The pandemic lockdown has seen many business leaders transform the way they work and it’s probably fair to say a good number will have had to up their personal technological prowess markedly. And as the fallout from the pandemic continues, Management thought it timely to ask tech-savvy leaders to share the best productivity tools and apps they use to make the most of their time. By Annie Gray.
An IBM Institute for Business Value study, released in September 2019, showed that in 2016 executives ranked technical core capabilities for STEM and basic computer and software/application skills as the top two most critical skills for employees.
But by 2018, the top two skills sought were behavioural skills – a willingness to be flexible, agile, and adaptable to change; and time management skills and the ability to prioritise (see https://newsroom.ibm.com).
And amid the 2020 pandemic it really is the leaders and employees who can demonstrate this flexibility, agility and adaptability that are leading the pivot many organisations are now having to face.
Similarly, time management and the ability to prioritise are also a key skillset as the global fallout from the ongoing pandemic sees almost daily challenges in both geopolitical and economic terms.
So as many businesses across the country fight for their ongoing survival and the numbers of unemployed both locally and globally continues to rise, this ability to prioritise and employ your time productively is essential.
Management asked four tech-savvy leaders about the tools, hacks and apps they use to make the most of their time in this far from business as usual world.
Trello, PocketSmith, Miro and more
Andrew Lewis, the managing director of insights agency TRA, told Management his favourite tool to help with productivity in work life at the moment is his Trello board.
“I have all the tasks on my plate organised into ‘things to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’. By having visibility of all and picking tasks to move from ‘to do’ into ‘doing’ I find myself much more focused on actually getting things done.
“It sounds super simple I know, but I can be super-scattergun without some kind of organisational framework to focus my energies.”
Lewis, whose company solves the complex problems organisations face today through the use of research, analytics, strategy and culture, says the other simple, “but really transformative life hack” is simply in how you set default meeting lengths in Outlook Calendar.
“We observed that people usually just set meeting length based on whatever the default setting is in Outlook – which is set at an hour. So, we simply reset this for the entire company to 30 minutes. And lo, most meetings are now 30 minutes.”
He adds that the company’s work for clients is all about how you harness insight to drive good behaviours “so it’s nice to practise a bit of this on ourselves”.
As to other tools he regularly uses, Lewis says the company has recently launched Radar by Zavy, which is a real-time tool that shows the top stories Kiwis are talking about and how they’re feeling about them.
“This is one of the first things I check in the morning – it helps burst my social media bubble and gives me the inside track on what’s driving conversation across the country.”
So, has Covid changed the way he now works or the tools he now uses?
“Absolutely. Particularly around digital communication. What became apparent during lockdown is just how much TRA relied on the office environment and proximity to each other to drive almost every aspect of our business – collaboration, ideas, culture, development.
“So, we’ve been on a bit of a transformative journey over the past month or so to develop new ways of achieving things with distance built in.
“In a straightforward sense this has meant much heavier use of tools like Slack, Zoom and Teams, but we have also been experimenting with online collaboration tools like Miro to help with more free-form thinking and interaction over distance.”
As to how he sources new technology tools or even finds out about them, Lewis says the company sets out to solve specific problems as a general matter of everyday innovation and transformation.
“As part of this we either come across great tools that solve a problem we are facing, or we simply build our own tools if we can’t find them.”
And in his personal life he and his wife Amber Coulter, who is also one of the partners/founders of TRA, collaborate on everything from groceries to TV shows they want to watch using Microsoft To-Do, which Lewis says is fantastic.
The couple are also currently using PocketSmith to run their home finances.
“It draws live feeds from all your bank accounts, investments, credit cards, etc. and organises activity into categories. You can look at how you are spending versus budgets, your overall net wealth versus goals and heaps of other things in real time. Cool for control freaks,” he says.
As to any privacy concerns with these online tools he says he is a big believer in the value of individual data and making smart decisions regarding the benefits you receive for sharing versus the value you are giving away to others.
“I think you need to be informed about how your data will be used by different providers and make choices about this.”
Asked what he might recommend to other CEOs who perhaps are not as tech savvy as they could be, Lewis says it does depend what kind of problem they are looking to solve.
“For general team management and communication, something like Slack is really great for organising communication into the right channels and knowing what everyone is up to. It’s a great place to start,” he says.
Mural, Calendly and LastPass
Vincent Vuillard is the co-founder of FutureWork Studio, a New Zealand tech and consulting company on a mission to help organisations adapt to the rapidly changing world of work. Recently he has spoken at two global forums about the exponential changes disrupting the nature of work.
His favourite productivity tool/hack is mural.io to capture all ideas and problem-solving session output. He tells Management everyone can access and edit it, so it’s a live wall but for his entire team.
As to why it is so effective, Vuillard says the team is based in different locations “so it’s perfect to collaborate and create a culture of location agnostic work”. And because everyone can access and edit it, they don’t have to spend time going backward and forward travelling to an office.
As to what other tools he regularly uses, he says the team uses LastPass for all their passwords. “It’s super-efficient to share passwords with the team, and MS Teams for messaging and file management. We also use Calendly to easily schedule meetings.”
Asked whether Covid changed the way he now works or the tools he uses, Vuillard says they were already working virtually “but now our clients are also working more flexibly these tools are useful to collaborate with them too”.
As to what tool he might recommend as a good place to start for other leaders who may not be as tech savvy as they could be, he points to Trello as a great tool if you want to start managing work online but don’t have MS Teams.
“More informal messaging like WhatsApp or Slack also shortcuts the endless emails.”
So how does he source new tools or even find out about them? “My preference is to use a few really good tools regularly and then test new tools when I hear about them from friends or connections on LinkedIn.”
And as for tools, apps and hacks he uses in his personal life, it’s WhatsApp with his family.
“I also go for a run three to four times a week to clear my mind and help me focus.”
As to whether he has privacy concerns with online tools Vuillard says he is not overly worried about privacy with these tools but he tries to balance his data between Google, Apple and Microsoft “so that I don’t have all my data with one company, it’s not fully bulletproof but it’s better than giving away all your data to one firm. I use the best of each provider as opposed to sticking to one.”
Wavebox, 2FA, 1Password
Jodi Irving is Overdose’s New Zealand managing director, and she told Management she is a fan of using Wavebox which groups all of the apps that she uses together.
“As I have a number of apps that I flip between during the day this holds them all in one spot which is great. I also use an app called 1password which is a secure vault for all logins across the business. This is useful so that you don’t have to worry about remembering passwords.
As to why it is so effective, she says Wavebox means that she saves time having all apps in one location and doesn’t have to worry about having multiple tabs open and having to log into different platforms each time she uses them.
“Everything is in one place and saves time. It also notifies me each time there is a message or alert into the app so I know what to check.”
As to what other tools she uses regularly, she points to Zoom and Google Hangouts. “These tools have become a way of life for us now – we used them heavily before Covid but since coming out of lockdown we have continued to use them daily for many meetings. It saves time but retains that face-to-face contact with clients and teams.”
Asked if Covid changed the way she now works Irving says with video tools she tends to now record a lot of her meetings. “This saves taking notes, especially when interviewing which means I can focus on the person and the conversation rather than stopping to take notes.”
Overdose is a digital commerce agency which works with partners to align digital strategies with business goals. Started in New Zealand four years ago, it now has offices in Australia, New York, Singapore and Kiev. It was recently named Adobe’s APAC 2020 Digital Experience Solution Partner of the Year for Commercial.
So, in such a techie space, how does she source new tools or even find out about them?
“We are lucky in that we work in the digital space so we breathe new tech and frequently talk to our tech partners. For those that want another way to get it into their inbox, I recommend looking through sites such as Thenextweb.com or signing up to wired.com.”
As to privacy concerns, Irving says she always use 2FA for that security check and “I always make sure apps and platforms are on the latest version where the developer has updated their security. This is important. Also, if anything doesn’t feel right then I don’t use it,” she says. M