Technology can be an enabler—or an impediment. Installing a server in the backroom for e-mail might have made sense in 2002, but today many companies are moving to cloud e-mail. Those BlackBerry phones you handed out to every employee a few years ago made sense from a security standpoint, but now everyone keeps squawking about the app selection and tiny screen.
Just when you think you have a handle on a new innovation and agree to a major technology uprade, along comes a new, improved approach. Yet, over the past 15 years, I’ve learned a few important lessons about office technology that apply to just about every situation—and they have proved nearly impervious to trends.
1. Develop a standard desktop
I remember first hearing about the standard desktop when I was a corporate manager with a team of about 30 employees. In some ways, the concept reminds me of the office management dictum: It’s best to touch a document once and be done with it. A standard desktop means you have removed the clutter—every employee has the same basic apps for word processing and browsing the Web. The “touch it once” rule applies because your tech staff only has to deal with one set of apps and utilities.
2. Use good data to evaluate employees
Once again, a lesson from a bygone era that still stands today: Let data drive your employee decisions—and make sure it's good data. As a former manager, I learned a ton about collecting data through the year. We used a time-reporting tool that gave us a wealth of insight into how employees spent their time. We used a performance review process that was not based on feelings or even experiences, but a measure of accomplishments. When I evaluated employees, I told them about how many projects they completed and reveled together in succeses, but also recounted any instances where project budgets slipped and tasks went undone. We scored accomplishments and behavior together, and came up with a mutual performance rating. One new tool to consider for this: GoWerk.
3. Choose the best software, not the least expensive
I learned this lesson the hard way. I was a penny-pincher, so I’d often approve software that provided just enough utility for a lower price. For example, my team of writers and designers wanted to use Adobe Photoshop but I insisted on having everyone use a freeware clone. Bad idea: the software crashed often, delaying projects. (As a side-note, that same freeware app eventually became a sound commercial product.)
4. Log every customer contact
During my tenure in management, I had a co-worker friend who was an advocate for a new software paradigm called customer relationship management or CRM. This was before Salesforce existed. He eventually rolled out a CRM package companywide as a way to record every customer interaction. Today, the concept exists in many forms, some of them as open-source offerings. But the idea remains the same: The more information you have about sales contacts, complaints, and even former customers the better. Interestingly, I find CRM to be somewhat overlooked at smaller companies. I know of one SMB that only records the basic address, phone, and e-mail for new customers and that’s it.
5. Break the tech rules
Another lesson I learned early on: Take risks with technology and break the rules sometimes. It’s safe to stick with your storage network in the back office, but a new cloud-based file-sync tool like Dropbox might free employees to work remotely or when they travel on business trips. At times, it's wise to wait and see how a new trend plays out, but then again, small business owners are all about risk-taking. Go ahead and dump your current smartphones and move to Android. Try giving every employee a new iPad tablet. Take a leap of faith on the cloud. These are the kind of risks that could fuel new ideas or ways of working together with your team.