What exactly is productivity? In professional terms, productivity often means, well … more. But, more what? In a literal sense, productivity is the rate of output per a unit of input — essentially, the amount of work that can be completed given an amount of time or money. This makes sense in simplified scenarios; for example if one employee is able to send six emails per hour, that employee is more productive than the one who sends only four per hour. However, it would be foolish to define an employee’s productivity by something as simple as the quantity of emails sent per hour.
There are a number of variables that affect employee productivity, with technology emerging as a chief driver for small businesses. The options available for small businesses are more accessible than ever, and investing in technology and maximizing its capabilities is one of the best ways to ensure an increase in business productivity.
Below are three technology-focused tips that businesses should consider to increase productivity.
Upgrade Outdated Technologies
Small-business owners are constantly looking for ways to save money and increase profit. One of the best ways to do this is to invest in technology upgrades. Delaying an upgrade investment may save money in the near term; however, it will most likely delay returns for future advancements and hinder productivity.
Many SMBs (small and medium businesses) ascribe to the motto “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” While this mentality may save money on office furniture, the “break/fix” cycle will not apply to technology. Many SMBs choose to not upgrade IT infrastructure until it stops working. Avoid this pitfall. Failing to upgrade in real time often creates a patchwork effect, resulting in an IT layout of some new, some old, and mostly overlapping functionalities, with nothing maximized or streamlined.
For computer hardware and servers, continue to monitor performance and ensure that the current technology is compatible with the software it is running. Also, keep in mind that using older technology can open up security concerns that have the potential to compromise important business and customer data, and troubleshooting these issues can be a drain on employee time and resources. For example, those currently running Windows Server 2003 should mark the calendars because Microsoft will completely end support for Windows Server 2003 this month, on July 14, 2015.
A best practice is to check for updates on a monthly basis and, if the technology allows, check the box for automatic updates. Also, when running updates, it is best to perform them at the end of day. This will ensure employee workflow isn’t disrupted during business hours.
Consider the Cloud
For those not yet familiar with cloud technology, it’s time to tune in. Capabilities offered by this approach to technology delivery have been around since the 1950s, but only in the last decade has it become optimized for full-scale business use. The cloud offers companies the use of essential business applications (SaaS) and a safe place to store and access information, as well as the ability to outsource IT capabilities (IaaS) to save time and money.
Whether an important sales manuscript or a simple office memo, documents are created to be saved and shared. Cloud technologies offer the quickest and safest accesses to these documents. The cloud also allows for real-time editing and document archiving. When going through the multiple rounds of edits, documents often exchange hands multiple times. With the help of cloud technologies, any number of people can edit a document at one time, eliminating the back and forth. Accidental deletion of the document is no longer a problem as version history allows for users to go back and access previous saved versions and start from where the document was last saved.
With the cloud, employees can create a virtual work force and do business just about anywhere. Employees are no longer tied to a single place, a single device or even a particular time zone. Collaboration via the cloud enables employees to sit around the same table, virtually, and continue working as the environment changes. For example, an employee may develop a presentation on his or her work laptop, upload it to a cloud storage service, update it on a mobile phone while on the way to a client’s office and later present it via a tablet during the meeting.
Cloud computing gives small businesses an affordable alternative to large hardware and server costs.
Having access to the right technology can be the difference between surviving and thriving. Shifting to the cloud opens the doors to enterprise-grade technologies for smaller companies at a fraction of the investment. This levels the playing field for SMBs and larger operations. The tools and applications that were once found only on the office computer have become Web-based and can be accessed through a Web browser, whether on a PC or mobile device. The cloud can help companies boost their bottom line by dramatically reducing technology expenses. Instead of spending ever-increasing amounts on servers, network devices and data storage, businesses that embrace the cloud shift their technology costs to Web-accessible software services. No longer do companies need to continually invest in maintaining and upgrading equipment and software; they can simply subscribe to cloud-based services for infrastructure and application use.
With the cloud, companies buy only as much technology as they need. As a company grows, it can easily scale by simply adding more seats or subscriptions. Additionally, switching to the cloud frees up IT staff from budget-dragging maintenance and allows the organization to invest in alternative ventures.
Encourage Remote Working
While business management may be skeptical of implementing remote work policies, commonly citing barriers such as a loss of oversight and a perceived loss of control, utilizing a flexible, remote working policy through the cloud can help increase employee satisfaction and productivity. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, in comparison with the employees who come into the office, at-home workers are not only happier and less likely to quit but also more productive.
Cloud-based productivity solutions help employees work smarter during normal working hours. For example, if a colleague is called away to a meeting or needs to stay at home to care for an ill family member, he or she can complete work remotely. Cloud services allow for employees to access files, documents and software solutions online via their mobile device, and use what would have been down time away from the office to be productive. The advent of smartphones, tablets and other mobile working solutions means staff can work from any location with a reliable internet connection — whether it is in the home, the train, a hotel room, café or restaurant.
Today’s business technologies do more than just crunch numbers; they empower people. Technology enables work forces to get more done while also connecting individuals to become more collaborative and creative. Investing in new technologies is a crucial part of increasing productivity and taking steps toward future success.
Eugene Chi is general manager of Small and Mid-Sized Business Sales & Distribution at Microsoft Corporation, overseeing Phoenix.