The Guide to Creating a Modern Office

10 min read

The purpose of this guide is to educate you on the new systems available for a modern promotional products business.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

  • The future of work in the promotional products industry
  • Start your move to becoming a cloud-based company
  • What every distributor should know about getting rid of paper
  • Eliminate paperwork
  • The good, the bad, and the ugly of switching to VOIP
  • 3 ways the right software will transform your culture
  • Additional Resources

The future of work in the promotional products industry

The simple life

Work should be fun and life should be simpler.

We’ve spent the past 3 years building a software platform to accomplish just that. Outside of the platform, we think a lot about what the future looks like in making other aspects of work and life simpler. The first thing we’re tackling on this journey into the future together is freeing ourselves from the tyranny of the desktop.

Step away from the desktop, please

Think about how often things like this happen:

  • You get home and realize the file you need to work on is on your computer. The one at the office.
  • The email you need to respond to is filed away in your Outlook folders so it is not accessible on your smartphone.
  • You lug a laptop back and forth along with 10 different USBs which carry a wide variety of important files so that you always have what you might need.
  • You lose the USB.

Your future is a lot simpler.  

Imagine this instead. You walk into your office and you:

  • Plug your tablet into an internet-enabled docking station,
  • Load your cloud applications: Google Apps, commonsku, and Dropbox, and
  • Plug in your headset to do your voice calls over the Internet.

Now, you’re off to the races.

No hard drive to back-up, no server to reboot, no phone system to manage, no syncing required.

At the end of the day, you pick up your tablet, toss it in your bag and head home.  The next day you do the same thing, only this time you never leave home.

Imagine how easy that would be. What does your vision of the future look like?

Action Item: Make a list of technology that you can move to the cloud.

What every distributor should know about getting rid of paper

Paper

The business dream to go paperless has been around for years. It is a dream that a lot of industries continue to chase.

We have our own vision for paperless work within the promotional products industry:

  • Replace paper process with digital process through software.
  • Rid every single promotional product consultant’s desk of printouts.
  • Torch the manual tracking of production.  

The first step on this journey to paperwork liberation for us was being able to access information from anywhere. No more lost paper files. No more orders slipping away (under a desk, maybe).

No more lost scraps of knowledge.

The bonus

The interesting side effect to removing paper was that it opened up a new world of possibilities for office design. You can literally tear down the walls and open up your work environment.

  • No more huge filing cabinets loaded with paper
  • No more giant, bulky desks for mass storage
  • No more stacks and stacks (and stacks) of catalogs
  • No more heavy-duty (and ugly!) boxes overflowing with old orders

Turn that reclaimed space into a lounge for employees. Or into a casual meeting space for clients.

The holdout

There’s one in every crowd.  In the promotional products crowd, it’s accounting.

We have yet to completely tackle paperless accounting, but we are on our way. commonsku software offers the option to send all paperwork – from estimates to invoices – digitally. It also has built in Stripe and cardconnect functionality to receive payments. Accounting information can pass seamlessly between programs with our Xero and Quickbooks online integrations.

Unfortunately, many suppliers still fax (*sigh*) and send a lot of bills in the mail.  But, with so many new digital tools available, the entire industry should be moving away from printing and mailing invoices, bills, and checks.

As we continue to connect the promotional products industry, we will continue to eliminate paper.

We envision a world where paper is no longer a requirement to run your business. You will be free to re-imagine your work space. You can decide if that should be an office, a home office, or the local coffee shop.

Action Item: Review your paperwork processes and make a list of what can go paperless.

The good, the bad and the ugly of switching to VOIP

In the quest to create the workplace of the future, one of the last bastions tying us to the office was the phone.  Sure, we all have our mobile phones nowadays, but a lot of the time clients prefer calling your office number to reach you.  This means constantly having to retrieve messages when you are out of the office and having to use cell phone minutes to make calls.

Enter VOIP.

For those not familiar with the acronym, VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol – it basically means that your phone call goes over the internet rather than traditional phone lines.  The major benefit of this is that your phone can be with you not only when you are in the office, but anywhere there is WiFi.

We recently transitioned over to VOIP from an old PBX system.

The good

VOIP does three key things:

  1. enables the team to work from anywhere
  2. reduces costs
  3. makes administration of the phone system easy

I have found that having everything at my fingertips has made things very easy and means that any changes to any aspect of the system can be made remotely.  Transferring calls, adding people to conference calls are all done with the click of a button rather than having to remember Feature sequences

I didn’t want to have to call our PBX administrator every time I needed a new voice mail box added or when we couldn’t figure out the random keying sequence required to make a modification to the auto-attendant. With VOIP, all of this is done in a browser environment and is very simple to manage.

The bad

The transition process wasn’t seamless so I thought I would share with you some learning if you’re considering embarking on this adventure.

  1. Do a small test case first – have one person sign up for the service and try it out to make sure call quality is good, that your internet speed is sufficient to carry the call and your data requirements, and finally that the set up process and interface is good. We made the wholesale switch with the entire team and had some call quality issues to begin with.
  2. Don’t change everything over at once – we changed our internet provider and our phone provider at the same time and this made things very painful. One process was inevitably holding up another and we ended up being significantly delayed overall. It created a huge amount of complexity that could have been avoided by doing one at a time.
  3. Understand from the provider you choose who handles what part of the infrastructure that needs to be in place. There’s a primer below for those of you, who like me, end up unwillingly playing the sys-admin role because there is nobody else to do it.

The kinda ugly

If you are in an office environment with multiple people, your tech infrastructure probably looks something like this:

  1. modem is plugged into your internet connection – either cable, DSL or (I shudder to think), dial-up
  2. router  connects from your modem to a switch
  3. switch – this allows the internet connection to be distributed across all the computers plugging into the connection
  4. patch bay – this is where all the wired connections (LAN ports) the computers are plugged into terminate. Connections then go from the patch bay to the switch in order to connect the internet to all the LAN ports so the computers can plug in

This is where things got ugly. To set up VOIP, there needs to be some configuration done on the router to allow for the audio to pass both ways.  This involves “triggering ports” and potentially adjusting firewalls.  Make sure you know who looks after your router and can do this for you.

We ended up in the frustrating situation of having everything set up and being unable to hear audio on the calls because changes needed to be made to the router and our provider was not responding.  There was a fair amount of being bounced between the VOIP company and the hosting company before we found out exactly what needed to be done and got it accomplished.

The wrap

In the end, despite the implementation process being a bit ugly overall, the end result was worth it.  Key wins in all this:

  • the flexibility to work from anywhere
  • the ability to receive voice mail over email
  • the freedom to connect it to our mobile devices so we can call out long distance on wifi and have it seem like we’re in the office
  • the bonus of being able to talk on a wireless headset while walking around the office (which is actually really fun)

3 ways to free your staff from the tyranny of micro-management

The right software will transform your company.

I don’t mean software patched together from 3 separate programs, duct-tape, and spit.  That’s not going to transform anything, I’m sorry to say.

The right software is built for the job that you are doing.  A software designed with your workflow, for your workflow.

Modern software applications focus on their strengths and do them to the utmost. You should settle for nothing less.

Your company will never be the same.

Yes, some improvements are par for the course with software adoption. You will save time with a better software program. And, yes, you will definitely have fewer mistakes.  But, transforming your company culture? Where does that come from?

For commonsku, it comes from three main places.

1. Collaboration

The newsfeed style approach to software introduces a new way for your company to communicate.

Sales people will be able to build off of the work their colleagues do.

Your staff will be able to re-purpose ideas and work to grow portfolios. Inspiration is served up daily in the form of new products or new presentations. The system automatically gives sales team members new reasons to reach out to clients with proactive ideas.

2. Awareness

If history holds true, the most interesting transformation you will see will be on the people side. From a management perspective, you won’t have to ask people what they are working on.  You won’t have to chase updates on clients or orders. You’ll know at a glance what’s happening on every level.

You’ll know what your teams are doing. You’ll know your numbers.  These two things will free you up to have better meetings.  Instead of number and task updates, meetings become about strategy. You can get into details on how to grow portfolios instead of hearing last week’s news.

3. Freedom

Your team will have the freedom to work how they want, when they want, and where they want. The need for 9-5 facetime is gone. If someone is out visiting a client or working off-site, they still have access to everything, and everyone, they need. They can ask for ideas on the news feed. They can pull up a product from a great presentation. They can scroll through the newsfeed to see what’s going on back at the office.

The future of work

This is what the millennial generation is looking for. They want the freedom to get their job done in a way that works for them. They want you to see what they are capable of…micro-management need not apply.

Are you positioning your organization for the future of work?

Summary

Now that you have the knowledge and tools you need to move your business to the cloud, you can focus on modernizing your business processes.

Here are some ways commonsku can help:

  • Our blog is full of business resources, sales and marketing tips and industry updates
  • Request a demo of commonsku’s business management software to help you save time, sell more, and simplify your processes