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Take Virtual Team Collaboration to the Next Level with These Digital Workspaces

June 21, 2022

By: Steph Davidson

Digital transformation is a term many of us are familiar with these days, and the reason ‌is clear. As remote and hybrid workforces continue to hold a grip on the corporate world, integrative digital systems have become crucial for efficient communication and collaboration between multiple parties.

Technology options have expanded hugely since 2020, increasing our reliance on digital workspaces.

These powerful virtual work environments allow people to organize, store, edit, share, automate and optimize data, amplifying productivity and promoting better time management. No matter what kind of business you’re in, digital workspaces have become a modern zeitgeist for virtual team collaboration.

In fact, 72% of US companies report having a well-established digital workplace strategy as of 2022.

There are a wealth of great reasons to invest in a high-quality digital workspace in 2022, and this article will highlight how they work, why you need them, and where you can find the best ones.

How Do Digital Workspaces Benefit Employees?

Digital workspaces provide remote, hybrid, and regular teams of employees with a myriad of advantageous tools and features. Whether your business is in project management or graphic design, having an overarching virtual collaboration platform comes with extensive benefits. Including:

    • Communication – easily talk back and forth with other team members in one centralized location, promoting more cohesive work conversations.
    • Content collaboration – team members can individually access, edit, and manage content without needing to cross-communicate via multiple channels.
    • Data security – digital workplaces are highly secure, preventing hackers from accessing sensitive company data and ensuring only people with authority have access to files.
    • Accessibility – access the digital platform (and all the files, content, or data it contains) from anywhere as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.
    • Advanced analytics tools – track, analyze, and store data on productivity, patterns, and other job-relevant metrics.
    • Endpoint management – unified endpoint management (UEM) is a crucial aspect of any teamwork project. Use digital workspaces to measure progress and reach goals with precision.

All in all, these virtual systems are designed to assist teams in the pursuit of productivity and equip them with the tools and features necessary to hit their respective targets.

As the global workforce continues to become diversified in its approach to work/home life balance, digital workplaces will continue to add immeasurable value to any professional team of employees.

Which Digital Workspaces Are Best?

Understanding the value of digital workspaces and virtual tools is one thing. But knowing which one to invest in is another. The demand for high-functioning virtual collaborative spaces is growing, and these five offer some of the best features on the market.

1. Asana

Asana has been crushing the online collaboration platform market since 2008. However, recent years have bumped it up to one of the most used digital workspaces in the world.

With a focus on facilitating content-based businesses, Asana is perfect for teams wanting to centralize their communication methods and bring all team members onto the same (web) page. Their services include extensive data analytics and reporting, calendars, goal-tracking, project management tools, admin controls, automation devices, and integration for external platforms.

They are also surprisingly affordable for their range of features, totaling between $0 – $24.99 a month, depending on which package you buy. Asana is a great all-rounder for both big and small teams who want to improve their communication methods and find a more harmonious workflow together.

2. Interact

Interact is a popular intranet software platform designed to improve internal communications between professional teams, and specifically, between employers and employees.

They have a powerful analytics department and boast a wide-reaching range of tools and features for teams to utilize. Some of their other services include centralized management tools, personalization features, integrative software, and interaction designs that allow users to engage via mobile as well as desktop management. They also offer onboarding and enrollment features for new team members.

What makes Interact so popular is its extremely user-friendly interface. This makes it ideal for teams with older employees or employees with less experience using platforms such as these.

3. WorkGrid

WorkGrid is one of the more accessible digital workspaces in 2022. It serves to help organizations streamline their productivity methods and improve connections between employees, clients, and cross-platform team members.

WorkGrid aims to help manage and deliver contextualized information in a simple, straightforward way. They offer automated notification tools, chatbots, and task-based workflow recommendations. Another special feature of WorkGrid is that they also provide micro apps that enable users to manage personal data, such as time off of work, payroll, and more.

There is a lot of synchronized processing in WorkGrid, making it a great option for small teams looking to up their understanding of digital interfaces and improve their overall productivity rates.

4. Microsoft Teams

Yes, that’s right—Microsoft has developed its own version of a digital workspace that anyone with their operating system can utilize. As one of the most popular virtual collaborative platforms used by everyone from corporates to medical professionals for online consultations, Teams has an impressive lineup of optimized tools and features.

To start off with, their online video conferencing and chat options are extensive. They allow people and teams to collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world with ease. They also provide the right software setups for private and public webinars, meetings, and live virtual events. Far-reaching international teams? This platform was designed for you.

Some of the other features provided by Microsoft Teams include third-party integration systems, easy to use communication features, mobile and desktop compatibility, and a secure online SharePoint site for storing data in a centralized location.

The Takeaway

At the end of the day, there are thousands of viable virtual team collaboration tools. Just about all of them can help you reach your goal of optimized communication, collaboration, and increased productivity. These four platforms are highly recommended, but your team needn’t settle until they find one that suits their needs exactly.

The digital transformation era is here, and online spaces like these can help us unlock the tools we need to accomplish even the most challenging of tasks. 

Steph-Davidso
About the Author: Steph Davidson is a content manager with over ten years of experience in writing, editing, blog development, SEO, marketing, and media relations. Steph lives in Toronto and can be found drinking tea and watching horror movies when she’s not working with words.

Five Tips to Keep Customers Happy This Summer

May 9, 2022

By: The Maine SBDC

Another busy summer is expected, providing both an opportunity and a challenge for small businesses across Maine. The ongoing labor shortage means that many businesses will again need to do more with less. Here you can find some basic customer service tips that can help businesses stand out. Click To Tweet

Start with Your Employees

Good customer service starts with you and your employees. Satisfied employees are more likely to provide better customer service, plus they are more likely to stick around. Retaining employees is not always an issue of pay; studies show that the workplace environment and culture can be just as important to employee morale.  Listening, responding, respecting, and supporting your employees is an excellent first step in delivering great customer service. Consider what perks you can offer to support your employees, whether it’s free coffee and bagels once a week or an end-of-summer bonus.
 

Get creative with your hiring.

Identify the most important traits you need employees to have and cast a wide net.  Often a cheery disposition and great attitude can outweigh experience; you can train a person how to clean a hotel room, but it’s really hard to change a personality.
 

Provide training on the key elements of customer service.

Maine’s Office of Tourism offers a free certification program called Welcome ME 2.0. In addition to training, establish guidelines that help regulate the conduct of your workers towards customers, management, and fellow workers. It is also important to identify behaviors that reflect your company’s culture and drive success.
 

Set Realistic Expectations

When working with fewer human resources, set realistic expectations. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to have customers and employees disappointed. Like last summer, you may need to make modifications to your business such as limiting hours or days open, simplifying product offerings, and/or cutting back on service offerings. With both staffing and product shortages, it is more important than ever to make sure you have alternative vendors and service providers lined up in case of emergencies.  If you can’t get products in from your usual suppliers, where else can you turn in a pinch?
 
As you are making these changes, communication is absolutely essential to ensuring your new and existing customers are satisfied. Communicate using the signage on your business, your website, your social media, and in-person conversations. Again, it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than have unhappy customers.
 

Be Welcoming to All

Overcoming barriers to customer service and achieving a culture of inclusion begins with understanding the needs of the people you serve. Consider the perspective of your customer. Are your customers those with young families, aging couples, or disabilities? Does your business welcome them? Make sure you are able to provide accessible accommodations that make them feel comfortable. Removing these barriers will be a simple way to make the experience a good one.
 

Personalize the Experience

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you do, but they will remember how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
 
True service excellence makes the customer feel important, heard, and special. For repeat customers, try to remember their preferences and offer helpful information. For new customers, ask good questions, listen, and respond to their needs.
 
In order to provide personalized service, businesses need to understand what drives customer satisfaction and how to meet their needs. Offering your customers a unique experience will help differentiate yourself from your competitors.
 

Invite Customer Feedback

Embrace an approach that encourages your customers to create positive word-of-mouth marketing, which in turn will allow your business to innovate and meet the needs of customers. Listen to their suggestions and attend to their complaints promptly. When customers are delighted with their experience, they are more likely to return to your business or spread the word about your brand. So, make every moment count. This builds trust and engagement.
About the Author: The Maine SBDC program helps build and strengthen small businesses through business advising, training and educational resources. Certified business advisors provide guidance on topics such as business feasibility, business plan development, capital acquisition, financial management, marketing and sales, e-commerce, customer service, personnel management, small business strategic planning and more.

What Is DEI and How Can It Benefit Your Small Business?

April 4, 2022

Workplace DEI, otherwise known as diversity, equity, and inclusion are top priorities and the path forward for all businesses, both big and small. Having a focus on DEI in your small business will work towards cultivating a more positive culture and provide fair and sustainable opportunities for everyone to grow both individually and together. 

What Is DEI? 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are vital to creating and maintaining a successful workplace. Click To Tweet But to truly implement it into your small business, you need to know what each part means. 

Diversity is the presence of differences within a given setting. For example, differences could mean race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, age, and more. Equity is the process of ensuring that processes and programs are impartial, fair, and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual. Inclusion is making sure that people feel like they belong in every aspect of the workplace. 

 

How Can DEI Help Your Small Business?

DEI is a necessity for all businesses. Small businesses stand to gain from diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives just as large companies do. A positive and inclusive workplace will attract diverse talent. This is important for continuing to grow your business. As businesses struggle to attract enough workers to reopen after the pandemic, the competition is even fiercer. Not only does DEI help attract new talent, but it also cultivates the existing talent. DEI has been proven to increase performance, lead to more creative ideas, and make stronger decisions. 

When your team is diverse, it can present great opportunities for a small business to use personal professional networks of employees to generate future customers. DEI will create stronger brand or company recognition and lead your small business to thrive. 

Where Do You Start?

To start thoroughly incorporating DEI into your small business, take a personal assessment of the current state of your employees. Ask yourself some of these questions, do your employees have equal chances to advance? Do your employees represent different religions or different political views? Do your employees have different backgrounds in education, home life, and economic class? 

After you have determined how your business stands, create a DEI plan to implement. Then communicate your DEI expectations, the reason behind the changes, and schedule training. Let employees be their authentic selves and celebrate their differences and similarities. Be realistic with the resources your small business has to set aside for a DEI initiative. Do not expect instant change or improvement in your business, developing DEI in your employees is a process that requires time, dedication, and consistency.  

Go beyond the motions of a DEI initiative by continually seeking opportunities to improve your workforce. By creating a solid plan, implementing training, and consistently maintaining high standards, your small business will experience vast benefits in its culture. You will have an increase in worker productivity which will help your business grow and succeed

SHIFT HR Compliance Training, LLC is a training and development company dedicated to improving the company cultures and inclusivity of businesses across the country with our DEI training course, anti-harassment training courses, and more.

Russia Sanctions and Technology Controls

March 14, 2022

This post will be periodically updated

On February 24, 2022, the US and its allies, including NATO members and other independent nations around the globe, imposed sweeping sanctions and technology controls against Russian parties (government institutions, banks, public and private sector companies, and persons) operating inside and outside of the Russian Federation. This is a very fluid situation and monitoring of US government websites is essential in terms of export activities. New US sanctions and controls are expected to be added frequently. Recently, Belarus and occupied territories within Ukraine have also had sanctions imposed. These actions by the US government mean that US businesses must be more vigilant in the export of their goods, services and/or technology in terms of:

  • Understanding export control classifications and associated restrictions (EAR99 products are now subject to Military End-Use (MEU) restrictions in Russia, for example);
  • Obtaining certifications that collect key screening elements, including the end user, intended end use and ownership; (foreign resellers/distributors should not reexport merchandise to Russia or Ukraine)
  • conducting screening checks on all parties to the transaction (be mindful that buyers may be wholly or partially owned by sanctioned Russian entities, possibly making them blocked parties);
  • understanding new limitations on licensing policy and the use of license exceptions related to Russian transactions and requesting licenses where applicable, prior to export.
  • Any of your foreign customers that export to Russia must ensure that their product contains no more than 25% US-origin controlled content (de minimis rules).

 

 

Companies must possess a clear understanding of their responsibilities regarding end-use, end-user, and market where the good, service and/or technology is destined, as well as any and all license obligations for that export. Screening prior to shipment is key.

Ongoing information on sanctions and controls are found on the following websites and links:

Businesses of all sizes should use the tools the US Government has made available to stay up-to date as this is a fast moving and often changing environment. The US government provides readily accessible screening tools to help determine if organizations or individuals are on parties of concern/restricted parties or sanctioned entities lists. These tools, along with proper training on utilization, can support a robust screening effort as part of a company’s internal trade compliance program.

These sanctions will have implications for your business operations in other ways. SMEs should be particularly mindful of vulnerabilities and exposures within their supply chain. Recommendations include:

Diversify Supply Chain Inputs: SMEs should review the lower layers of it supply chain. For example, even if a business has a sourcing arrangement with two different suppliers in two different locations, if both suppliers source raw materials from the same Ukrainian sub-supplier, then there could be threats to the continuity of operations as the situation worsens.

Warehousing, Inventory Banks & Safety Stock: The Just-In-Time (JIT) model is efficient but it’s also incredibly tenuous if there are any breaks in the supply chain. Identify key inputs that may be impacted and begin amassing safety stock and inventory where possible.

Lock in Transportation and Shipping Rates (to the Extent Possible): Given the volatile fluctuations in oil pricing, which will have impacts on all forms of transportation, lock in transportation and shipping rates as soon as possible. Companies are partnering with third-party logistics providers in order to defray some of the increasing volatility across labor, warehousing, transportation, and other logistics.

Contract Review: For customer and supplier relationships that could be impacted, it is once again time to get out those contracts to see: (a) whether the contracts contain a force majeure provision; (b) whether the force majeure provisions cover events such as war, embargoes, etc.; and (c) assess whether the force majeure clauses provide termination rights and what the associated notice requirements are. Finally, even if there is no force majeure provision in the applicable contract, the parties may have certain rights to suspend performance under the doctrine of commercial impracticability, depending upon the particular circumstances”.

For questions, contact your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), US Export Assistance Center (USEAC) across the US, or the BIS help desk. These entities can also help you identify a trusted trade advisor or legal counsel for further information.

Humanitarian relief: Donors should consider making their contribution through a reputable organization with a well-known performance record which will satisfy all compliance requirements directly related to the sanctions.

5 Reasons You’re Not Getting Business Financing

February 21, 2022

By: Sharita Humphrey

Business Financing refers to money borrowed from a bank or investor to finance equipment, products, or services that the business needs in order to grow. When setting up your business, you’re likely to apply for financing to get your business off the ground. However, there are several reasons your application might be denied.

In fact, according to 2021 statistics, it was reported that 9% of small businesses that applied for a business loan did not receive any capital.

 

Credit Score image

 

Here are 5 reasons why you’re not getting business funding:

  1. Credit score.
    A company with a low business credit score is going to have a hard time getting approval for a business loan application. According to 2021 statistics, 36% of small businesses were denied funding due to low credit scores. Credit score plays an important part not just in business but in personal life as well. Most banks and financial institutions look at both the business owner’s personal credit score and the company’s business credit score to determine the interest rate and loan eligibility. When applying for business financing, make sure to keep track of your credit score to avoid being rejected.
  2. No collateral.
    Before institutions lend money, they require collateral in case the borrower becomes unable to repay the loan. The amount of money they will lend depends on the value of assets the business has as well. The higher the value of the collateral, the more money they will consider lending. However, if your company is new, with no little to no physical assets, you may have to offer up personal assets (cars, homes, etc.) as collateral. If you aren’t willing to make this decision, you might face a rejection of your financing application. Lack of collateral has become the biggest for small businesses being unable to secure financing.
  3. Insufficient cash flow.
    Banks will be hesitant to grant loans to small businesses that don’t offer a large enough cash flow to pay off the loan. Often, small businesses struggle to maintain financial stability especially when they’re still starting up. This is partly because they have to pay off rent, third-party suppliers, equipment, and employee wages. In order to secure a business loan, first check to make sure that you’re bringing in more profits than you’re paying out in expenses. You need to have cash flow to be considered for business financing.
  4. Too much debt.
    When you apply for a business loan, a bank will look at past loans, whether you were able to pay them off and how efficiently. If they discover one or more ongoing debts, they may reconsider your application. It doesn’t look good for a business to have too much debt as it shows poor financial management and low income. Settle past debts and make sure they’re paid on time and properly, so you’ll have more loan opportunities to expand your business.
  5. Too early into the business.
    Most banks won’t lend finances to emerging small businesses since it may be a risky venture. Lending money to a small start-up business is like taking a leap of faith. Either you’ll profit from the continuous payments when the business booms or fall when it fails. There’s no guarantee that the business will make enough profit, much less pay off the loan. Banks or investment companies will need security that a business can grow and continue to make payments.

Now that you’ve considered reasons your application may have been denied, here are a few things you can keep in mind when applying for business financing:

  • When starting a business, create a thorough business plan and demonstrate an understanding of investments. Engage and upgrade your business vision so that investors won’t regret investing in your business. Look for multiple investors to ensure you have enough funding.
  • Crowdsourcing is a good way to find investors. If your business is too small to go to traditional banks for a business loan, you may want to consider alternatives that are willing to invest in small businesses. You may find small firms or financial institutions whose purpose is to help startups or small businesses get off the ground. Double-check to make sure they are legitimate to ensure you won’t suffer loss through scams.
  • Know your business. Do your research. It’s going to be difficult to get funding for your start-up business if you don’t know what you need to do. Research the requirements for a business loan, get statistics on approval rates, reach out to a few investors and plan out your business strategy to keep your company afloat.

Conclusion

Most business loan rejections are due to the five points above. But you can set your business up for success by creating a solid business plan, doing your research, and managing your finances well from the start. Work your way toward not needing to apply for any more business loans with a healthy cash flow and strong profits.

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