cloud storage use for each user and each can confirm whether they are actually using the software. This means you can always scale back on licenses that aren’t being used.
Looking for all such features and flexibility in your tech will save your budget in the long run.
“Beyond the benefits to the IT team, Creative Cloud also improves visibility with its invaluable integrations with work management solutions like Workfront, digital asset management software, and other cloud-based tools,” writes Softchoice Advisor.
25. Focus on the Rollout
Jay Baer says that even when documenting the problems you need tech to solve, creating your metrics, doing the demos, talking to real customers, and understanding your costs, you can still do the purchase of new software wrong.
This is due to not having a strong plan to rollout the new tech once you have it.
“The very best scenario is that you create your rollout plan before you buy the software … This almost never happens, unfortunately.
You get all excited and eager to buy the software and get it ramped up, and then only after you’ve been working with it for a while do you start to think about how to optimally integrate it into your team … This is the software equivalent of pin-striping a moving car,” Baer writes.
26. Have a Technology Champion
Every office has someone who’s an early adopter, someone who knows every keyboard shortcut, or can navigate Salesforce with their eyes closed. These are the people you need to champion the adoption of a new tool.
The champion should know and love nearly everything about it, know its strengths, and have an infectious curiosity for how to use it to solve problems. Baer says the champion should be willing and able to drive trial, adoption, and usage internally.
27. Don't Have Too Many Tools in the Shed
Disconnection is a real problem. Yes, we realize we just spent time on a handful of tips that seem to promote individual tools. While that’s true, there’s a catch.
The only way an individual tool actually helps your team improve the technology they use to get things done is if these tools connect to each other. Otherwise they end up being one thing for one purpose in a bubble.
As we wrote in this post, if none of your tech is synched up with the other tools, you still have a too-many-tools and a major visibility problem. Remember, before you invest in a new software solution, make sure it gets along with the other systems you currently depend upon.
28. Try to Give a DAM
Even in this day of cloud-based tools, 48 percent of creative teams don’t use a digital asset management solution. As for the other 52 percent, many use outdated solutions that are installed on site.
Doing this may provide accessibility, but it leaves out visibility. With a digital asset management (DAM) solution, teams can not only view and find files, but they can convert and share files without leaving the tool, and make sure the right files are used.
29. Avoid Collaboration Tool Jambalaya
Only rarely does throwing a lot of random stuff in a pot turn out well. While tech used to collaborate can be wonderful, permitting work teams to use any (and as many) tools they want creates missing information, duplicate files, bad communication, and bloated budgets and projects.
Stay focused on using the one or two tools that everyone uses. Workfront CMO Joe Staples says, “If only 80 percent of work is done in the platform, you’re still missing that 20 percent, which could be very important. It has to be all or nothing.”
30. Understand The Status Quo isn’t the Best Status
Frequently we hear people say, “We can’t change our technology because we are in the middle of so much work.” But this doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. “It’s just the way things have always been,” is not the way to improve your tools and tech.
Try not to keep stale or ineffective tools just because it feels like less work or out of a fear of change.
31. But Don’t Get Rid of Your Old Tech Right Away
Many times when upgrading tools, you will end up with some overlap and paying for both. While this seems like a waste of money or time, teams need that adjustment period while they are trained to get the most out of the new system. And it will be challenging.
“Do not cancel the old system for at least 60 days,” warns Baer. “The reality is that no software is going to be as easy to use and as painless to adopt as it seemed in the demo.”
32. Commit to One Platform for Work Management
Finally, one of the biggest benefits of improving technology is being able to combine many tools, functions, and features into one platform.
Enter work management platforms. These all-in-one, cloud-based platforms allow teams to make a commitment to keeping all work, individual or collaborative, in one place.
The way your team uses technology should fit in with how they work, first and foremost. Identify pains in your processes that could be solved using tech, and then start the search. These tips offer a guided starting point for much of the technology questions you’ll have.
Download our free guide, "How To Choose The Best Work And Project Management Solution For Your Agency" for advice on how to find the best technology for your team.