Tech tips for doing your best work wherever

With overnight suitcases replacing handbags and wallets, smartphones replacing home and work phones, and servers replacing hard drives, the world of work is undergoing a "tech-tonic" shift. Advances in technology have dramatically changed not only the way people work, but also where people work and how much they can accomplish out of the office.

Yet, for many of today's workers, managing business beyond the boardroom can be a daunting task. Not all of us are tech gurus or naturals at figuring out just how to strike that elusive work-life balance. To that end, here are some tips for making a more seamless and safe tech transition from the office, to the home, and all places in between:

E-mail management Who's in charge?

If only managing e-mail was as simple as tidying up stacks of snail mail that arrive in your mailbox at the same time every day. A recent Harris study notes that one in six business e-mails are sent from an information worker's home PC, blurring the lines of traditional work hours. Additionally, The Egan Group Inc. reports that poor e-mail habits can cost businesses a minimum of $200 in lost productivity per employee per week.

So how do you manage your e-mail before it starts managing you? First, consider the use of rules or settings that will direct mail to specified folders, reserving your main inbox only for e-mails that demand your immediate attention.

Also, encourage co-workers to use abbreviations for more effective subject lines. For instance, begin the subject line with "AR" if there is a specific action requested, "RR" if a response is requested, or "RO" for read-only.

Finally, see if "The "4 Ds for Decision Making" model from McGhee Productivity Solutions works for you. Each time you read an e-mail message, immediately decide if you will Do the action requested in the message, Delete it, Defer it until later, or Delegate it to someone else. This helps prioritize time-sensitive content and saves workers time scrolling through e-mails for action-oriented items.

Virtual private networks bring security

If your business has sensitive data stored online, and more than 10 employees access the corporate network remotely, consider installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Now more affordable for small- and mid-sized businesses, VPNs offer robust security for less than the cost of a dedicated phone line.

There are a few key things to keep in mind when using a VPN. First, a VPN does not replace a firewall. A VPN acts like a tunnel to the Internet, while a firewall acts like a protective moat around your network.

Second, if you are working with wireless LAN, be sure to "layer" correctly to reap the security benefits of a VPN. The firewall should be on the inside and the wireless network on the outside, so that wireless traffic does not build up around the firewall.

Finally, be aware that a VPN will affect performance speed. Security has a large appetite, consuming 10 percent to 15 percent of available remote bandwidth. So when you're tapping your fingers waiting an extra second for that e-mail or spreadsheet to open, just remember the security benefits of the VPN.

Integration savings

Businesses dependent on wireless handheld devices for greater productivity and connectivity should consider the value of integrated software and hardware. With integrated infrastructures, businesses save on the cost of maintaining additional servers and databases.

For example, if your business already uses a Windows operating system, consider the use of Windows Mobile powered handheld devices for increased functionality and cost savings. Workers searching for a contact not stored in their phone can access Global Address lists as well as receive calendar updates in real time. Additionally, working off of the same operating system promotes ease of use and increased functionality.

Messaging matters

Take a cue from your teenager and consider instant messaging as a viable and time-saving alternative to phone calls or e-mail. Instant messaging has become far more acceptable in the workplace and a desirable means of communication while out of the office.

By offering the option to indicate presence, instant-messaging services keep workers aware of one another's availability and location. These conversations also frequently replace e-mails, saving workers both administrative time and digital space on their wireless devices.

For businesses especially dependent on presence information, unified communications solutions greatly improve their operations. Unified communications unites contact information with all the ways people communicate: phone, conferencing, instant messaging, e-mail and calendaring. People's availability, their contact information, and the ability to communicate with them are integrated and always just a click away.

Server central

With the evolution of digital workspaces, servers have become vital solutions for collaboration and information management, as well as powerful means for mobility. Acting as central places for employees to store company files, business information, e-mail messages, calendars and mailing lists, servers keep workers both in and out of the office connected in real time.

Many businesses already depend on servers, but might want to consider upgrades to enhance collaboration efforts for work in and out of the office. For instance, some servers offer document "check-out" features to eliminate the confusion and clutter of simultaneous editing and multiple document versions. Also, servers offering team workspaces and communication features that include announcements and alerts improve team productivity, especially for teams with workers in many locations.

At the end of the day, technology should be saving your business time and money. It should give you more flexibility in how and where you work. Take advantage of the tech tools and tips above and you should quickly see how technology can work for you, anytime and anywhere.

Jane Dickson is the northwest area general manager for Microsoft's small and mid-market solutions and partners group.


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