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Mind your own business? Not in today’s workplace!

According to a recent survey by Telstra Business, nearly one third of small business owners revealed that they took no time off from work in 2010.  Of the respondents who were unable to take leave last year, about half attributed that to the fact that they had no back-up to run their business, or simply did not have time to get away.

While a strong work ethic is a vital part of running a small business, something doesn’t seem right here – and it brings to mind the age-old concept of working smarter as opposed to harder. Regardless of the size, if business teams are investing so much time keeping things afloat that the boss can’t take a break, it might be time to reassess procedures.

In today’s wired and wireless workplace, technology is meant to help manage the tidal wave of information that pours in each day from colleagues, vendors and clients. But it can end up complicating matters – especially when business owners implement complex information management systems intended to save time, organise information and facilitate easier access, which ultimately leaves employees struggling to use it properly.

Talk of a looming double-dip recession reinforces the fact that Australian business owners need to reevaluate their existing systems, invest in training to help staff make the most of their current information management infrastructure and focus on collaboration, creativity and communication to ensure teams are working better, together.

Here are some ways to optimise your company’s performance, encourage more organised team work, and maybe even fit a much-needed holiday into your busy schedule.

1. Don’t guess what your team’s top time-wasters are – ask

Business owners wear many hats, but no one expects you to be a mind reader. By definition, information management is meant to simplify processes and create a user-friendly and efficient way for staff to work together to contribute to the overall success of a company. Every organisation’s needs are different and unique. Is your team’s main priority web content management? Document sharing? Data storage and access? Before you can fix the issue, make sure you’re clear on your team’s needs.

2. Remember that software isn’t smart – your people are

As effective as software systems can be, no technology is truly intuitive. Business is increasingly dependent on software solutions which promise a litany of outcomes for an enabled workforce, but overwhelming features and a lack of comprehension can be a drag on workplace performance as employees spend time trying to self-teach basic functionalities of a new system. Just as it’s essential to get a grasp on your business specific needs, it’s equally as important to provide adequate training so your team can utilise the full suite of tools now available to them.

Technology systems are only as helpful as humans let them be. Why dedicate time and money identifying the need for a new system, introducing it to your business and then allowing it to go largely under-utilised? For too long, software vendors have positioned technology as ‘critical’ yet without trained, enabled people who can exercise the technology’s full potential, any new ‘hero’ program will fail. So, just to recap on this point, because really, one can never say it enough: your staff is the conduit to your business’ success. Software is simply the fuel which elevates that success.

3. ‘Track changes’ isn’t information management – it’s computer clutter

Does this scenario sound familiar? You’ve spent time drafting a document that needs to be reviewed by team members. You send it through as an email attachment, receive two rounds of edits in two new versions of your original document – which you have to resave and compare side by side to ensure consistency. Let’s all agree to this: “track changes” is not an information management method. There are smarter, more efficient ways for teams to collaborate to get the job done. And speaking of which…

4. Think about the three C’s: collaboration, community and creativity

Speaking of collaboration, more than ever before Australian small businesses are confronted with the modern day challenge of dealing with clients or even team members on a global scale. Thanks to the strength of the Aussie dollar, business owners are also warming up to the concept of reaching across the seas to connect with new vendors, suppliers and partners in multiple time zones, languages and multifunctional teams. The collaboration afforded by technology is no longer a nice to have, it is imperative to success in today’s business world.

To that end, static, one-at-a-time documents are becoming a thing of the past. For example, think of an Australian home furnishings business that sources fabrics from India, let’s say, and sells to retailers in several countries around the globe. This company could reduce time unnecessarily sacrificed to processing order forms and invoices by moving the entire administration function online, where all relevant parties could access pertinent information, fill in forms and provide sign off at the click of a virtual button.  Sounds better – and faster – than sitting by your computer awaiting document version 22, doesn’t it?

5. Information is to your team what currency is to the economy

Here’s betting that when it comes to the critical financial aspects of your business such as cashflow and payroll, you’ve got a pretty firm grasp on how to stay on top of what comes in, what goes out and what stays where. It’s time to take the same approach to the information exchanged among your team members. In fact, think of your company’s information – data, documents, files and more – as the currency of your team’s economy.

As Australian businesses continue to stake their claim to the global stage, the only way to stand apart from the competition is through content and creativity. But differentiation in isolation has no value. True differentiation and business value comes from a connected workforce, collaborating, sharing and working together. As your business’ ‘information economy’ grows, collaborative technology is critical.

At the end of the day, a workforce will always be more successful than a single worker. A new approach to sharing resources – whether through technological platforms or otherwise – is needed which centres on collaboration, creativity and control, and pulls individual achievements together around a greater common goal.

Not to mention, once you get your business’ information management to a place that allows team members to work together more effectively, maybe you’ll finally be able to think about where you’d like to take your next holiday.

Richard Barrie is Acrobat Business Manager, Adobe ANZ.

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