I’m having a love affair in the office

I have to admit to being guilty of having ‘shiny object syndrome’. You know what I mean, the next new shiny gadget (or in my case, piece of software) is introduced and you want to try it.  Like a small child, the old toy gets thrown in a corner and you’re mad for the new toy.

I think over the years my team have got fed-up of me keep changing the software we use as I’m introduced to the next amazing tool that will help us work more efficiently, so I am now consciously trying to stick with the key tools that work well for us and have a very specific role within the business. 

I now have 4-5 pieces of software that are central to how I run my business (bearing in mind we’re a remote team so everything has to be managed online), but there is one piece that has become the king-pin.  I use it internally within the team, with my clients and their teams, with teams I volunteer with outside of work and even just for myself at home.

I’m totally in love with this piece of software. It’s so flexible and I just love to find new ways to use it.  

I discovered Trello a couple of years ago but didn’t really get into it.  It was only last year when I realised it’s potential to be a great hosting place for the process/staff manuals I was building that I investigated it more and understood how many uses this piece of software might have.

If you are old enough to remember T-Card boards that were used in the office or factory back in ‘the old days’, you'll find Trello familiar as it’s basically an online version of a T-card board, but with so much more functionality.

As a brief example, I set up 2 boards last week.  The first was with a business friend who was struggling to manage her sales pipeline.  We set up a Trello board which now clearly shows her the different stages of her pipeline (each stage is a ‘list’) and who is in which stage (each prospect is a ‘card’).  As the prospect moves through the pipeline the card simply gets moved from list to list but with the ability to add notes along the way, attached files and tick off items on a check-list, it’s interactive and an easy way for her and her Marketing Assistant to keep on track with what’s going on- and she no longer has to wait until she's back in the office to get an update on pipeline progress.

The second board I set up was shared with a friend I’m working with to run a children’s Christmas project at our church (I know it’s a bit early but it needs a lot of planning and preparation so we’re starting early!).   The project involves a number of different tented areas with quite a lot of equipment/props/costumes required, scripts, helpers, refreshments, the list goes on, so this is a great way for us to manage each area with check-lists that we can both access so we can see what's been done and not duplicate work.  We can also upload the scripts and forms that will be required so that everything is kept in one place.  This might be an extra-curricular activity but it’s a project like any other and is an ideal use of Trello.

I now have 33 boards and as well as helping me manage my pipeline and work with my clients, it is also a central portal of information within the business - processes and instructions on how to do nearly everything in my business can be found one board or another!

In December I did a brief overview video of Trello so if you haven’t used it before and want to get a feel for what it looks like then take a look, it’s just 5 minutes but will give you an idea of what it’s about.

 

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

First things first, may I wish you a happy and prosperous 2014! 

I want to start the year by telling you about something that happened back in November.

Mosaic Virtual Office is the virtual admin support arm to the business and we have a team of 4 VAs and myself, all working remotely.  Each VA has their own customers that they work with and on a day-to-day basis they will manage their own workload and liaise with the customer directly.  In that respect we have a situation where, mostly, only one person really knows about the work they do. 

If that was the full story, we would have been completely stuffed when, back in early November, I got a text from the son of one of my VAs to say that his mum had been taken into hospital the previous night having had a stroke.

Fortunately, she is making a really good recovery and, whilst she’s still not back working, we are expecting her back in the next month or two.

Now, obviously from a business perspective, that left me with a bit of a situation to sort out.  Typically, this VA was the busiest one of the team (sods law!) and the work she did for each customer was quite different.  If, as I said earlier, the end of the story was that all the VAs knew what they were doing and were just left to get on with it, an upsetting situation would have been made so much worse with the stress of trying to sort out the “mess” it left behind.

However, as you would imagine for someone who works with businesses to create process manuals, my own business is full of processes, instructions, templates and systems, and this ensures that work is fairly easily transferable between different members of the team.  This meant that within a short period of time, other members of the team were set up and trained and able to continue to support the customers without too much disruption to their service.

The point of my message today %%FirstName%%, is to just make you think about the contingency plans you have in place for your business.  One day my VA was at work, the next she was in hospital.  We are seeing the devastation that the weather is bringing to so many communities at the moment.  There are so many things that can cause massive disruption and problems for your business and unfortunately with most of them you won’t get any warning.

I would encourage you to think through some of the things that could potentially affect your business and make sure you have plans in advance of how you will continue to trade, should the worst happen.

I know it’s not a very cheery start to the year but, all you Girl Guides and Boy Scouts will know the mantra – Be Prepared!

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Who’s in charge in your office?

Hands up if your desk is hardly visible under a pile of paperwork …

OK, we’re in the electronic age so you may have got away with that one, so hands up if your email inbox has more than 20 emails in it …

If you are still firmly sitting on your hands, you can have a gold star and get on with your work as you clearly don’t need the top tips I’m about to give to the rest of us who have what can only be described as ‘not-so-organised chaos’ going on in our office.

#1 Have plenty of stackable trays

I have numerous R-Kive Desk-top Sorters stacked on top of each other and on shelves to help organise my paperwork and stationery. I have trays for each different type of work waiting to be actioned. I also have my different papers and envelopes, labels, etc in trays so they are easily accessible and I can label them so I can tell my 80gm paper from my 120gm paper in an instant.

#2 Set up folders and rules to manage your incoming email

Outlook, Gmail and I’m sure most other email clients, allow you to set up rules to manage your incoming email. You can set up folders in your inbox for different types of messages – different customers, different types of work, etc – and then set up rules that automatically kick emails from certain people or to certain email addresses or with a particular word or phrase in the subject line, into the correct folder. That way you don’t have to wade through tens or hundreds of emails to find the one you are looking for and you can manage your time better by setting aside time to deal with certain issues and only having to look at those emails during that period.

#3 Use a cloud-based email client

Whether it’s Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft Office 365 or another, having an email system that is cloud-based means that you only have to deal with messages once – if you delete them on one device, they are gone from another when you log on there; if you respond to a message, the response to accessible from another device when you log on there. It saves loads of time both in dealing with your daily messages and also in hunting for the response you know you’ve sent but you just can’t remember whether it was from your phone or your laptop.

I know there are several techniques out there that people use to keep on top of their incoming mail and deal with it all on the day it arrives, so I’d love to hear from you if you have a system that’s working really well for you.

 

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