How unexpected tools can make your organization more productive

Our obsession with personal productivity has never been stronger.

From 6 am meditations to reading 100 books a year, it feels like we’re all trying to cram more into our waking hours.

And there’s nothing wrong with trying to make the most of your life — and your work.

But while we’re busy journaling, hacking and upgrading ourselves toward peak performance, it’s easy to forget that our organizations could benefit from productivity improvements as well.

Improving company performance can have massive benefits, whether you’re a small business, a solopreneur, or you work in a huge global organization.

For example, you can apply systems thinking or use the Theory of Constraints to level up your business and eliminate major roadblocks.

If, however, you want to save time, money, and eliminate everyday headaches, there are five powerful ways to boost organizational productivity. We’ll cover these in just a moment.

First, I want to give you a little background.

Here’s why I’m thinking about business productivity — and the products that can enhance it.

Multi-tasking tools: help in unexpected places

At JotForm, we’re big fans of products like Slack, Trello, Google Drive, and HubSpot. Our 120 employees rely on these tools to stay connected, manage documents, and much more.

For many years, we thought that every task required a different product.

Slack, for example, was only for real-time collaboration. Then we realized that it can be a great way to share company knowledge and reinforce our culture.

Trello keeps our teams organized as they develop new features, but it can also be a smart place to log new ideas and track inspiration.

That’s why we got pretty excited when our User Experience team shared some unexpected ways that our 4 million customers use JotForm to enhance their productivity.

From simplifying workflows to minimizing email, we found out they were adapting our online form builder to serve their own, specific needs.

I’ll use our own case studies to illustrate each of the five principles that can boost your organizational productivity. Before we move forward, consider each principle as it applies to your business.

How could you enhance or improve it?

What tools or products could help?

What are you doing now that could be simpler, less cumbersome, faster, or more organized?

Be creative. Grab a pen and start sketching out your workflows, if that helps. Look for links and connections in unexpected and non-intuitive places.

1. Automation

Running a small business can feel like juggling all the fruit in your bowl — with one hand tied behind your back. There’s so much to do and very few people to do it all.

Every time you can stop sending similar emails, or manually completing the same task, or giving people the same information, you’ll save time and money.

Creativity also needs time and space to grow. That’s where automation comes in. When you can systemize repetitive processes, steps, or tasks, you free yourself up for better problem-solving.

Automation can help companies of every shape and size — especially entrepreneurs often feel an overwhelming sense of relief when they automate a repetitive process.

One of the companies our UX team interviewed, for example, matches virtual assistants with small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Owner Emily (I changed names in this article for privacy purposes) used to spend days corresponding with clients and her team of freelance employees. Cash flow was inconsistent and she was constantly reconciling employee work hours (sent by email) and hunting down delayed payments.

Now, clients start by filling in a web form and paying a deposit, which is securely integrated with the form. Employees also submit their monthly hours with a digital form, instead of a random email message.

The technology helps Emily to automate and save time, maintain a more consistent cash flow, and eliminate the hassle of sorting through hundreds of emails every week.

Think of your own organization. What is a routine, repetitive process that should actually be automated?

2. Conditional logic

Remember learning those “if-then” logic problems, way back in primary school?

Neither do I… but that’s okay. I definitely got deep into conditional logic when I studied computer science and worked as a developer. It’s the basis of coding, after all.

Anyway, many companies have work or product flows that rely on conditional logic, such as “if a customer buys six licenses of product X, then they qualify for this level of support.”

These flows can become messy when you have lots of variables in the mix, like a variety of products, international rules and regulations, or pricing tiers.

And the head-scratching complexity often trickles down to sales staff who work on the front lines of the business.

That’s exactly the challenge that Brian faced.

He’s a product manager at an international cybersecurity firm that protects against a myriad of online threats. Sales reps take product requests by phone and help customers pick the right services, but inevitably, the forms they filled in during these calls were missing at least a couple key details. The reps then had to go through endless email chains to fill in the blanks.

A web form that supports conditional logic solved this problem. It automatically shows the reps that if they fill in a specific field, for example, then the next one also needs to be completed.

The team always has the information they need and customers appreciate the streamlined process.

To what cases can you apply conditional logic within your organization? Can you boost productivity by using it to your advantage?

3. Customization

Branding is critical. It’s important to present a consistent, recognizable company image, even when you’re a small business. For example:

When customers or clients interact with your business, consider every touchpoint.

Your website, payment systems, communication and feedback tools should all feel like a seamless extension of your brand — not only for marketing purposes but also to maintain trust.

Customers definitely don’t want to feel like their personal or financial information is at risk when they do business with your organization.

We recently connected with an event planning organization that embeds our forms on their site. They use the “white label” functionality (which removes our logos) to present a unified brand experience for customers. The registration and booking forms only reflect the university or government organization that’s running the event.

It’s a quick customization process — and instead of hand-coding each new form, they simply clone a previous version, make the necessary changes, and adapt it for the new event.

4. Mobile operations

The world has gone mobile. There’s little you can’t do with a phone and a wi-fi connection (or a good data package).

As of 2017, adults in the U.S. spend nearly 3 hours per day using mobile apps — and that number is continually increasing.

So many people use mobile devices to shop, travel, communicate, and even order lunch that it’s easy to forget that some of the world still operates offline.

Reijn Security, for example, has a field team that visits customers to determine, for example, how many cameras or meters of cable they need for a new security system.

In the past, the field team scribbled all the details on clipboards while assessing the site. Once Reijn embedded a custom form on their site, the field reps were free to ditch the paper and use their mobile devices.

Now, they fill in the digital form on-site, and owner Philip Tran uses the data to prepare an official proposal document. No lost paper, no hunting for pens, and the files can be permanently archived in the cloud.

5. Payment integration

Requesting, receiving and distributing payments can be a time-consuming process.

Despite great online systems like PayPal, Stripe, BluePay, and Moneris, smaller companies often interact with less sophisticated customers (or businesses), that don’t use or accept digital payments.

And even if they do, arranging these transactions — one customer at a time — can be time-consuming.

In 2018, every business should try to find an integrated payment system that enables secure, on-demand financial transactions — even for less digitally-savvy clients.

It really is possible; you just need to explore the options and apply a little creativity.

For example, there’s a family-run organic farm that was (until recently) emailing its product spreadsheet to interested customers. These customers would then call or email back to place their orders.

Farm managers were constantly checking their inbox and waiting for phone calls, instead of focusing on the business of growing food.

Recently, they created a web form that lists the fresh products and prices. Customers simply visit the farm’s website, place their order, and pay online (thanks to a payment module integration).

Product managers receive an automated notification anytime someone places an order, and as inventory changes, they just update the form.

Now, there’s no confusion. Customers are happier, the farm owners and employees are far more efficient, and the entire sales process runs much more smoothly

“Simplicity takes slightly more time to create and far less time to execute.” – Anne C. Graham

For companies of every shape and size, productivity isn’t about crossing items off a to-do list.

It’s a strategic approach that should streamline systems, simplify communication, and make life easier and more profitable for everyone involved.

I’ve shared several examples of how our customers use JotForm to boost their productivity. If web forms can help our users to eliminate email and manage complicated business processes, imagine what else is possible.

Look closely at the tools you’re already using.

What more could they do?

How can you make connections in unexpected places?

Sometimes the most powerful changes don’t feel intuitive, but once you implement them, you’ll wonder how you ever managed before.

Aytekin Tank is the Founder and CEO of JotForm. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from JotForm users. You can reach Aytekin from AytekinTank@JotForm.com

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