Outdated computers...old printers...outdated cell phones....
If you're a conscientious citizen of the world (You are a conscientious citizen of the world, aren't you? It's all the rage!), then you may at some point have found yourself wondering, "Where does all this technology go to die?" or even, "How can I be an even more conscientious citizen of the world by saving some of this tech from an early demise or resurrecting some of it for future use?"
Well, there's good news for you would-be creators of tech zombies! (Yes, I know that's a stretch, but just go with me here. Zombies are huge right now!) It's easier than ever to conserve, e-cycle, and shop in a manner that's environmentally and economically sustainable. Your Atlanta IT consultants are here to let you know about just a few ways to reduce tech waste through the course of your company's everyday operations.
1. Think Ink
Does whatever you need a hard copy of really have to be a high-quality print job? If it's for handouts for a client presentation, that's one thing, but if it's just for your reference, print using the "draft" or "quick-print" setting. Going by the rule of thumb, "Use only what you need," when printing (and in general) can save you money, and it's great for the planet, too.
2. Do You Really Need Shiny and New?
Buying the latest tech with all the bells and whistles can be very tempting, but it's prudent to do an honest assessment of your business's needs to determine if brand-new is really necessary. Does your current setup meet your needs? Will it likely be adequate for the foreseeable future? If so, save some money -- and do the planet a favor -- by waiting until you really need to upgrade, as opposed to doing it just to have the coolest new toys.
3. Rechargeable Batteries
Use them. You'll save money and reduce the amount of harmful toxins released into the environment. When they wear out (and they will, eventually), recycle them to feel doubly good about yourself!
4. Buy From Green Tech Companies
Check out Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics to see where various leading consumer
electronics companies land in their commitment to the environment. Buying from the most environmentally responsible companies pressures the rest to get in line, as well.
What other suggestions do you have to reduce tech waste? Please let us know in the comments!
Image credit: U.S. Army Environmental Command
The working space at one's place of employment is more than just a place to grind the day away and store cheesy personal items (Hello, family pic next to the world's largest stick of chewing gum!); it's an extension of who you are in your work life, it's a representation of your pecking order in the company, and it can be a major determining factor in how you relate to your fellow employees. (If you don't believe the last one, you've clearly never shared a workspace with someone you didn't mesh well with personally.)
Where your workspace is located and how it's arranged can affect a lot that you probably don't usually think about, but there's one specific consequence of your office design layout that can seriously impact your bottom line, and that's how it affects you and your employees' productivity.
Wait, you mean how I design office space for my business can actually impact how productive my employees are?
Of course it can. Whenever efficiency is improved, productivity goes up, and the layout of your office contributes to how efficient -- or inefficient -- it is. Designing (or redesigning) an office with efficiency in mind can add valuable man-hours to your work day. Extra man-hours, particularly the kind you don't have to pay any more money for, give you an edge against competitors, and your Atlanta IT solutions specialist (That's us!) is here with a few tips on how to do just that.
Upgrade Your Tech
If you're in a business that's heavily reliant on technology, this one should be a no-brainer. Upgrade your technology. If you're relying on slow servers, you're wasting time. If your Wi-Fi capabilities aren't up to par, you're wasting time. If your employees are dealing with tech issues when they should be designing, brainstorming, and, well, doing whatever their particular jobs are, you're...yeah, you guessed it: wasting time. Becoming a time-finder -- a time-maker, as opposed to a time-burner, is what's going to set your company apart.
Customize Your Digs
It's important to design your office based on your needs, as opposed to the other way around. If some of your employees need access to specialized equipment -- large-format printers (or even this sweet 3-D printer), a shared space with extra-large monitors, etc. -- make sure their workstations are located right next to said equipment. Time spent walking across the office due to poor design is time wasted. Sure, one minute may not seem like much, but it adds up in a hurry. If 10 employees could shave three minutes of wasted time per workday, in four weeks you will have saved 10 man-hours. That's 10 hours of time that could be better spent doing something -- almost anything, really -- better than hoofing it to get to equipment that should be right next to those who need it the most.
Make it Flexible
"Coworking" and "open space" are two buzzwords in office design, and they're both great concepts that focus on increasing collaboration in the workplace. But there are times when too much openness, too much distraction can be a detriment to the task at hand. If, for instance, an employee is in the middle of solving a complicated design problem, she may need a quiet place to work without fear of interruption. If you do decide that an office layout featuring more open space is ideal for your company's needs, make sure that there are some spaces that can be utilized for work that's best done sans distraction.
What ideas do you have to better design office space for your needs? Please tell us in the comments!
Image credit: Haldane Martin
In a recent post, we mentioned the possibility of wearable technology becoming the "next big thing." We talked about a couple of different types of devices in existence and/or in development now.
While there are many aspects of the future of wearable computing that are still hazy -- which versions will become the most popular (Google Glass-like devices, watch-like devices, etc.), which applications people are likely to use it for the most -- one thing is certain: These devices are going to raise a lot of questions about how far we as a society are willing to allow technology into our personal interactions.
Convenience or Social Handicap?
What some embrace as convenience and the next logical step in technology's integration into our lives, others will see as yet one more excuse for people to avoid human interaction. After all, if you think it's annoying for somebody to keep glancing at their smartphone during a conversation, how annoying is it going to be when they have their eye glued to a tiny screen?
If Google Glass -- and other devices will a similar capacity to distract -- catch on, how will social norms change? Will it become socially acceptable to carry on a conversation while clearly distracted, or will it become de rigueur to remove the device while conversing?
There are some very serious privacy concerns that are going to be -- and have already been -- raised in response to the development of Google Glass, and they're not going away anytime soon, particularly if the product and whatever new class of computing it spawns become widely used.
The device allows you to record images, video, and audio in a fairly surreptitious manner. Needless to say, this is unsettling to many people concerned about the invasion of their privacy. In a preemptive move, one Seattle business owner has already banned the use of Google Glass in his establishment. Dave Meinert, who owns 5 Point Café, makes it clear that his motives for the move are mixed.
“Part of this is a joke, to be funny on Facebook, and get reaction," says Meinert. "But part of it’s serious, because we don’t let people film other people or take photos unwanted of people in the bar, because it is kind of a private place that people go.”
The extent to which other businesses, government entities, performance spaces, etc. will go to curtail the use of such technology remains to be seen. As a rule, the technology comes first; how we as a society regulate its use comes after the fact.
For an extreme vision (Or is it?) of where some see this type of technology taking us, check out this video:
Sight from Sight Systems on Vimeo.
Do you see the development of wearable technology as a good thing? What concerns, if any, do you have about its increased adoption? Tell your Atlanta computer service professionals in the comments!
Image credit: Antonio Zugaldia
Here's the thing about bad strategy: Nobody ever means for it to be bad.
Behind every failed attempt to break through an opposing football team's defense...behind every ill-advised military offensive...behind every marketing plan that's ever gone up in flames, there's a strategist of some sort scratching his head, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
Every business owner makes missteps along the way; trial and error is an inevitable aspect of owning a business. But learning from the mistakes that others make so you don't have to make them yourself can help to flatten the learning curve. That's why your Atlanta IT company is here with a few business development strategies to be wary of. Maybe they'll save you some time and money. If so, maybe you can use some of said time and money to shop for something nice for us. That's a strategy we can definitely get behind.
1. Relying on Referrals
Yeah, yeah. I hear you: What's wrong with referrals? There's nothing wrong with referrals. Referrals are great! Referrals are awesome! Referrals are...you know what else referrals are?
If you're doing such a good job that people are giving you free word-of-mouth advertising, congratulations -- you're clearly on the right track. But any number of things can cause those referrals to dry up. The retirement of an important referrer or an aggressive marketing strategy by a competitor could dramatically cut into your referrals. If that happens, your business can dry up, despite the fact that the quality of the product or the work hasn't changed at all.
Nancy Fox puts it succinctly in her blog post Why Depending on Getting Referrals is Wrong for Your Business: Receiving referrals is great; being dependent on referrals is simply being lazy.
2. Mistaking Goals for Strategy
Richard Rumelt talks about this in his McKinsey Quarterly article, The Perils of Bad Strategy. He talks about a CEO who wanted his company's revenues to grow at 20 percent a year and its profit margin to be 20 percent or higher. But when pressed about his strategy for achieving these goals, the executive responded by spouting motivational guru-speak rather than an actual plan. It's great to aim high, but unless you have a specific action plan to reach that for which you are aiming, you're going to be out of luck. The goal is the end result; the strategy is what you have to do to get there.
Strategy always involves action, so if the primary action you find yourself taking is talking about how you want things to be or what you want your company to achieve, you may be mistaking goals for strategy.
3. Placing All Your Eggs in the Technology Basket
The proper application of the right technology can be very important, but as we've mentioned before in this blog, you absolutely CANNOT forget the human element. To do so is to beg for failure. You can improve manufacturing processes and social media presence all you want, but if you neglect the human aspect of owning a small business, you're doomed to fail. Personal attention, both to your employees, as well as your customers and clients, is paramount to your success.
Have you had to learn the hard way which business development strategies to avoid? Please share them in the comments!
Image credit: Dave Gray
Samsung or iPhone? Surface or iPad? The tech wars these days seem to swirl primarily around mobile devices, at least if you're keeping score by where the advertising dollars go. Smartphones are ubiquitous and tablets are getting there. But for any beta-hungry early adopter worth his or her "I had it first!" technophile cred, there is that insatiable desire to know the answer to that burning question...
According to many sources and the buzz accompanying some high-profile tech coming down the pipeline, the answer to that question is "wearable computing." It would appear that it's no longer enough that our devices are becoming ever-smaller and more portable. (Whether it's more accurate to say that tech companies are no longer content with allowing us to be content is perhaps a question better addressed in another post.) No, now there is a movement to embed it in our clothing and accessories, integrating it even further into our lives. Will it be embraced with the same amount of enthusiasm we've given smartphones? It's too soon to speculate. But that doesn't mean it's too soon to check out SOME OF THESE SUPER-COOL TECHIE TOYS! WOOOOO-HOOOOO! STUFF WITH BUTTONS!
Ahem. Shall we?
Wi-Fi in Your Eye: Google Glass
If you've heard anything at all about Google Glass, you had to know this one was going to be listed here, so let's get it out of the way. But just in case you don't know what I'm talking about, Google Glass resembles a pair of...well, glasses. It has a transparent display that sits above your right eye, and with it you can take pictures and video, send texts, receive phone calls, and (of course) do Google searches.
Depending on whom you ask, Google Glass is either the coolest thing since Pong or the death of civilization as we know it. (Why does it have to be one or the other?) Either way, this product could dramatically change the extent to which technology is present in our lives. It's going to be really interesting to see what applications are developed for its use in the office and how much the general public embraces it once the novelty wears off.
Going Dick Tracy: Wristwatch Displays
Watch-like fitness devices have been around for years, but this is an area of computing that seems primed to really explode beyond exercise and workout applications. The Pebble smart watch, which claims to be "...the first watch built for the 21st century," is a watch-shaped interface that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. And like your smartphone, it's highly customizable, thanks to apps can download to it. Apple, Sony, and Samsung are also rumored to have watch-like devices in the works, so look to see more of this tech popping up soon.
We'll look at more wearable technology in next week's post. What devices are you most interested to learn more about? Tell your favorite Atlanta IT service specialists in the comments!
Image credit: Matt Westgate
Alright, how many math lovers do we have reading this right now?!WOO-HOOOOO! Counting stuff! Keepin' up with figures! Makin' friends with the numbers! Yeah! Go, math!
No? Nothing? Well, I tried.
If we wanted to keep up with complicated calculations, we'd still be using slide rules and compasses (the pointy, stabby kind that have probably been banned at this point due to their ability to double as playground shivs). And let's face it: The more we rely on technology, the looser our definition of "complicated calculations" gets.
Google has apparently realized this and decided to provide one more way to make our lives simpler. There's a reason, after all, that they rank #2 on Fortune's list of the world's most admired companies.
Google has consolidated its storage options -- both free and paid -- for Drive, Gmail, and Google+ Photos. Until now, you had to keep up with how much storage you had available for each product, which could be a hassle if you're a user who needs large amounts of said storage. It could be an even bigger hassle if you need large amounts of storage for, say, your Drive, but barely use any at all for your Gmail account. No longer. With the new storage tracking method, users will get 15 GB of storage to spread among the aforementioned programs. If you're a Google Apps customer, you'll get 30 GB.
"But what if that's still not enough?" the guy who takes high-res pictures of ferret noses asks worriedly.
Relax, ferret boy: Google will still provide additional storage capacity for those who need it. They do still need to make money, after all. Plans start at $4.99 a month for 100 GB.
According to the Google Drive Blog, Google will be applying these changes over the next couple of weeks. The company will also be updating its Google Drive storage page to give users a better visual representation of how they're using their storage. The storage usage will be represented by a pie chart, which will show users a breakdown of how they're using their storage.
At the end of the day, from the user's perspective, it all comes down to simplicity. And who can blame Google for wanting to make things simpler? It seems to have worked for that little company in Cupertino named after the fruit.
Will the changes in Google Drive storage be helpful to you? Tell your favorite Atlanta IT company in the comments!
Image credit: Robert Scoble
In last week's post, we discussed some ways a small business can develop a creative office. We mentioned that it's not enough for the leadership to be innovators; a culture of innovation must be part of the company's very identity.
We focused primarily on some intangibles a company's leadership needs to focus on in that post, and they're indeed very important intangibles. That said, what are some concrete steps a small business can take to enable such a culture? What do the nuts and bolts of building an innovative culture look like? Well, it's different for every company, but your Atlanta IT consultants are here with a few tangible suggestions to use as a jumping-off point.
Provide Creative Spaces
Ask many creative types -- writers, artists, designers, performers, and others -- about what makes it possible for them to do their best work, and at or near the top of many of their lists will almost certainly be, "I need the right space." Have a space at your place of business, whether it's an otherwise vacant office, a corner of a warehouse, where people can go to brainstorm and do creative work.
If you have more than one such space available, all the better; one can be a space for creative collaboration, and another can be a place where one can go to work alone. Make sure the areas are stocked with supplies that can foster creativity: art supplies, comfortable furniture, books on creativity, etc. Keeping some snacks and coffee on-hand is always appreciated, as well; most people don't think -- or create -- well on an empty stomach!
Don't just give your employees input; allow them to actually design the spaces, if they so choose. It will give your employees more ownership of the spaces and more incentive to work there.
Another way to encourage the development of creative spaces is to provide each employee with a modest budget to make their own workspace more conducive to creativity. Even something as simple as the presence of a dry-erase board can stimulate the creation of new ideas!
Expose Your Employees to Other Creatives' Ideas
Bringing in outside innovators and creatives --whether they operate in your field or not -- can act as a spark plug to your employees' creativity. For instance, the Boise-based dance troupe Trey McIntyre Project has even made their creative process itself a part of their business model, teaching workshops tailored to individual companies' goals.
Though it's difficult to measure the success of such ventures objectively, the importance of exposing oneself to influences outside one's normal sphere of experience is key to looking at problems in a new way. Steve Jobs credited the Mac's use of multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts to a calligraphy class he had taken 10 years prior to its design. His take on it, in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:
"Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Listen to Your Employees
Once a week, have a brainstorming meeting with your employees. Make this meeting a priority, a can't-miss affair in which you not only brainstorm ideas for your company, but you also brainstorm ideas about brainstorming. Ask your employees what they need to allow them to spread their creative wings. What resources can you provide to them? What unnecessary restrictions or processes are in place that limit the free flow of ideas? What are your employees' learning styles? All in all, find out what you can do to enable them to be more creative.
Economist and Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt said, "Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” What other ways can you think of to develop a more creative office and thus encourage a culture of innovation?
Image credit: University of Salford Press Office
Sea change. Paradigm shift. Quantum leap.
These are phrases that are easy to throw around, but they're difficult things to actually bring about. True innovation -- the kind that changes a market or creates one for something that customers didn't even know they wanted -- is not easy to achieve; if it were, everyone would be doing it.
So how does a company become innovative? Is it through innovative leadership? Of course; that's certainly important. After all, what would Apple have become without Steve Jobs at the helm? But no company becomes synonymous with innovation by the efforts of any one person. For a company to become a true, consistent innovator -- for innovation to be infused into its DNA -- a culture of innovation has to be in place. Creativity must be a resource that is prize, fostered, and cutivated. The creative office doesn't happen by accident; it happens by design. Your Atlanta IT service provider is here with some changes you can make in your small business, from a leadership mindset perspective, to create that kind of culture.
1. Let Your Employees Question the Status Quo
You can talk about innovation in staff meetings until you're blue in the face, but it won't do any good if you don't back it up. If an employee pitches an idea that's completely contrary to the way things are normally done and it's shot down without consideration, good luck on getting her to speak up anytime soon. Encourage against-the-grain thinking and express appreciation to those who actually do it. You may just find a more effective process or a revolutionary idea for a product.
Even if you don't, good things can come of it. Someone else could piggyback on the rejected idea to make it salvageable. And even if that particular idea goes in File 13, the fact that it was valued and considerered will hopefully encourage the same employee to keep spitballing in the future. Is there any guarantee that this will lead to a million-dollar idea? No, but what is certain is that no million-dollar ideas come from employees who keep their mouths shut out of fear of ridicule. Providing an environment that is friendly to brainstorming is absolutely necessary for creativity -- and therefore innovation -- to take place.
2. Draw the Big Picture for Your Employees
Clearly communicate specific long-term goals to your employees, and encourage them to brainstorm ideas on how to get there. Saying, "I need some ideas on how to increase sales" is not nearly as effective as, "My number-one goal is to increase our sales by 30% in this specific product line within one year. I need some ideas on how we can do that." The first option is unfocused and generic, while the second gives your employees a specific goal to aim for and lets them know it should be their first priority.
3. Don't Be Crippled by Success
Wait, what? Crippled by success? How does that make sense? Well, it's fairly simple: Just because it's always worked before doesn't mean that it always will. Complacency is a sure path to stagnation (and likely failure) down the line. Serena Williams -- tennis star, entrepreneur, and Nike endorser -- credits Nike for her "never be satisfied" approach to her business interests:
"I'm not disrupting my brand enough. I need to do it more. Nike always tries to improve. They never say, 'I'm No. 1, and I'm happy.' They always say, 'How can we get better?'"
If it's good enough for the Fast Company No. 1 Most Innovative Company of 2013, your business can probably learn something from it, too.
What strategies do you use to make your office a creative office? Tell us in the comments!
Image credit: Seth Waite
You know what must be great? No? I'll tell you: working in an office where there is never any friction. Working in an office in which every employee is mutually respectful; communicates his or her intentions, ideas, motivations, and feelings perfectly to everyone; and always puts the goals of the company above petty matters like ego, professional self-interest, and one-upmanship.
You know what else must be great? Unicorns. And Sasquatch. And the ability to eat just one Thin Mint. All of these things have one very important thing in common with the above scenario:
They don't exist.
Now that we've lost all our Sasquatch apologists, let's move on with the post. The fact of the matter is that we're all human, and employee conflicts do arise. The question for you, the manager, is how to best resolve them. And while the easy answer is cage fighting, (Take that chump from IT down, Watkins! Ground and pound, man, GROUND AND POUND!), it's probably not the most sensible when it comes to insurance considerations. While every situation is different, your Atlanta IT consultants are here to talk about a few general things to think about when it comes to workplace conflict resolution.
1. Nip it in the Bud
It makes sense that, as a manager, you wouldn't want to get involved in every little dispute that arises. Day-to-day disagreements are bound to occur, and most of these can be dealt with by the parties involved, without the need for management interference. But if it becomes clear that something more serious could be brewing, deal with the situation while it's still in its infancy. Waiting until things have blown up, feelings have been hurt, and egos have been damaged will make the human resources part of your job far more difficult.
2. Listen to Both Parties
Even if you think you have a good idea of which party is causing the friction (assuming it's only one of them), make it a point to hear both sides in their entirety. Sometimes people just want to be heard. If they feel that their feelings and opinions are valued, their response to both the situation causing the friction and to being called on the carpet for it are likely to be vastly different than it will be if they feel they're not being heard.
3. Keep Their Eyes on the Prize
Remind both parties of the company's goals. How does the conflict affect those goals? Which solution to their conflict will bring the company closest to what it's trying to accomplish? You don't want to make your employees feel like they're strictly cogs in a machine; you do want them to keep things in perspective and to realize that at the end of the day, they're on the same team.
4. This is a Business
Yes, it's ideal if everyone gets along. But they don't have to. This is not a social club; it's a place of business, and their business is to take care of business. If after listening to both sides and making a decision about the dispute, one or both of the parties is still causing problems, remind them that they don't have to like one another. They do, however, have to respect their fellow employees and figure out a way of relating to them in a way that's not detrimental to your business, assuming they want to continue being a part of your team.
Check out this article, Management Tips on Resolving Employee Conflict, for more ideas.
What workplace conflict resolution strategies do you use? Tell us about them in the comments!
Image credit: MartialArtsNomad.com
Do you have your smartphone on you right now? Probably. Heck, you may even be reading this blog post on it. Smartphones are awesome, right? They allow us to be connected with customers, clients, and employees 24/7 -- across time zones and continents. We can talk, text, IM, Facebook, tweet, and Netlurx with anyone we need to be in touch with.
But on the other hand...
Smartphones are awful, right? They allow customers, clients, and employees to be connected with us 24/7 -- across time zones and continents. They can talk, text, IM, Facebook, tweet, and Netlurx with us.
(Okay, fine. You caught me. I just made up "Netlurx"; it doesn't exist yet. Make fun of the name if you want, but it's insanely difficult to come up with an original tech company name that doesn't already exist. Sooo...if there are any venture capitalists with an itchy check-writing finger who are reading this, drop me a line.)
You see the problem, right? The constant connectivity that smartphones bring -- that mind-boggling ability to bring the entire world to our fingertips and make our professional network available all hours of the day -- is both a blessing and a curse. It's great when it works in our favor, but when it keeps us connected to the point of feeling obligated to be constantly connected, it can lead to stress, burnout, and decreased productivity. That's right: The very device that's supposed to catapult our productivity to new levels can do just the opposite if its usage isn't managed correctly.
And let's face it: Many of us don't manage that usage correctly. Leslie Perlow, PhD, who is the Konosuke Matsushita professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School, did a study of 1,600 managers and professionals. The results pointed to some pretty telling statistics about smartphone usage:
- 70% of participants in the study check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
- 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep.
- 48% check over the weekend.
- 51% check continuously during vacation.
- 44% said they would experience "a great deal of anxiety" if they lost their phone and couldn't replace it for a week.
What begins as a desire to be good at one's job can lead to unnecessary stress, burnout, and decreased productivity. So what's the answer to keeping smartphones in their place?
A key suggestion that Perlow gives in her book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work, is "predictable time off" (PTO) from one's smartphone. This can be achieved as a result of a collaborative effort. Get together with those you work most closely with, and figure out a schedule that allows everyone to have a certain amount of PTO. When one person is taking her PTO, the other team members will pool their efforts to cover for her. Having a little bit of time that is completely one's own, with zero chance of work-relation interruption, can alleviate some of the stress associated with constant contact and even increase one's productivity.
Have you had issues with out-of-control smartphone usage in your life? Please share with your fellow THINQ blog readers how you've dealt with it.
Image credit: Michigan Municipal League