Surprised by the title? If you follow me regularly, you know I’m a huge fan of digital applications. Appearing nearly magical, modern digital platforms can save us time and money, significantly reduce opportunities for error and make information sharing – among workgroups and with clients – easy. But if you’re finding you are spending excess time tracking down exactly where and/or how you stored or shared something, it may be time for a systemic review of your processes. Indeed, even with smart and savvy digital tools, there can be too much of a good thing.
How We Set Ourselves Up for Frustration
Choice is good. It keeps costs down and encourages ongoing innovation from app developers. Today we can choose from a wide array of effective communication platforms and tools, like Outlook, Messenger, Slack, Microsoft Teams chat features, and more. We can select from an abundance of work-sharing collaboration and lead-tracking tools and modules, including Asana, Monday, Microsoft Teams, SalesForce, and more. And then we have access to many cloud storage options, think Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, and Evernote.
Some specialty, single-purpose platforms may have made sense a few years back but could be less efficient given newer multi-functional options. Capitalizing on dual features can save you money and might streamline your processes. And most importantly, if we use several tools and pivot frequently, perhaps based on the person we’re interacting with or the project at hand, we will find ourselves on a frustrating journey to locate what we need, when we need it.
Time to Pick a Lane
The constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic added even more layers to this concept. Over the past 18 months, many of us had to adopt new technologies to accommodate remote work. Happily, a positive output here is that some of us found better ways to do the things we do. If this is you, it may be time to unsubscribe from an unnecessary application and formalize the better process. On the other hand, you may have found that what was a great Band-Aid during the pandemic has now outlived its useful life and needs official retirement. Or perhaps you now acknowledge that something you compromised on (security, lack of redundancy, etc.) is no longer worth the risk and needs to be buttoned up.
What I’m talking about here is assessing your digital tool inventory and choosing what you want your process to be going forward. In other words: it’s time to pick a lane and publish the process.
How We Plan for Digital Application Success
Understanding that each of you has your own unique business and personal nuances, there isn’t one simple checklist for inventorying your digital applications, but you can break this concept down into a few general categories to assess your digital operations and safeguard your productivity.
There are so many ways to communicate today – text, email, phone, chat. I recommend you consider your audience and topic to determine the most effective mode of communication. In my opinion, text communication should be short and simple. Though it is growing in popularity, I reserve text communication for audiences I am most familiar with. Use email for more information-dense topics. Anything I’d like to document will always be sent via email. I might send a text to alert a client to an email I have deployed, but the key information is contained within the email.
Within your business, you might choose to formalize one chat platform for business communication. Chats have a role in workgroups. They are quick and usually alert the recipient immediately. They don’t clog up emails or require someone have their phone out and on. But, chatting can be distracting so I recommend you turn off notifications when you are working and desire no interruptions. Decide what platform works best for your enterprise. Do you need to pay for a standalone chat tool, or can you consolidate to an existing chat resource? Decide on a company-wide chat platform and communicate the decision to your team. Discourage rouge chat platforms for business communication.
External Communication Considerations
For external communications, you might ask that your team members only communicate via email with clients, unless something is agreed upon with the client. Email is professional and provides a record of communication. When sharing your plan for external communications with your team, explain your reasoning, i.e. “We need to document our decisions..”, or “To meet the client’s wishes….”, or “To avoid confusion…”, etc. If you are using an agreed-upon collaboration platform with a client, you might choose to make client communication via the platform the single mode of communication. Avoid jumping between email and the digital platform to eliminate confusion.
Collaboration and Document Retention
As with the communication options, there are many reliable digital storage and collaboration applications to choose from today. That’s why we find such variety among the people we interact with daily. Someone might share something with you via Dropbox. Another might email you a link to a Google Drive. A group might use Monday or Asana to hold documents you routinely access. Though you don’t always have a say in how something is shared with you, you can choose how to organize the information shared with you. And, certainly, it is within your realm of control to establish company guidelines and standards for your document retention and workflow/group collaboration.
Determine which platform makes sense for you and your business. For digital storage, set up a succinct document filing system within the platform. Keep in mind, it may be helpful to distinguish between internal and external audiences when planning for collaboration and document retention. Who needs access? Who grants access? How do you want to maintain working files? Where do you want to store client-shared documents and resources? Obviously, all parties need easy access to any collaboration tool you choose to use. And security may weigh in on your decision depending on the work you do.
The key is to establish a system and eliminate the one-offs. Let go of what is crowding your collective workspace and formally establish a plan going forward. Then, when something comes over via a non-standard platform, the recipient has the responsibility of moving the information into your system.
Tracking, Invoicing and Payroll Applications
Time tracking, invoicing, payroll processing- these are all critically important business practices. There are many effective tools to support these functions. But again, too many tools can bog down a system and/or result in unnecessary costs. Familiarity might drive someone to keep using a tool despite a better option being readily available. An inefficient workflow process might assign false values to an expensive module. Don’t be afraid of making a transition. There are systems in place to export data. The beginning of a year, or fiscal quarter, is a good time to make changes.
Standards Ensure Business Continuity
Setting standards for communication, document retention, work collaboration, and financial tracking helps not only with information retrieval but also with business continuity when training newer team members. A good system will enable you to pick up where the last person left off. A solid process will support efficient new member onboarding.
Reap All the Benefits Digital Tools Promise
Digital apps are designed to increase our productivity, facilitate better communication, and generally make our lives easier. They live up to their promise when we maintain control of the overall system. I encourage you to take a discerning look inside your current digital toolbox. Look for overlapping functionality. Identify dual-purpose platforms you might be underutilizing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try partnering with a productivity specialist to take you through the process. With a thoughtful plan in place, you can capture the magic of these innovative technologies.
Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant, and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.