Chances are, at least some of your technology is behind the times. That makes sense — you’re busy running your business, not managing your technology. Fortunately, there are a few areas where you can either add something new or upgrade something you already have — making your technology work for you and not the other way around.
Given COVID-19, it seems logical to start this article with how to improve your company’s collaboration. After all, you might be working with a mix of on-site and remote workers — or an entirely remote workforce — that faces significant challenges in staying connected. If you’re limiting yourself to Skype and Zoom to stay connected, then read on.
Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to select a collaborative tool that can keep your employees in touch and connected — anytime, from anywhere. And some of them are free to use, as long as you’re willing to give up some features.
Two of the most popular collaborative solutions are Slack and Microsoft Teams. Both offer the same basic features including creating groups for handling specific projects and personnel that offer discussions, videoconferencing, chatting, file sharing, and more. The free versions of each provide many of the key features but with limits on things like the number of people who can participate in groups, the length of online meetings, and how many messages are archived.
It’s possible that you’re storing all your files on individual PCs and sharing them among your team via email or USB drive. That’s the worst-case scenario — surely, you have some kind of networked storage that your users can utilize to share files and work collaboratively.
If you don’t, then you’ll want to join the 21st century and invest in a file server of some kind. The simplest is a network-attached storage (NAS) device, which can be easily connected to your network and provide significant amounts of storage. More complex is to invest in a file server running a network operating system like Microsoft Windows Server.
But even a network file server might not provide everything your team needs, or at least not easily. For example, can it be securely accessed from outside of your network without extra complications like virtual private networks (VPNs)? Is it easy for users to create and communicate shared folders? Can you allow secure access to people from outside of your company?
If not, then you could consider incorporating a cloud file sharing solution into your storage infrastructure, of which there are many to choose. Microsoft’s OneDrive, for example, can be purchased separately or as a part of Microsoft 365 that also includes the entire Microsoft Office suite. Dropbox is another popular solution that can scale from single users to companies with thousands of users.
Once you have your storage needs in line, then you’ll want to make sure that your backup infrastructure is adequate to support it. The more files you’re saving and sharing, the more you have to lose.
Which backup solution is right for you is beyond the scope of this article. There are many kinds of backup solutions, and you’ll want to delve into your options to make sure that individual business PCs, as well as centralized storage, is being saved somewhere that can be easily restored. Note that this is one area where you might want to engage a professional to help you design and implement the right backup solution.
Do your users complain because their PCs take too long to boot or open applications? Do they take longer on tasks because their PCs are too slow to work efficiently? Do you have creative workers who spend hours editing video and then hours more rendering them?
If so, then you might have a performance problem. The first step in resolving this dilemma is to generate an accurate inventory of your company’s hardware. Dig into each PC and make sure it has a fast enough processor and graphics card for the tasks at hand, and that memory and storage are sufficient to keep up with each user’s needs.
In many cases, especially if you’re dealing with desktop PCs, you’ll be able to upgrade enough components that replacing the entire machine is unnecessary. In some cases, and particularly with laptops, you’ll need to purchase new PCs entirely. But the payback in terms of worker productivity — more on that in a bit — will be significant.
This one has a simple starting point: is your internet connection fast enough? Most likely, you’ll know that it’s not if you’re getting constant complaints from your employees about downloads taking too long, web sites responding slowly, and email taking forever to send and receive. Once those complaints start rolling in, it’s time to increase your internet speed and get your employees working instead of waiting.
Next, if you’re using a wireless network, is it up to date? The latest specification is Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), which can provide significantly faster connectivity to individual Wi-Fi 6 clients as well as support a greater number of connected clients. Wi-Fi 6 is still very new and not that many devices — relatively speaking — support it, but if you’re using anything older than Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) then you’ll want to go ahead and invest in Wi-Fi 6 to future-proof your network.
Productivity is a complex topic, but it’s vital to your business’s success. Determining whether your technology enables the proper level of productivity is a challenging task, but it’s one that can pay serious dividends.
A lot of what we’ve already covered in this article will enhance your employees’ productivity, but there are some other changes you can make. The first is to take stock of your most important applications and ensure that they’re updated to the latest versions.
One key example is Microsoft Office, which is the most popular productivity suite around and has recently transitioned to Microsoft 365. The name has changed and there have been some additions to the suite, such as Microsoft Teams, but you’ll find the same Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other apps that you enjoyed with plain old Office 365.
There are numerous other ways to improve productivity. Multiple monitors, for example, can dramatically increase productivity for users who work with many applications at the same time. Standing desks can help your users stay energized, which can not only aid productivity but improve their health as well. And that’s just one example of ergonomics, a wide area to explore to find ways to help your employees achieve their best work.
Some of these suggestions will require an investment in time and money. But if you make the right choices, you’ll find your business runs more smoothly, more efficiently, and with happier employees. And that can be a great investment indeed.