Try these tools to boost productivity in the new year: Column

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on how you are managing your time. Whether at the office or your volunteer organization, the days of using email to manage work is over.

Start by researching the latest collaboration software applications and do some test driving. Like many businesses, you may find innovative solutions with your current office software or low-cost options available online to help meet your goals.

Applications range from simple solutions that can be used by an individual or very small team, to software that can be used by large enterprises for system implementations. Surprisingly, some function well in both environments. To investigate the options, Capterra.com compiles thousands of software reviews, providing lists of available applications for any purpose for comparison. In addition, Forrester Research recently published “The Forrester Wave: Collaborative Work Management Tools For The Enterprise, Q4 2018” to compare products.
Collaboration applications allow for group conversations that are essential for the new way teams operate. The focus is on capturing conversational messages about the job at hand. An added benefit is that relevant information is available to all new team members without having to find emails and documents to forward. Collaborative Work Management software goes a step further and can track the progress of tasks performed by cross-functional teams. By organizing tasks, designing process workflows, and providing status dashboards, workers have a detailed view of the project or process in progress.

One option for collaborating with small teams is Slack, an emerging app that can help track tasks and status of work without inundating email boxes with confusing status updates. Users can send private or group messages to a specific person, team or channel. The free version is a great option for small teams such as clubs or businesses managing small projects to organize content, allowing for group and private messaging. Larger businesses can take advantage of more features such as voice and video calls, screen sharing and integrations with hundreds of other applications, like SalesForce and SurveyMonkey.
Google G-Suite users should be familiar with the file sharing features that enable teams to edit documents and spreadsheets simultaneously. They can also leverage a productivity feature called Google Keep to create checklists, tasks and reminders for themselves and their co-workers. Google Groups gives teams the ability to create forums and virtual bulletin boards to publish content.
If you need the features of a collaboration work management tool, Asana is considered a leader by Forrester as an online and mobile collaboration and team management tool. Users can define work spaces or projects with both internal and external users. It can manage projects, processes and tasks so the team can operate more efficiently by optimizing productivity and tracking performance. Asana is continually adding to its list of integration partners and developing new features and functionality.
Forrester Research has also identified several strong performers for collaboration work management, including Microsoft. Microsoft Office 365 offers several business subscriptions that feature its latest collaboration and productivity tools. With Microsoft Teams, members can create their own channels to share documentation, send notes and track the status of projects. Teams allows for the conversational messaging that is a consistent feature of updated collaboration products.
Another strong performer according to Forrester Research is monday.com, an app that allows users to create their own workflow templates and status boards for planning and tracking. It can be used for tracking both repeatable tasks and the status of complex agile projects. Colleagues can see the status of work in progress in real-time, such as incoming orders.
This is just a small sample of the possibilities available. The most important quality shared by these applications is the ability to customize the environment. Whether you choose to take advantage of your current office package or invest in a new application, take the time to learn the features and how to adopt them for your needs. Create a plan and involve your team to maximize the benefits.
Research will help you review the many options available and find the tool to meet your needs and budget. Since many offer free trials, you can kick the tires and use them in a real-world environment to find the one that best suits your requirements. The right collaboration and planning tool will put you on a path for a more productive 2019.
Marian Magee is an IT management consultant and owner of Marian Solutions LLC in Allentown. She specializes in managing major system implementations for clients including ERP and HRIS.  She can be reached at marian@mariansolutions.com.

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