Tag Archives: task management

Microsoft’s Newest Cloud Offering: Office 365

What does Office 365 offer me?

office 365With the release of Office 365, Microsoft has provided the most commonly used office software in the world in a cloud-based format. Beyond the familiar Office suite, the included elements of Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync make this collection of services a genuine and economical alternative to running a server. The monthly cost varies from $6 to $27 per user, but also includes regular updated versions of the software, thus saving companies or independent professionals the cost and aggravation of new versions every few years. Microsoft also guarantees 99.9% uptime, offers business class security and will undoubtedly continue to make improvements to hold their edge in the business environment. Look over the Office 365 offerings and decide if this new cloud service can be a leap forward for your freelance or company needs.

  • Email and Calendar: The Microsoft Exchange program provides access to email, calendars, and contacts from PC or Mac computers, the web and even mobile phones. The cloud Exchange server provides 25 GB of email space for each user, and has the familiar Outlook interface. The Forefront Online Protection protects from spam and viruses. The online calendar makes scheduling a simple straightforward process with your work colleagues’ schedules accessible.
  • The Office Suite: Office 365 includes the familiar programs Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft OneNote, and Microsoft PowerPoint in full-fledged web versions with collaborative abilities via the SharePoint platform. More than one user can work on a document in real-time, as well as utilize a document library for easy access for everyone. The cloud server makes these documents available on many mobile devices and promises to maintain formatting as users move from web, to mobile, to desktop. Critical data is protected with multiple data centers and a strict privacy policy.
  • Communication: Through the Lync platform, users can enjoy instant messaging, video conferencing, and PC phone calling. Creating meetings or sharing your ideas via a whiteboard, even with individuals outside your business, can be a simple and easy process. Users can also easily create and maintain a public website with simple tools. Upgraded options are available, such as Access services which give you an online database that can track inventory, customer or vendor records, or a catalogue of products. There are also workspaces for blogs, wikis and even video files.
  • Cost: At present, Office 365 has three tiers of subscription. Professionals and small business of up to 25 users can utilize the platform on a month-to-month basis for $6 monthly fee and includes online support. Mid-sized business to enterprise level platforms cost $10 – $27 per user, depending on the specific configuration. This level offers IT configuration and 24/7 IT support. There is also the option of Kiosk Worker plans for only $4 – $10 for more limited access. There is also a plan for educational institutions that is priced according to the configuration.

Office 365 represents a carefully considered business solution for all levels of business needs and has taken into account the evolving digital needs of the modern-day professional. So far, the reviews have been mostly positive, with a few hurdles reported for mobile access and during initial set-up. With Google and Amazon also pushing the envelope in the cloud computing world, Microsoft will likely keep pace or even exceed the possibilities set by the competitors. For the end-user, these cloud platforms have the potential to provide significant cost savings and freedom from the day-to-day IT headaches of backups of email and data files.


Next: “How does Office 365 Compare to Google Docs?”

Using Yammer for Social Collaboration and Work Place Efficiency

Social Collaboration or Using Yammer to communicate & collaborate on projects.

yammerYammer which started in September 2008 as a microblogging service has blossomed into a fully fledged private social network. With Yammer, your employees will be able to collaborate on projects across the world with real-time communication using file and imaging sharing, direct messaging, and mobile applications. Yammer, while similar to Twitter and Facebook, is much safer and more secure. It can only be accessed by people within your organization that has a valid company email address.

Yammer enables users to communicate, collaborate, and share information quicker and easier than ever before. By using this system, the need for meetings will be reduced while communication throughout you company will be increased. This system has the ability to connect remote workers with other workers in your company. By connecting workers from around the globe, your employees will have access to areas of expertise which they normally would not have.

It has been shown that the use of Yammer within organizations has decreased the amount of corporate emails by one-third. Employee engagement has also been shown to increase when using Yammer. Another benefit is that in several companies employee turnover has dropped from twenty percent to two percent. Lastly, it has been shown that by increasing employee engagement, employees will take ownership in your company.

There are tools for your IT department including Directory Integration which enables you to control certain aspects of your Yammer application. With the use of Single Sign-Ons, you will be able to have more control of your Yammer network. Yammer also uses several key features including:

  • Enterprise Microblogging – Employees can start a conversation thread, read posts, and actively communicate and work with their coworkers in real-time. Feeds can be displayed in either chronological order or by threads making it easy to quickly find the information that you are looking for.
  • Profiles – Employees can upload a picture of themselves and enter their expertise and past work history along with contact information, which will help your employees find the help they need quickly and accurately.
  • Groups – You will be able to create public and private groups within your organization. By using groups, you will be able to collaborate in small teams among your network.
  • Direct Messaging – With direct messaging you can create private messages with one or multiple co-workers in real-time.
  • Files, Links, and Image Sharing – By utilizing Yammer’s file sharing you can upload and share documents with your co-workers, groups, or your entire company making it easy to collaborate on several different projects at the same time.
  • Communities – With Yammer you can work with people who are outside your network to complete projects.
  • Company Directory – By using Yammer’s company directory feature, employees will be able to locate and connect with other employees among your organization.
  • Knowledge Base – All conversations are archived and searchable making it easy to find what you need within your company’s knowledge base with a few clicks of your mouse.
  • Administrative Tools – With Yammer’s administrative tools, you will be able to keep your network running efficiently using a suite of administrative features that are designed to increase your control of Yammer in your company.
  • Security – With Yammer, security is a top priority. You can rest assured that you can message privately and securely across your network.
  • Topics – With the ability to tag content and messages using Yammer’s easy tagging system, you can organize and discover messages quickly.
  • Applications – With Yammer you can install third-party applications to help increase the functionality of your network.
  • Mobile – You can download free iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and Windows Mobile applications so you can connect to your network from any location.

Considering that there are over one million users spanning eighty thousand different organizations using Yammer; one can ascertain that it is a worthwhile social network endeavor. In addition to the millions of users, according to TechCrunch, eighty percent of the Fortune 500 companies are currently using Yammer to increase their communications. In the field of technology, clients include LG Electronics, AMD, and Corel. Internet businesses include Edmunds, PayPal, and Yahoo. Professional services that use Yammer include Adecco, Kinetic Worldwide, and the TNS Group. Mercedes-Benz, Honeywell, and Anheuser Busch use the services for their manufacturing facilities. In the healthcare industry, clients include Astra Zeneca, IPC, and United Therapeutics. Educational businesses include East Carolina University, the Smithsonian Institute, and Stanford Student Enterprises. Government and non-profit organizations which use Yammer include AARP, the European Commission, and UNICEF.

As you can see from the above listed of industries, Yammer can be used by any company that wishes to improve communication within their company infrastructure. The basic version of Yammer is free and the premium version is only $5.00 per user/ month. Volume discounts are available for larger companies, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions.

By using company email addresses, Yammer creates a safe, secure platform for you and your employees; however, one thing to consider before integrating Yammer into your company is updating your email address book. All duplicate contacts should be removed. Doing this will ensure the efficiency of the application and help to account for team members who may only be cursory and just need periodic email updates.

In keeping with services such as Yammer, our next article covers “Consolidating Your Online Work and Increase Productivity with Gist” .

A.D.D.: Assess Decide Do, A New Life Management System

A.D.D. : Assess Decide Do – A New Life Management System

a.d.d.Everyone likes to feel as if they have a great method for getting things done. But face it, there isn’t one right way to be productive. I recently came across a new method for keeping myself on track – A.D.D. (or Assess Decide Do). This life management system is the framework that I have come to live by. It’s easy to remember and it’s a basic guide to my entire life. It’s not a step by step process, not a computer program, not a to-do list. It is simply the guideline by which I live and work.

This system, which I’ve used now for several months, has made me conscious of the three steps, and which one I am currently using. I am, at any given moment, either assessing, deciding, or doing. Sounds pretty simple, right? It is. I am simply assessing my options, deciding on what I need or want to do, and then actually carrying out my decision. No matter what I am doing in life, I am always in one of these three stages. Now you might ask, no matter what? Think about it, you are always in some mode of thought or action (unless you are sleeping, which now that I think of it, is the doing stage).

These stages are in a delicate balanced cycle. If this balance is upset, then my life is not going as smoothly as it should. For example, if I stay too long assessing my options, I may not stay as focused as I should. If I take too long or too short to decide, I may not pick the right option and then change the outcome. If I take too long or too short doing, I could negate all of my earlier planning.

A.D.D., like any life management system, needs to have two clear goals: to identify which stage you are in, and to make a smooth transition between stages. And although this plan sounds incredibly easy, it actually takes some discipline and practice to keep the balance equal between stages. To understand this better, I will briefly discuss each stage and its function.


Before I implemented A.D.D., I felt like if I had a list, I had to add everything on it. That’s what a list is for, right? Sort of. I have found that I need to assess all the options out there for me, and interpret all the data around me to keep this stage in balance with the rest. There are many things that need to be assessed: personal values, short or long-term benefits, opportunity, availability, possible bad outcomes, etc. The list goes on and on. While all of these things are going around in my mind, I am in the assessment stage.

Where does it all end? At the point where I can’t add any more information it is time to move on to the decision stage.


This stage could not be any more clear-cut for me. There are only just two ways it could go: yes or no (or do it or don’t do it). I move on to the Doing stage if I have decided to do it. If I have decided not to do it, I get rid of it. In order to get rid of something, I decide if I will want to re-assess it later, or just trash the idea altogether. Either way, it is gone from my immediate future.

Sometimes I find that I have enough information to make my decisions, but I hold out for weeks or months to actually decide. This is especially true for really big life decisions. For the most part, though, I make my decisions quickly so I can move on to the next stage.


Now is the time that I drag out my to-do list. I have already made sure it was worthy of doing, and now all I have to do is to put it on the list and schedule it, and then finally, do it. Once I’ve finished the task or project, I go right back to assessing, which closes the circle and starts the cycle over again. I find that when I successfully go through all of these stages, I am more balanced as a person, and I actually feel better about myself.

Potential Problems

Like many things in life, this life management program has a few pitfalls to watch out for. One common imbalance is the over crunching stage. If I stay too long in assessing, I find myself crunching the data over and over, never moving on to the next stage. Not all the information is always useful. I keep hoping that the data I am gathering will be useful to me in some way later on. Avoid this at all costs to avoid an imbalance! When I find that I am over-analyzing, I know I need to step away from the information I am assessing and give it a reality check.

Another problem I ran into was that I would make a decision that I wanted to do something, but never took the steps to get there. “I want a new car.” Great goal, but from there what did I do, nothing! I have to make sure that I move from this decision stage to the actual doing stage. It could be a fear of failure, embarrassment, or some other excuse. I have to see those excuses for what they are and just do it!

I am a bit compulsive about getting things off of my list. I think I may be addicted to the feeling I get when I cross something out. I found that this desire to get things done stood in the way of me making accurate assessments and proper decisions. Once I learned to slow down and go through all the steps, I was able to avoid this junkie-like syndrome, and in the end, my to-do items were more important and meaningful.

Has this framework helped me? Absolutely. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with all of my options, I feel now like there is a clear path to actually making a decision and getting things done. I feel less flustered, and my to-do list no longer reads like a laundry list of all things wrong in the world. I am more productive, and more importantly, I feel better about what I am doing.

A.D.D. is an excellent tool for yourself but what if you are collaborating with others? Yammer, a social collaboration tool for communication on projects versus using email lists.

A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D. A.D.D.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), What it is and How it can Help Your Business.

ROWE Results-Only Work Environment

roweCommon Objections

We’ve heard all the arguments against a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE, the most common being, “This isn’t anything new”; however, we question if any business has taken it as far as we have. There is always someone at some level who doesn’t get to work in a ROWE, or even if an organization is results-oriented, there aren’t many that are results-ONLY. We think the reason for this is because they would rather not deal with the idea of a ROWE at all.

It’s the same with people who say, “Yeah, but that would never work at my company.” A ROWE takes people out of their comfort zones, so many would rather shoot down the entire idea rather than put themselves through the possible pain of having to examine their beliefs.

If one is talking to someone (perhaps a manager) about a Results-Only Work Environment, and they start to object, here are some counterpoints to help overcome the objections that may arise. If there are any objections to a ROWE that we may have missed, please do not hesitate to send us an email and let us know the objection and how to overcome the same.

Employer Specific Objections

● “People will take advantage and slack off.”

Although a manager may not realize it, many employees are taking advantage and slacking off at this very moment. The reason one cannot tell is because the company is measuring them with a combination of results and time. In a ROWE, if the employer does not get results or outcomes required, then the employee is fired. Meanwhile, the productive employees work even harder to achieve the desired results and outcomes because they are being rewarded with control over their time.

● “How can you ever reach anybody if they’re not in the office?”

People are more accessible now more than ever with cell phones, laptops and tablet PC’s. In other words, the days of needing a phone plugged into a wall in order to do business are a thing of the past. In a ROWE, when it is necessary to reach an employee, one may reach him or her on a cell phone, through email and/or instant messaging. Another thought: when one is clear about timetables, outcomes and expectations, a lot of those spontaneous requests dry up. It is possible to start to anticipate those questions; one can plan better and therefore have fewer emergencies. Generally, one would not casually stop by someone’s office and interrupt his or her work to get the answer to one question. Instead, one would attempt to answer the question through other means, or simply send a short email to the employee.

● “This will work for some people, but not everyone. Some people simply need more supervision.”

Employees do not need supervision; instead, they need a clear idea of the expectations being placed upon them and the desired outcomes. If one were to call the local deli and ask them to deliver a delicious turkey sandwich in the next half hour, one doesn’t need to go personally to the deli to supervise the making of the sandwich, and then follow the delivery person back to the office. One trusts that the deli is going to deliver on expectations, and if they do not deliver a delicious turkey sandwich in a half hour, then one is faced with two choices: complain and hope that service improves or switch to a deli with better service.

● “How will we know if work is getting done if we can’t see people?”

How do managers know currently? In today’s economy, people work with information talking on the phone, typing on computers. When a supervisor or manager walks by a row of cubicles, he or she does not know for a fact that employees are actually working, or if they just look busy. In a ROWE, managers know the work is getting done because they have been crystal clear about goals and expectations. If employees do not deliver the work, the manager knows immediately, and can act accordingly.

● “Relationships are so important. What will happen to relationships?”

Relationships are important, and most assuredly will be fine. We assume that we’re improving relationships with employees and staff because we’re all in the same building together; however, being together doesn’t necessarily guarantee that people are connecting. In a ROWE, people work on their relationships with more purpose because one cannot assume other employees will be around, and they make career development, mentoring and coaching a part of the results to be delivered.

● “How can you schedule meetings if you don’t know when people are working?”

In a ROWE, managers can no longer casually schedule a meeting; however, managers do not schedule meetings based around time; they schedule meetings based on outcome. If the outcome requires that people attend, then they will attend. If they don’t need to be there in person, they can send a representative, or they can provide the information they’re supposed to deliver ahead of time.

● “How will we know if people are putting in 40 hours (or the specified number of hours I want)?”

An employer won’t know because it doesn’t matter. In a ROWE, employees’ performance is based on results. Managers tell them what they are expected to do, and they either deliver or they don’t. Time is not a factor, and, thus, employees begin performing rather than putting in time.

● “What about teams?”

Teams are generally considered overrated. In a ROWE, employees and management stop teaming simply because they feel obligated to team; they team up because the outcome requires it. In fact, teams get much stronger in a ROWE because there is natural cross training; when one cannot assume that others are going to be in the office, teammates make sure they can support each other in an emergency.

● “What if everyone decides not to work at the same time?”

That depends. Does the job require that people work at the same time? If the outcome doesn’t demand that everyone works at the same time, then the answer to that question is “That’s fine.” However, if the job requires certain employees be together or coordinate their effort, then the answer to that question is “that’s what they will do.” A ROWE gives employees power over how they work and when they work, but they still have to work, and they are still responsible for serving the customer, whether that customer is internal or external. That sense of responsibility-coupled with the power to meet those responsibilities however they see fit-actually breeds higher performance. Employees generally don’t think about blowing off work in a ROWE.

Employee Specific Objections

● “If there’s no line between work and life, how will I keep from overworking?”

There is no line between work and life because you have control over both work and life, so one doesn’t overwork because there is no incentive to overwork. As an employee, one is not getting rewarded for putting in more hours. He or she is no longer a hero for pulling an all-nighter, being the first one through the door in the morning or working on the weekend. Employees are only rewarded for delivering results, and once they have delivered those results, they stop working and do something else.

● “How can you advance your career if no one sees you working?”

This sounds like the kind of worry that keeps people from participating in current flexible work arrangements because of the fear that if we’re not putting in enough “face time” then we won’t get credit for the work. First, a ROWE doesn’t mean that no one ever sees anyone ever again, or that everyone works at home, so people will see the work being put in; moreover, and more importantly, an employee will be measured more for actual performance than perceived performance. If an employee is given a goal and the goal is met, then that is what will advance that employee’s career; one gets ahead through actual achievement.

● “A manager needs to be there for their people.”

We appreciate that a lot of managers genuinely care about their employees, and we also suspect that there are managers out there who have built their identity on showing that they care. “I need to be there for my people, ” they say, “my people count on me.” However, one must realize there is more to being there for someone than physical availability. A manager can still be there for employees by giving them clear goals and expectations, coaching their development and removing obstacles that fall in their path. Perhaps the best way to be there for them is to leave them alone and trust them to do their job.

● “What if I get stuck with more work than anybody else?”

Many feel isolated and unsupported at work as they look around and see that some that do not produce get paid more than those who do produce, and therefore spend a lot of time feeling like victims. On the practical side, a ROWE gives employees the right to question the work they are doing. If a manager sets unrealistic expectations, or piles on too much work, that isn’t good for anyone, and in a ROWE it’s the employee’s job to stand up for what best serves the business. On the emotional side, one may find oneself not caring about other people’s level of work. Employees that perform enjoy freedom, and what others do or don’t do becomes their business.

● “How is the company going to really know what the results are supposed to be?”

We think this is the best question you can ask about ROWE, but it’s an even better question to ask in a traditional work environment. When companies plan or schedule, they base their assumptions on hours, but generally there is no discussion about outcomes. Part of the migration process involves an individual, team or organization finally asking what should be the obvious question: “what are we really trying to accomplish here?” Some jobs (making widgets) are easier to figure out than others (servicing customers), but in the end every job can be measured. Basing performance on these new, clearer measures is what leads to the impressive bottom line gains a ROWE creates.

● “Who’s going to answer the phone?”

The logistical aspect of this question has a thousand workarounds-voice-mail, call forwarding, spreading the task across a team of people-but the question behind this question speaks to people’s fears about letting go of control. We find that a lot of business leaders say they want innovation, leadership, and proactive participation from their people, but then they short themselves with too much worry over availability. They would rather have control over middling performance than set people free and let them achieve more.

● “If everyone becomes more efficient, are there going to be layoffs?”

We think that some people can sense the enormity of a ROWE and it scares them. People at all levels fear that they will find out the truth about their organization: that a team is bloated; that there are managers who have no business managing people. We say this isn’t really our problem. If an organization is bloated and top-heavy, over-staffed, under-trained or misguided, then it’s true that a ROWE could reveal those truths. But we would argue that you might know this already, and there isn’t any incentive for change. Why not get people in a job where they belong?

● “Isn’t it unprofessional to answer a customer’s question while you’re shopping?”

First of all, they don’t have to know unless one decides to tell them, and there is no reason one has to report to a customer where he or she is located. We call this “Sludge Anticipation”; one is concerned that people are going to judge because of the perception that an employee who is out shopping can’t also be working. If one answers the customer’s question in a professional manner, then the question of the employee’s location becomes a moot point because they don’t care; they want your help, not an update on your personal life.

● “What if you really need to reach somebody?”

People are more accessible now more than ever with cell phones, laptops and tablet PC’s. In other words, the days of needing a phone plugged into a wall in order to do business are a thing of the past. In a ROWE, when it is necessary to reach someone, it is possible to reach him or her on a cell phone, through email and/or instant messaging. One’s coworkers and colleagues are not there to be a search engine/file cabinet/dictionary. If it is a true emergency, then there is probably more than one person to get help from; and if there is only one person who can answer any question in an organization, then that is an organization problem, not the fault of the person who isn’t available.

● “Isn’t it just common courtesy to let people know where you are?”

We think it is common courtesy to respect people’s time and their personal choices about how they use that time. If the job is getting done, then there is no need to check in with one’s location.

● “If people don’t show up we have to worry about them.”

There are coworkers, not children. We worry about co-workers today because everyone is expected to show up at around the same time. In a ROWE, patterns are changing every day, so it’s impossible to know when to start worrying. There really isn’t a “normal” anymore; there’s no more “she should be here by now” or “he’s usually here by now.” That goes away.

● “What if somebody goes on vacation for a whole month? They don’t even have to tell us, right?”

A funny thing happens when we talk about a ROWE; we’ll say to people “You can do whatever you want when you want, as long as the work gets done” and it seems as though their brains get fried by the first part of that sentence and they don’t hear the “as long as the work gets done” part. If one goes on vacation for a whole month and is not there to deliver the desired outcomes, then he or she will be fired; but if one wants to be out of the state or out of the country for a month, and he or she can still meet the deliverables, then he or she does not have to justify his or her physical absence.

Creating a ROWE for your company may also help in Retaining Your Employees and Increasing their Productivity

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