6 Low-Cost Productivity Tips To Increase Competitiveness

Increasing workplace productivity can mean the difference between a business that succeeds and a great idea that fails. When a company produces more products or delivers higher-quality customer service more quickly than the competition, it gains the advantage.

To get the most benefit out of technology, however, organizations need to match the technology solution to the business need. Start by assessing business processes to identify areas for improvement. For instance, do employees find themselves bogged down with paperwork? Or does distance hinder effective collaboration?

The following low-cost productivity tips will help address productivity problems without breaking the budget. Some cost relatively little to implement, while others pay for themselves quickly in productivity gains.

Low-Cost Productivity Tips For Remote Workers

For many employees, remote work has become a way of life. A few essential technology items can significantly boost comfort and productivity for remote workers. Here are some examples:

Desktop comfort: Start with a wireless mouse, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a laptop stand.

Headsets: Wireless headsets enable office corridor roaming on calls and generally doing two things at once. Studies show that using a headset increases productivity by up to 40 percent.

Video conferencing technology: When employees spend hours each day on video conference, the right technology makes a significant difference. Start with an external webcam and a dedicated mic. Headsets can increase sound quality, as well.

Multiple monitors: For many jobs, such as customer support, dual monitors increase productivity by streamlining the process of copying between windows and improving multi-tasking.

Fewer Meetings, More Communication

Nothing interrupts a good work rhythm more than a useless meeting. On the other hand, when teams integrate communication technology into the workflow, productivity rises.

For instance, Microsoft Teams incorporates group chat directly into its popular Office apps. This allows team members to conduct just-in-time communication without leaving the work at hand.

Put It On The Calendar

When employees get in the habit of putting everything on the calendar, they work more efficiently. And when groups share a calendar, colleagues can determine availability at a glance, even for team members in another office.

Facilitate Information Sharing

In a data-driven environment, workers require on-demand access to up-to-date information. Cloud-based document management systems make essential documents accessible anytime, anywhere. And when employees share critical documentation through centralized information repositories, people have the information they need to work effectively and reduce errors.

Automate Repetitive Tasks

The more organizations automate repetitive tasks, the more employees can focus on core business tasks. Take an inventory of bottlenecks in your organization and determine whether automation can help solve the problem.

For instance, automation can help reduce time-consuming paperwork such as invoice processing and expense tracking. Likewise, sales and marketing departments benefit from automated call logging and tools that manage social media publishing.

Use Existing Tools More Effectively

Sometimes the solution lies not in purchasing new technology, but rather in optimizing the technology already at hand.

We can also help you adjust your network management and cybersecurity systems to ensure business continuity. And we can assist you with determining optimal email settings and retention policies to streamline communications. Call us today to discuss more low-cost productivity tips.

Best Tips To Maximize Efficiency When Working From Home

A quarter of people plan to work from home either permanently or more regularly when the pandemic is over.

No surprises there. Many people feel more productive when they work from home. And three-quarters believe there are fewer distractions at home (when the kids are at school, anyway).

Here are five things we recommend you put in place for everyone who’s going to be working from home, long-term:

A dedicated working space

Trying to work in the same space as other members of the family is testing for everyone. Help your team to identify where they will work and set up a proper work environment. This will also help them draw the line on the day’s work when they leave their workspace.

Fastest possible Internet

Slow speeds are the biggest frustration. There are often options to speed up Internet speeds. Maybe you could subsidize them upgrading to a better service?

Dedicated tech

62% of home workers would like their company to provide better technology to help them stay connected to what’s going on in the business.

From a data security point of view, you’ll have a lot more control if you give team members a business device to use only for work.

Collaborative software

Whether it’s Microsoft Teams or other software, it’s so easy these days for anyone working anywhere to stay up to speed on all relevant projects.

Help them feel involved

This can be as simple as sending pizzas to everyone’s houses, so your team can have lunch together on a video call.

Does Your Team Need An At Home VoIP Upgrade?

As work from home (WFH) rolls into another year, don’t forget to look at the phones your team use.

You don’t just have to default to them using their mobile. There’s a huge amount of choice available.

For example, you could easily let them access your business’s usual VoIP phone network from their home. So, people can still direct dial them on the same number.

There are huge benefits to this. Apart from helping them to compartmentalize work calls and personal calls, the sound quality of calls on VoIP can be significantly better than on a cell phone.

In terms of the equipment needed for this, that can be tailored to each person’s personal preferences. Some will want a traditional handset. That’s easily done. Others will prefer a headset. And some may just want the VoIP software on their laptop and not have a “proper” phone at all.

All these options (and more) are easy, and allow you to give each member of your team the setup that suits them.

Zoom In: A Look At The Increase Of Virtual Meetings

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

Quarantine as a whole was (and still is) a strange thing to see happen in the United States. With state-by-state protocols varying and dates in which states began to open back up done on a per-state basis, months were lost.

Schools shut down and businesses closed, some permanently. The businesses deemed “essential” stayed open with new restrictions in place.

Travel was restricted domestically and halted internationally. Anyone that could work remotely was reassigned to work from home.

With travel bans and remote work orders in place, Zoom saw huge increases in usage.

Zoom is meeting software, allowing users to do video or audio conferences as a group. There is a very good free tier for users to join unlimited calls, to host calls with up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes, and unlimited one-to-one calls.

Among other similar solutions, Zoom has seen skyrocketing numbers since the pandemic started.

In December 2019, Zoom reported 10 million daily meetings taking place. Fast forward to March 2020, and Zoom hosted 200 million daily meeting. By the end of April 2020, Zoom reached 300 million daily meetings.

Zoom users vary from friends chatting, students collaborating, businesses meeting, conferences, and even the British members of Parliament.

Video conferencing has been used to keep gatherings to a minimum, teach students, conduct business meetings, and more.

While there may be a time that the number of video conferences may drop down, I believe the way we do business and operate as people has changed in some ways that will continue the prevalence of video conferencing.

Many schools across the US closed early late last year due to the pandemic. In Michigan, students in K-12 have a few different options when it comes to how they proceed with their learning now. Students can work remote or virtually.

Remote learning has two options itself, in-person learning with remote or just remote. The in-person learning involves a limited school day and less days in attendance per week. Or a class will be entirely remote.

Virtual school will remain that way all year. This is an existing system in place, and students will remain home doing virtual learning even when restrictions ease. Students may have already been using this system prior to the pandemic.

In both cases, students are typically using Google Classroom and Zoom. Remote learning with Zoom sees students join a conference with an instructor. They may have a lecture or another type of lesson that is done over the video conferencing. Virtual school’s lectures can vary based on the program itself.

When restrictions are lifted in Michigan for schools, those who are doing remote learning with attendance will attend school on a more regular schedule, but will still see some use of Zoom as a way to reduce traffic and students in different classrooms. Those doing just remote learning will stay home after restrictions are lifted and continue to attend video conferences as classes.

There have been many changes this year, and some are for the better. There will probably be a decrease in travel, even as bans are lifted. Some things that had previously been done in-person will now be done through video conferencing. Students will continue to be able to attend school from home. Work-from-home positions may offered by more companies.

Things will continue to return to how they were before the pandemic, but video conferences will continue to thrive.

Three Ways To Avoid Work From Home Burnout

The lines between work and non-work have blurred for so many people. For those who are still working from home (WFH), they may now be in their sixth consecutive month where there’s little balance between what they do professionally and personally.

Because when the work is sitting there in your personal space, it’s far too easy to work early or late – or both. Accidentally spotting that “urgent” email just before you’re about to go to bed really is incredibly damaging.

Added pressures of childcare have made this worse. Some parents feel that working all hours is the only way they can make up for the perceived reduced quality in their work.

The stress of constantly working (or constantly thinking about work) is dangerous. Our bodies and minds simply aren’t designed to be “on” all the time.

This is bad for our mental health. Which can easily have a negative effect on our physical health too. As IT specialists, we’ve been working remotely for years. Here are our top 3 suggestions to avoid WFH burnout.

1) Have physical ways to transition from personal you to work you, and back again. The easiest way to do this is with a dedicated workspace that’s strictly only used for work.

Even a specific seat at a table can be dedicated to work, even if you sit in other seats to do other things, like eat or play games. Some people dress for work each day, so they can change their clothes to mark the end of the working day.

2) Set strict work hours and stick to them. 9 to 5 might be impossible, but you can still have set work times, even if they’re scattered throughout the day. Make sure your family knows when you’re working. This is where having a set physical space can really help. In your non-work hours, make sure you only do non-work things. And do not check your email!

3) Prioritize what really matters: The other downside of sitting surrounded by work all the time is that there’s always something else that can be done. There’s no point working on minor tasks at 11pm at night, because the chances are, you’re not actually achieving anything meaningful. Assume you have 3-4 hours of truly productive time each day. And make sure you get and stay organized to achieve the most important things in this time.

Working From Home: Can You Still Be Productive?

“There’s no place like home” rings very true for a lot of people. There is just a level of comfort at home that you can’t find anywhere else.

For me, some comfort is needed to really be efficient and most people probably work better when they are at least moderately comfortable, but is there such a thing as too much? I don’t mean only physical conveniences.

Don’t get me wrong, working from home sounds really great some days. You can multi-task and throw in a load of laundry, do some dishes, or work on something else to break up the day. Sounds good, doesn’t it? You are being really productive!

How much work are you getting done, though? These little side tasks add up. It’s just one of many distractions that can really impede your productivity.

Noise, household tasks, or maybe even other people being home while you are trying to work can make your ability to get things done a real challenge. When considering working at home myself, I have come to the conclusion that it just isn’t for me in most circumstances.

If you are putting in a traditional eight hour work day or 40 hour week at home, how much of that time is actually spent focused on your work? Personally, with a set task (or tasks) that need to be completed, success working at home would come much easier. While you are almost certain to run in to some distractions, having a set task to work on, even if it takes longer than it should, means you’re still being productive.

Let’s say you lose about five minutes an hour being distracted. Even those five minutes can easily add up to a ton of wasted time.

Over the course of a week, losing five minutes an hour adds up to two hours and 20 minutes a week.

Factor in that load of laundry, the 30 minute nap you took, or even just spending a little more time making lunch — we now have HOURS over the course of the week that are just lost time. If you struggle with working at home, there are a few methods of staying focused that help you change your brain from home mode to work mode.

For instance, fight the urge to work in your PJ’s and get dressed like you normally would for work. Also, designate a work space while at home, but change your surroundings every so often if possible to get out of the house, such as working from a café or the library.

Building a to-do list and developing strict work hours (if possible) and sticking to them helps as well. If you have children or a partner at home, you may also want to think about creating a “Do Not Disturb” sign for yourself to let them know that you should be left alone.

Not everyone falls into this category of losing time to distractions and, sure, some people can be very successful while working from home.

Others would be shocked to see how fast the five minutes here and there really add up. Just like every other aspect of life, there are all types of people, and you are all free to make your own decision about working from home.

Some of us (myself included) will stick to keeping our work at work and home at home.

Five Ways Cloud Computing Can Improve Your Business

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Regardless of the size of your business, you can harness the power of the same high-tech tools used by Fortune 500 companies, thanks to cloud-based technology.

According to recent studies of small- to medium-sized businesses, those using cloud computing greatly outperformed those that didn’t. One study showed an average of 26% more growth and 21% more profitability for small- to medium-sized businesses using cloud computing over those that only had their heads in the clouds.

Here are five concrete ways the cloud can help your business:

Reduced costs
Cloud computing eliminates the need for a large IT department. With the data centers located off-site, your business is not responsible for the electricity to run, maintain, or periodically upgrade those servers. The money saved by using cloud computing can then be redirected into growing your business or marketing to new clients. [Read more…]

What Can I Do To Strengthen My Wifi Signal?

A weak WiFi signal in certain areas of your house could limit where you do your work and enjoy your entertainment activities, such as streaming films music or playing online games. This is actually a common issue with a couple of relatively easy fixes that will improve your wireless Internet connection throughout your house.

The first option is to replace the antenna on your router with a taller one. If your router has a built-in antenna, you can likely add an external one and see a marked increase in signal quality. There are two main types of antennae: omnidirectional and directional. An omnidirectional antenna transmits in all directions, while you can point a directional antenna where you need to strengthen the signal without making it easier for others to latch onto your WiFi. The other alternative to improve your wireless signal is to install a range extender, particularly if the area that requires the strongest signal is behind thick walls or is relatively small.

Does Your Company Need An Internet Usage Policy?

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

With the growth and expansion of the Internet, it is important to make sure that your business has a policy in place to protect its assets.

Depending on your business, an Internet Usage Policy (IUP) can be long and drawn out or short and to the point.

An IUP will provide your employees with guidelines on what is acceptable use of the Internet and company network. IUPs not only protect the company, but also the employee.

Employees are informed and aware of what is acceptable when it comes to websites and downloading files or programs from the Internet.

When employees know there will be serious consequences for breaking the IUP, such as suspension or termination of employment, companies tend to notice a decrease in security risks due to employee carelessness.

You will need to make sure your IUP covers not only company equipment and your network, but also employee-owned devices such as smart phones and tablets. You may be surprised at the number of employees that feel they do not have to follow the IUP because they are using their own device to surf or download from the Internet.

Make sure you address proper usage of company-owned mobile devices. Your business may have satellite employees or a traveling sales force. Even when they are away, they need to be aware they are still representatives of the business and must follow the business IUP.

After all, it would not go over well if your sales staff was giving a presentation to a prospective client and suddenly, “adult content” ads popped-up on the screen because one of your employees was careless in their web habits.

The downloading of files and programs is a security risk in itself. Private, internal company documents and correspondence downloaded from your company’s network can become public, causing unrepairable damage.

On the same thought, employees downloading from the Internet open your company’s network up to malware attacks and infections.

There are a lot of hackers that prey upon the absent-minded employee downloading a video or song file by hiding a piece of malware within the download. Once the malware makes it into your network, there’s no telling what damage it can cause.

As for non-work related use of the company network and Internet, make sure your employees know there is no expectation of personal privacy when using the company’s network and Internet connection.

Make it well-known that the network and Internet are in place to be used for work purposes only. Improper use of the network can reduce bandwidth throughout the company network.

This includes all mobile devices owned by the company. This way, your employees know that no matter where they are they still must follow the guidelines of the IUP.

Make sure all of your employees sign the IUP and fully understand what it is they are signing. Make sure you answer any and all questions they may have.

This will help clear up any confusion your employees may have. This way, there can be no excuses as to why the IUP was broken.

Whenever you update the IUP, make sure you have all of your employees sign and understand the new additions and/or changes to the IUP. It may seem like overkill, but you’ll be glad you did if you ever run into any violations of your company’s IUP.

For assistance in creating Internet Usage Policies or if you have any questions, call the experts at Tech Experts: (734) 457-5000.

Is Skype For Business Right For Your Company?

Last month, Microsoft released its vision video preview for Skype for Business, which suggested some major changes to ways we currently conduct business.

The video shows a wrist-worn communication device that allows you to contact colleagues on the fly. It also illustrates how Skype can help people be virtually present in the office while actually working in the field.

Skype-powered technology can integrate data into one space and share it on a big screen to facilitate brainstorming, can instantly translate speech into a number of languages, and even simulate a doctor’s house call – if what is depicted in the preview becomes a reality.

Really, nothing in Microsoft’s Skype for Business preview is all that far-fetched. Skype has already drastically changed how people keep in touch on both business and personal levels.

Presently, you can video chat with anyone, anywhere to conduct interviews or meetings. It’s not that big of a leap to envision using Skype to do these same things in the great outdoors or to integrate it with web searches and data files. The basic technology is already there; the vision video just shows some tweaks and new exciting applications.

The possibilities illustrated in the preview video highlight Microsoft’s mission to develop cross-platform technology that increases productivity.

While Skype for Business may not initially perform as seamlessly as the video leads us to believe – especially when real-time translation has yet to be perfected – there are products already advertised that do similar things.

Microsoft’s Surface Hub combines Skype with an 84-inch touchscreen display, and the HoloLens promises to take holograms and headsets to the next level.