Have you ever received no reply to an email? Is it down to email overload, arrogance or plain bad manners?
There is no need to say thank you for each and every email you receive. However there is a time and a place when a simple response is needed.
Recently a well-established trade magazine asked for volunteers to write expert online columns. They never either acknowledged or replied to my email. Is this because they feel no need to demonstrate the basic simple courtesy just blogged by Ted Coine or is the requesting editor's email inbox so overstuffed they don't read half their emails?
Worst of all, is it old guard establishment arrogance?
Compare this experience with a smaller, newer website which made the same request and has taken the time to reply and nurture our relationship. They've even created a learning experience for me as an added bonus.
It’s a competitive market no matter what your business, but especially for online content. Just look at AOL’s takeover of the Huffington Post. All email software lets you send automatic responses and create template emails to use to say ‘thanks but the post has been filled’. There is no excuse for bad manners.
What do you think? Who would you rather give your business to?
Train fares are astronomical and petrol is £1.25 per litre. Fortunately, it’s possible for people to collaborate — and salesmen to meet clients — via audio and web conferencing services. Hurrah! But hang on — what about that other form of conferencing technology?
Video conferencing has been on the market for the last fourteen years, but uptake among SMEs remains poor. Despite manufacturers’ best efforts, SMEs have bypassed it in favour of its conferencing cousins, audio and web, or are showing little enthusiasm for it. Why?
For small firms, the answer lies in the arcane standards and expensive kit that, until now, have made video conferencing something of a luxury purchase. The value of video is easier to quantify in large multinationals, where savings on air fares can be substantial.
Smaller businesses, by contrast, are only likely to be using video if they have a special need, such as using sign language to communicate or getting instant feedback on prototypes. Otherwise, an audio conference call — or web conference for presentation purposes — is a perfectly adequate alternative.
2011 could be different, though — and here’s why: Most video conferencing services are now conducted over the open internet, so there’s no need for separate ISDN lines, extra call costs or desktop boxes. What’s more, those shopping for new kit will find that many new laptops come with front facing cameras and the necessary video calling software.
More importantly, perhaps, are the many tablet PCs launching this year, all with video call capabilities built in. Then there’s the ongoing smart phone revolution which has just seen Skype introduce video calling over 3G networks, and Apple promoting its proprietary FaceTime software on the iPhone 4 (albeit restricted to use over Wi-Fi, at least for now).
So the stars appear to be aligning. In 2011, video calling will be available on all sorts of device — PC-to-PC, mobile-to-mobile, and computer-to-mobile. It might just be worth evaluating the potential benefits of face-to-face video conferencing in your business. And if you do, here’s my prediction...
Unless you have a specialist requirement, you probably won’t bother with video. For one thing, who needs the grief? A face looking at another face makes perfect sense when it’s what’s actually happening in the real world, but — on screen, and on camera? Suddenly you’re an actor giving a performance.
You gesticulate, nod, smile, grimace or gurn in some other way to animate your face in time with the conversation. Every nervous tic, or each moment of excessive eye contact, has the potential to be grotesquely accentuated or misinterpreted. Who needs that?
Some SMEs will doubtless experiment as costs drop and the kit becomes standard issue, but perhaps video conferencing was always destined for the living room instead of the office. Interacting on screen with a friend or relative is a completely different proposition.
Then again, even at home there are limitations. If I simply phone a friend or relative, we can have a perfectly productive conversation while changing clothes, drawing up a shopping list or putting the kettle on. On a video call, we’d be forced to, well, stare at each other. And that’s just weird.
So there you have it. Despite the shiny new kit, 2011 will NOT be the year in which video conferencing finally rocks the small business world. Now look me in the eye and tell me I’m wrong.
The difficult economy and resulting emphasis on cost savings has drawn attention to managed print services (MPS). But do the benefits really outweigh the loss of control your company would experience? John Sollars from Stinkyink.com explains.
MPS typically refers to outsourcing the performance and maintenance of your company's printers. There are three main aspects:
There are a number of benefits to using MPS:
Sersious problems with MPS providers are now relatively rare, as tough competition has helped iron out implementation and performance problems, creating a very reliable system. However, it's still larger companies that will benefit most from MPS - even though many providers have options for lower quantity users, the benefits low-usage companies will enjoy are limited.
MPS contracts can also lead to complications, so I would encourage you to check your MPS contract with great care. Ridiculous as it sounds, some will even prohibit your employees from changing cartridges in printers. Having to wait for an approved ‘engineer’ to come and replace a toner cartridge will lead to completely unneccesary delays!
Also be wary of single manufacturer agreements. Linking you to one brand of printer for the duration of the contract means there's a chance you will lose out on new functions if your manufacturer is slow to react to market innovations. However, in such a competitive environment most manufacturers are on the ball, so the risk of this occurring is limited.
Does your company employ MPS? Have you heard any good or bad stories? Add your comment here.
John Sollars is MD of Stinkyink.com
Letting people work away from the office – at home, at client sites or even in the local coffee shop – can improve productivity and morale. It can also help reduce office costs. Many businesses are reluctant to take advantage of these benefits for fear of giving up management control. Here are some tips to help you manage remote workers more effectively:
Research conducted at Brigham Young University has delved into data from over 20,000 IBM employees across 75 countries, with surprising results.
Employees who telecommute (or work from home) not only balance work and personal life better than ‘standard’ office workers, but they manage to work more hours too.
The researchers identified the point where 25% of employees report their work to be interfering with personal or family life.
In some cases, workers who utilised a mix of flexitime and telecommuting were able to work 50% more hours per week before hitting that point. That amounts to a whopping 19 extra hours work over the same seven-day period. Aggregate this over a year and you’ll run out of work for your staff!
So what is telecommuting?
Telecommuting is an arrangement which gives your employees the freedom to work where and when they please. This gives them big flexibility in their working lives, can remove the daily commute and ditches the idea of having a centralised place of work. It's all reliant on a technology network which allows an employee to work anywhere, at any time.
As a business owner, not only can you get more out of each of your employees, but you can also enjoy significant cost savings. Here are just a few benefits of telecommuting:
Couple these benefits with higher employee satisfaction and it is hard to see any downsides to telecommuting. However, they do exist.
If your employees are to really benefit from telecommuting, they need flexi-time too. Because without some flexibility in working hours, most of the benefits of telecommuting are removed. You simply replace the effort of getting to work at a set hour with the effort of getting to a place of your choosing on time.
You also need to think through how to handle management and performance reviews. To assuage fears that employees would simply abuse the power to work remotely, a results-based system needs to be in place. Instead of individually monitoring employees, their work and goals must be measured solely by results.
You have to trust your staff. Any mistakes in implementing this kind of management style could have an adverse effect on employee productivity. After all, what is the point of getting 19 hours more work a week if they get half as much done?
Have you tried telecommuting?
Implemented correctly, telecommuting can be positive both for you and your team. As someone once summed up: 'work is something you do, not something you travel to'.
So how about it? Do you know of any companies or people that enjoy a telecommuting system? Or do you know someone who struggles and would prosper more in a structured office environment?
John Sollars is MD of Stinkyink.com
One of the more irritating aspects of setting up a business is that there are a few indispensible professional services that really just have to be paid for.
Leaving aside the fact that you can get some (sometimes) very good quality advice from a variety of online and publicly funded support services, it really is important to talk to an accountant pretty early in the evolution of any new business.
A quick session with a lawyer can be worthwhile too. And there can be a few other professionals who get a slice of your increasingly meagre start-up funds.
So, should IT be included as one of those professional services you just have to pay for right from the start? A lot of start-ups like to look a bit bigger and better established than they actually are.
Even though the consistent advice is that this is unnecessary, it is hard to shake the view that, “even though it may be just me, somehow I need to look like a real business: I need to justify that Global Enterprises (UK) Ltd company name that set me back the better part of £100”.
Well, IT is one way you can do that: spend a couple of grand on a server, set up half a dozen email addresses, sync your mobile device, and maybe add some online file sharing and so on. Now you’re starting to look like a ‘real’ business.
But this all has a pretty high cost – and then you need to pay an IT company to look after that server and all your other equipment. This is starting to cost some serious money.
So could there be a way to use IT to add a little weight and gravitas to your start-up business without having to mortgage your house or sell your car?
Well, in short: yes there is!
It is a reasonable assumption that every business will have some kind of computer and some kind of internet connection. Armed with these weapons, there are three key online resources you can access to add a corporate sheen to your start-up. Two are free, and the third is almost free.
Given their (undeserved) penny pinching reputation it might be a surprise to learn that all three are from Microsoft. (Disclosure: Macnamara, my company, sells Microsoft-based IT solutions.)
So there you have it. You can make a big corporate style splash for nothing, or next to nothing. Let us know how you get on.
This post is by Ciaran Kenny, owner of Macnamara.