For all its amazing uses, sometimes technology can feel like an impediment to getting things done, rather than tools to increase productivity in the office. But fear not! Goldstar has scoured the Interweb for apps and online platforms that actually do work, rather than create more of it. Give these six productivity tools a spin and you’ll wonder how your office ever got along with them. MindMeister: Brainstorming sessions, long the realm of the dry erase board, get a 21st century makeover with MindMeister. Record and alter flowcharts via a shareable online platform that makes creative use of icons, flowcharts, links, collapsible lists and other tools. Free. mindmeister.com Evernote: A storage app for all your bright ideas, musings and stray thoughts, Evernote seamlessly syncs your personal notes across devices and can store audio, video, notes and photos on a single searchable database. Free. evernote.com Dropbox: This cloud-based folder is the answer to the age-old question: “How am I going to send you this huge file?” Organize and upload files and share those files with whoever you choose. It’s easy to use, and the free version comes with a huge memory cache. Free. dropbox.com ScanBizCards: With this time-saving app, simply take a picture of a business card and it automatically records the information in your phone’s address book. ScanBizCards can also sync with other devices and send you reminder emails to follow-up with your new contacts. Perfect for networking events ad first-time client meetings. $4.99. scanbizcards.com Square: Take your business on the road with Square, an app that turns your iPhone, Android or iPad into a mobile point-of-sale (POS) machine. With a small (free) attachment, customers can swipe their credit or debit cards and complete a transaction directly on the phone’s screen. The app will even text message a receipt to the buyer’s phone. Bonus: You pay just 2.75% per swipe for Visa and MasterCard, with no other fees or charges. squareup.com TaskForce: Feeling overwhelmed by an inbox full of requests? Take control of your to-do list with TaskForce, an app that converts email messages from various providers into tasks that can be accessed via your computer or smartphone. Set deadlines, share work with co-workers and organize tasks from most-to-least important with the click of a mouse. Free. taskforceapp.com
It’s not a stretch to say that choosing an office is one of the most important decisions your company will ever make. It’s easy to see why; even in an age of telecommuting and e-work, day-to-day productivity at most companies is still heavily influenced by how employees interact with their working environment. Does the space make workers feel energized, or fatigued? Does the layout of the office encourage productivity, or stifle it? When searching for an office to rent or lease, it’s important to ask the right questions. Here are some things to consider before your company sets down roots. How much space do I need (and how much will I need in the future)? This is a bit of balancing act. On the one hand, you don’t want pay for more space than you need. On the other hand, you don’t want to feel trapped in a confined space as your company grows. An industry standard to provide between 150 and 250 square feet of office space per employee. Expansion options in your lease agreement can help your company address the need for additional space down the road. Is the location right for my customers and employees? For some businesses, setting up shop in an out-of-the-way location is perfectly fine, while other businesses will want to be easily accessible to their clients. Leasing an office in a bustling downtown neighbourhood may bring in more customers, but is also likely to cost more than an office in the suburbs. You should also make sure your employees can easily get to the office, whether that means being accessible by public transit or ensuring there’s adequate parking. What are the hidden costs? Moving is an expensive proposition. Costs like utilities, renovations, cleaning services and loss of productivity during the move should all be factored in to your rental budget. Down the road, a landlord might increase your rate when re-negotiating your rental agreement. A real estate broker can provide advice and help you plan for the transition. Is the space flexible enough to my company’s needs? With the ability to work wirelessly, many companies are eschewing walled-off offices and cubicles in favour of multi-purpose workstations, shared common areas and glass dividers (or no dividers at all). The benefit of an open-concept office is that it encourages collaboration among employees and can be easily re-arranged to suit the changing needs of your company. Of course, an office stills need to have some private spaces to host meetings, or for when a worker just needs some quiet time to focus. Does the space promote the health and well-being of my employees? Nothing saps the energy out of an office faster than bad lighting, poor air circulation or unhygienic conditions. Make sure your office is well-lit, has good ventilation and is scent-free (potted plants are one cheap way of improving air quality in a building). If your lease doesn’t come with a cleaning services contract, get one. The decision will pay dividends down the road with clean floors, squeaky clean bathrooms and happy workers. Does the space allow for both work and play? Every office should make room for fun. Depending on your office environment, you could set up a coffee bar station, a games room, a relaxation space or a lounging area for co-workers to chat. Socialization encourages collaboration and the sharing of ideas, decreases stress and generally makes people feel good about coming to work.
The office is second only to the bedroom as the most lived-in space in our daily lives. And yet, our workplace rarely gets the kind of special attention that we commit to cleaning our homes. It’s time for that to change. This year, consider “spring cleaning” different aspects of your business to make your company more efficient and effective year-round. Clean your physical workspace: A clean workspace can improve employee morale, prevent office-borne illness and create a more professional working environment for workers and clients. Give your office a makeover by: -Deep cleaning carpets or floors; -Dusting office furniture; -Wiping down computers and other office equipment with electronics-friendly cleaning cloths; -Vacuuming behind your desks, making sure to unplug electronics and pull away the wiring first. De-clutter your filing system: This applies to both paper documents and computer files. Create archives to store old data. Invest in organizers. Throw out any files that are no longer useful or necessary for record keeping purposes. Your goal should be to clear your desk (and your computer’s desktop) of extraneous files. Finally, consider going paperless in the office; online storage systems like DropBox or Apple’s iCloud allow you store files securely and share them across a network, rather than constantly making copies. Fix up your website: A company’s website is a direct extension of its brand. An old or outdated webpage may discourage new customers from contacting you, no matter how amazing your in-house products or services are. Take some time to perform some basic e-maintenance by: -Repairing broken links -Updating contact information, logos and company bios; -Introducing new pictures and testimonials; -Integrating features like Twitter and Facebook into your website. If your web design skills are less than stellar, consider enlisting third-party help. Content management platforms like WordPress provide customer support services and can help you create a design practical, stylish (and affordable) website from the ground up. Evaluate your goals: If you’ve set business goals for 2013, now is the time to check in and see how those goals are progressing. If you haven’t set goals, it’s not too late. A simple visioning exercise, like this one developed by Purdue University, can help you identify where you’d like your business to be five to ten years down the road, and develop a strategy to get there. Organize key information: Put together an administrative manual that contains all your processes, passwords and contacts. Having the information readily available will help ensure that you and your employees follow proper procedures when performing day-to-day tasks, which in turn promotes productivity and consistency. Thank your customers: Take the time to craft an email or a newsletter addressed to all the clients who have frequented your business in the past year. Thank them for their patronage and tell them that you’d love to work with them again. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way towards fostering positive relationships with your customers.