One of the key factors to successfully operating a small business or working as a freelancer is productivity. Unlike larger corporations where job descriptions provide clear-cut instructions meant to streamline work, a small business’ limited pool of employees means every worker takes on more responsibilities than they may be used to. Though this can be an enticing benefit to small business employees—as shared work can create a communal atmosphere and, in turn, build a sense of ownership of one’s efforts in the company—it can also become overwhelming and result in diminished productivity.
Using the right apps can reclaim some of that lost productivity. In a recent statement, AT&T President of Enterprise Business Solutions Cathy Martine said, “In the current economy, mobile technologies are critical to enabling small businesses to save tremendous amounts of time and money by helping them do more with less.” In fact, currently 94% of small businesses use smartphones to conduct work. Thanks to the world of apps offered on smartphones and tablets, leveraging time and streamlining focus is easier than ever. The following 6 apps are among the best to help fine-tune your productivity.
Key Function: Managing and Sharing To-Do Lists
Wunderlist, a well-known, user-friendly app that’s utilized by more than 50,000 businesses, is a cloud-based service designed around creating and managing to-do lists. Wunderlist syncs across all your devices and allows you “access from anywhere.” Lists can include due dates, reminders, subtasks and notes, and they can be shared with other Wunderlist users. Using the subtasks feature is a great way to break down large projects into smaller to-do lists that help you to track progress with ease. A “Mail to Wunderlist” feature allows you to send or forward emails to add tasks to Wunderlist accounts. Content from Outlook, Gmail, Amazon, Etsy, YouTube, eBay and Trip Advisor can easily be added to Wunderlist by using the “Add to Wunderlist” extension for Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Wunderlist Pro enhances team collaboration by offering a few additional features: assigning tasks to other users (colleagues), unlimited subtasks, uploading files, and real-time comments so users can communicate on the go.
Price: Free for the basic program; $4.99/month or $49.99/year for Wunderlist Pro; $24.99/month for Wunderlist Pro for Business (up to 5 team members).
2. Voxer Business
Key Function: Push-to-Talk Communication
Voxer is a live messaging app that brings push-to-talk technology to smartphones. For businesses that have employees in the field or work with a team spread across the globe, Voxer is the perfect way to easily communicate. To message a colleague, simply select a contact and press the talk button to send a “vox.” Your message is streamed live, and if your colleague is using the app, they’ll hear it as you speak. Since everything is recorded, the recipient will never miss a message. A beneficial tool for small businesses is the “Team Chat” function, which lets you communicate with as many group members as you’d like. You can also send texts, photos and share your location. For users concerned with reaching recipients immediately, Voxer Business offers two convenient instruments: Live Interruption Mode streams messages to a phone even if the app is closed, and Extreme Notifications are alerts that display directly to a phone. As a company principal, you can tap into “Voxer Business Manager” to control your employees’ communication.
Price: Free for basic. $2.99/month for Pro Upgrade; $9.95/month per user for Voxer Business. Plans and pricing can be found here.
Key Function: Streamlining Communication
HipChat is a group chat and instant messaging app built with teams in mind. As emails can get lost in the shuffle and cause delays, HipChat offers one place for collaboration, file-sharing, video chat and even screen-sharing in real time. Since it can be accessed on just about any device, it’s a great way to keep your team in sync and boost productivity. It features Persistent Chat Rooms, which are topic-based discussion rooms that persist over time. You can pull colleagues into rooms, and by using push notifications, your team will never miss a beat. If you have to step away for a meeting, HipChat also has a complete chat history, so you can pick up right where you left off. Also, to take away the headache of using multiple services, HipChat can integrate other apps such as JIRA, Bitbucket, Zendesk and Twitter to name a few.
Price: Free for the basic app; $2/month per user for extra features such as video chat and screen-sharing after a 30-day free trial.
Key Function: Teamwork Communication Management
Asana is a web and mobile app “designed to enable teamwork without email.” This app was created by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-engineer Justin Rosenstein to improve employee productivity at Facebook. Described as “the first post-email application,” Asana boasts many tools, including workspaces, projects, tasks, tags, notes, comments and an inbox that organizes information in real time. The goal is to provide individuals and teams with a way to conquer their tasks and projects without email. If your business has multiple projects in the works at the same time, you can assign each team a workspace. Each workspace/project contains tasks where users can comment and add attachments. Users can also follow projects or tasks, and when these are updated, followers are notified in their Asana inbox. Asana has built many partnerships with other services (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, MailChimp, etc.) and strives to seamlessly integrate these into Asana. With Asana, employees can always be in the know, and managers can always keep the ball rolling.
Price: Free for unlimited teams of up to 15 members; premium plans range from $50/month for 15 members up to $800/month for 100 members.
Key Function: Document Editing
CloudOn is an app that allows users to create, review and share Microsoft Office docs from mobile devices. Gone are the days when people sent new versions of a file every time a change was made. It’s a massive waste of time to maintain that method. With CloudOn, you create ongoing documents that your selected team has access to. As you make changes, your teammates can see them unfold and add their own comments to the evolving draft before it is ultimately finalized. Through CloudOn, you can access your accounts onDropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and Hightail. Although you may feel wary about editing documents on mobile devices, with CloudOn you can rest assured they are fully compatible with all Microsoft Office formats. It can also be a handy service if you’re out and about and want to show off spreadsheets or slideshows.
Price: Free for the basic program; $4.99/month for CloudOn Pro.
Key Function: Time Management
RescueTime “gives you an accurate picture of how you spend your time to help you become more productive every day.” According to a 2013 study by Kansas State University, workers spend 60 to 80% of their time at work surfing non-work-related sites. Thus, after you’ve implemented other productivity apps and tools, RescueTime is the perfect finishing touch, as companies need to understand where their time goes. RescueTime runs in the background on your computer and mobile devices, and it tracks time spent on applications and websites. It sums up your activity with detailed reports that allow you to analyze where and when you thrive and dive. Some helpful features include the ability to block distracting websites, setting alerts that display the amount of time spent on an activity, time measurement and tracking of your daily accomplishments. With RescueTime, you control the program and ultimately yourself. For iOS users, Toggl is a good alternative, although it’s a bit more manual.
Price: Free for RescueTime Lite. $9/month or $72/year for RescueTime Premium.
Here are a few additional productivity apps worth checking out: Quip (document collaboration), Producteev (teamwork and task management) and Dropbox for Business (file sharing and synchronization). If you want to learn more, click here to watch a short course on Time Management for Small Business.