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Six business leaders share their favourite productivity tools

Productivity tools
Replacing spreadsheets with easy-to-use tools makes it easier for teams to work together.

In today’s market, business owners and managers are spoilt for choice when it comes to productivity tools.

To save you time, we’ve put together a list of some of the best productivity tools available, as recommended by other business leaders.

Workplace by Facebook

Abigale Borsberry, coordination manager at Encore Digital Media

When it launched in 2016, a lot of people felt Workplace was similar to popular messaging/information tool Slack. Workplace works across devices to keep team members connected – a little like a walled-off, exclusive-to-your-business Facebook.

This familiar interface is one of its biggest selling points. Workplace uses many of the same features as the social media website, which makes it easy to adjust to.

Borsberry has been rolling out Workplace across her company for the last four months. The familiarity of the platform has made it a relatively seamless process.

“It’s a collaborative platform, so we use it for screen sharing, file sharing and more – we’re still discovering new capabilities,” she said.

“You can create company and project groups, so you can keep your client or team updated on project goals, changes, wins and overall progress.”

Having a single place where individuals can communicate and collaborate with a client or co-worker has helped Encore move faster during projects. It’s also helped them to make more informed decisions together, particularly when working with multiple people or clients.

Google Calendar

Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual assistant platform Time Etc

Google Calendar is one of the most popular productivity tools available. It’s a key part of Google’s G Suite experience and can be used across desktop and mobile.

For Lashbrooke, Google Calendar is an integral part of his working life.

“Quite simply, it’s a planner with alerts to remind you where you need to be. And it comes with directions to the location because it syncs with Google Maps,” he said.

“What I do, though, is use it to schedule every single task on my to-do list.”

All of Lashbrooke’s colleagues have access to his Google Calendar, so they can see where he is and what he’s doing. This leads to fewer distractions and holds him accountable when it comes to finishing whatever’s been pencilled in.

“Time is precious and it needs to be treated as such,” he said. “When you schedule time for everything – even 15 minutes for allowing yourself to be distracted by LinkedIn or the news headlines – you’re acting with purpose and there’s no guilt.

“Every evening, I can look at my calendar and see a record of everything I’ve achieved that day.”

Trello

Marc Trup, CEO of property management platform Arthur Online

Trello is both a desktop tool and a smartphone app. It’s become popular with dispersed teams, but it’s likely to be useful to any business whose employees schedule and collaborate on tasks.

Productivity tools - Trello
Managing customer issues through Trello has helped Arthur Online improve retention rates.

In a nutshell, users create boards and add individual cards, which everyone will be able to see. Users can then add notes, visuals, comments and action points.

The cards can be moved to different columns as needed – handy for moving a job from pending to live, for example.

“Our customer success team use Trello religiously,” Trup said.

“Clients with potential issues are flagged and added to the relevant Trello board. Once logged, the client success team take the client on a multi-stage journey through the board, which includes emails, calls, and tutorials.

“Trello helps us to keep track of clients going through the journey, ensuring that no one is forgotten.”

For Trup, Trello has significantly improved retention rates at the business and helps to keep customers happy. “I’d recommend it to anyone,” he said.

Planday

Simon Harrow, owner of the Crabshell Inn in Kingsbridge, Devon

In order to run a busy restaurant, good productivity tools are crucial. For Harrow, there’s more than a restaurant to think about – his establishment also features a restaurant, pizza kitchen, deli and bar.

Harrow started using Planday as an alternative to Excel spreadsheets. Planday – which costs from £2 per user per month – has paid for itself, he said. It’s dramatically cut the time spent trying to manage who needs to be working and when.

“It’s a cloud-based app that each employee can download to their own phone. It helps me to deal with employee rotas, communicate with the staff and forecast payroll costs, all in one place,” he said.

From when the business opens at 7.30am, employees across numerous stations will need to be in place. This adds up to more than 50 staff all year round, plus extra workers during the summer. With Planday, managers have a clear picture of what staff they need.

Planday’s easy-to-use (and customisable) templates are one of Harrow’s favourite aspects – and they’re particularly useful during different seasons.

“When I write my rotas for each area of the restaurant, it’s really helpful to only be presented with people who are qualified to do that work and who have indicated that they’re available for work,” Harrow said.

Visyond

Kedar Thakar, a principal value consultant at Ericsson

Visyond is a powerful financial modelling platform. It increases productivity by providing spreadsheet automation and collaborative capability,” said Thakar. He’s been using Visyond for the last year.

“I use Visyond to build business cases and value calculators, and communicate their results to my clients and co-workers.”

One of the biggest benefits of Visyond is that the tool allows him to carry out “what if?” scenarios in a variety of combinations. These results are then presented in simple auto-generated charts.

“When I used Excel, it would take me a day to do this kind of analysis. With Visyond, it took me two hours,” he said.

The best productivity tools can help processes move faster in your business. For Thakar, Visyond fits the bill, helping to speed up his risk analysis. It also allows him to compare multiple scenarios in real time with customers in meetings – previously, he’d have to take notes and spend a couple of days implementing and testing any changes.

“Now, I can collaborate with customers and colleagues on the fly and this has saved me weeks,” he said. A final plus, Thaker said, is that everything in Visyond is presentation-ready.

Monday.com

Rachel Mepham, head of digital at marketing agency Digital Clarity

Monday is a project management tool. It’s available on both desktop and mobile, and allows teams to work on projects together.

It’s not a million miles from the likes of Basecamp and Trello. Digital Clarity dabbled with both apps before trying – and sticking with – Monday. They’ve been using the app for two years and find it much more intuitive.

What proportion of the company can be operated in the cloud?

I could run the business from anywhere in the world

Most of our mission-critical functions are accessible through the cloud

Just our accounting operations

Nothing is in the cloud

“It has a calendar-based core,” said Mepham, “Monday can sometimes act like a CRM platform and allow you to list prospects, look at the next steps, follow through to sale and so on.

“Everything is colour-coded and totally collaborative, meaning people in different teams can use it. We even have clients sharing their Monday with us, to keep an eye on tasks and deadlines.”

For an example of Monday in action, Mepham points to the time it was used to book content and advertising on a Formula 1 ticket site.

“Monday helped in planning out the various races, social media postings, and Google AdWords planning,” she said. “This was indexed against locations, languages, last year’s analytics and more.”

Meetings can waste time: Read Be the Business’ feature on running productive meetings.

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