Updated: Jul 25, 2020
>>> One: Accounting / Bookkeeping
>>> Two: Invoicing / Billing / Point of Sale
>>> Three: Workload Management
>>> Guide: The Workload Management Software You Need
>>> Deep Dive: The Top 3 Workload Management Systems [YOU ARE HERE]
>>> How-To: Setup Your Workload Management Software [coming soon]
>>> Four: Customer Management [coming soon]
>>> Five: Domain Name / Website / Social Media [coming soon]
Unlike our previous deep dives which compared three similar systems and helped you decide which was best for your needs, this post explores three symbiotic pieces of software that all work together to help lessen the burden of running your business. We hope to show you how modern systems are built to make your business operate more efficiently so you can get hours back in your day.
[Editorial Note: Porter Software is not affiliated with any of the companies described in this post, and does not receive any revenue from these posts or links - we just love helping business owners learn about new technologies.]
Slack initially launched in mid-2013 after being used as an internal communication network at the founders' video game development company. At its core, Slack is a messaging app that allows team members to chat and talk in a number of different ways - but the reason Slack is so powerful is that it's so much more than just the "instant messaging" of the original dot com boom.
Let's start with the basics. You start by setting up your Slack Workspace - a private area where all of your team can communicate. Your Workspace gets its own fancy URL, such as "mycompany.slack.com" - only accessible by those you grant access to. Your Workspace is then organized into Channels, which represent common topics or threads your team discusses.
For example, at Porter Software, we have a customer support channel, a sales channel, a channel for each client, and more. Your team members belong only to the channels with pertinent information to their job - helping to filter out the noise of unnecessary information. Slack also offers direct messaging between users, for chats and questions between two or more users not pertaining to the entire channel (and yes, more than two people can participate in a group direct message).
But what makes Slack so much better? So far this sounds like a basic messaging application. First, Slack archives all the messages sent and allows users to look back and even search through all previous messages. No longer are you digging through an inbox looking for that one email someone sent months ago - simply enter a few keywords and quickly find your answer. And when new people join your team, they will instantly have access to previous channel messages, so they can get up to speed quicker without you having to forward them loads of old email threads.
Additionally, Slack features hundreds of pre-built integrations with third-party systems. Many other applications work with Slack via one click integrations, making Slack your central hub for keeping up with everything happening in your company. For example, Slack can integrate with Google Drive so that every time a file is shared with you, you receive a Slack message with a link to the file. Slack can integrate with Asana (and other task management tools) so that every time a task is completed, you receive a message.
And the list goes on. With these integrations, you no longer have to remember to check multiple applications to keep track of your company. Slack will simply notify you when anything happens that needs your attention. And on the off-chance that an integration doesn't exist for your need, Slack offers a completely exposed backend API to make integrating or building custom Slack apps seamless and easy. An API, or application programming interface, is the way that modern systems talk to one another, and Slack's API has been praised as one of the best. In a way, Slack set the standard for simple yet flexible API integrations. Using this API, it becomes very straightforward to make Slack do just about anything you need it to (with or without any actual coding on your part).
Hopefully you're starting to see why Slack is so powerful. It's more than just a messaging software - Slack can be your central platform to manage all facets of your business. Gone are the days of forgetting something important for a customer, simply let Slack handle it for you.
Slack - free for many features, premium plans start at $8/user/month
HOW-TO Set Up Your Internal Communication with Slack [COMING SOON]
Asana started as an internal task management tool at Facebook, after one of Facebook's co-founders, Dustin Moskovitz, realized that most employees were spending more time coordinating work rather than actually doing work. In 2008, he left Facebook along with another engineering manager to built a task management tool for the broader market.
At its core, Asana is actually relatively simple - it's essentially a digital, collaborative to-do list that allows employees to easily manage their current and future work, and allows managers to have visibility into all the tasks their team is working on. So why are we advocating another piece of software for your business? There's a few important advantages.
Using a dedicated tool built specifically to manage tasks can streamline the assignment and reporting of the work your team is completing. Part of the reason email does not work as a way to manage to-dos is because traditionally, email is the single communication channel for everything - including important updates but also tons of unnecessary noise. Separating out a dedicated platform to manage the work being completed by your team makes it much simpler to see what's happening and keep track of what needs to be done next.
Moreover, Asana is built with loads of features designed to make seeing all of your tasks easy. Not only a running list view (similar to a traditional to-do list), Asana includes a calendar view that displays tasks based on due date, color-coded based on who is working on each activity. Tasks can also be viewed based on their status in what Asana calls Board view - for example, managers can see all tasks To Be Started, In Progress, In Review, and Completed This Week (these status are completely customizable to fit your team's specific needs.)
Furthermore, similar to Slack, Asana is built with an open API to allow integrations with other applications. As we mentioned above, Slack and Asana integrate out-of-the-box - meaning you can review updates in Slack when tasks are changed or completed, and even better, you can interact with Asana tasks directly in Slack (e.g. ask a question directly from Slack that will be added as a comment on the Asana task - in turn, the task's assignee can receive a Slack message to know you asked a question). This makes it very easy to quickly keep up with task updates, while also giving the flexibility to go directly into Asana when more in-depth viewing is required. It is possible to set up one or more dedicated Slack channels to deal with Asana tasks notifications, and/or to integrate Asana messages directly into active Slack channels to best fit the way your team works.
With Asana, you no longer have to put together long emails to every member of your team detailing what you need them to be working on. Simply enter task details in Asana, assign a due date and a team member responsible for that task, and that person will be automatically notified they have something new to work on. Tasks can be updated and changed as needed as the work progresses, and team members can pass tasks back and forth as they need additional support from other members, departments, etc. Managers can easily see all of this movement and know the exact status of all the work, as opposed to sorting through hundreds of emails trying to keep up with what's going on. And when an associate completes a task, managers are also automatically updated without the need for additional effort coordinating the work.
Asana - free for basic features, premium plans start at $13.50/user/month
HOW-TO Set Up Your Team for Success with Asana [COMING SOON]
Google Drive and Docs
Now that you have a streamlined way to communicate with your team and keep track of what they're working on, you need a better way to complete that work. And no matter what type of industry you're in, it is inevitable that completing work generates a large number of documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other files.
Typically, these files are saved to a single person's laptop and then then emailed as attachments to the rest of the team - resulting in hundreds of different versions of each file with no way to know what's the latest. And moreover, what happens if the person working on that file loses or breaks their computer? Most companies these days don't have an IT department they can call to help, and even if they do, it's often impossible to recover a file if a computer's hard drive breaks.
Google Drive eliminates this problem by storing all of your documents and files in a secure, cloud-based environment accessible from anywhere you need. Drive also offers improved organization by allow for searching of documents - instead of scrolling through endless folders on your desktop, simply enter a few keywords, and Drive shows you all the related files. No longer will you forget the presentation at the office - you can simply open Drive and access you presentation directly from your customer's office.
What is Google Docs then? Docs are Google's version of Microsoft Office (i.e. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) - and built seamlessly to work with Drive. You can create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more directly in Drive and accessible from anywhere. Docs also automatically handles version control - meaning there is a single source of the truth for each file, with the ability to see exactly who changed what and when that was changed, plus the ability to revert to previous versions if needed.
Documents and files (along with Drive folders) can be shared with other team members, with multiple access levels to allow viewing and editing privileges only to those associates who need them. And arguably the best part of Google Docs is that multiple people can be working on the same file at the same time. Instead of a single person having to rush to update a spreadsheet before the critical sales call, the entire team can be working in the same file to make any updates they need. Google easily manages changes and makes it simple to ensure you're not working over the top of one another.
Overall, Google Drive and Docs makes managing the work you and your team are producing much easier and simpler than ever before. You'll be wondering how you ever got anything done before Drive!
Google Drive and Docs - pricing based on space used, free for up to 15GB, $2 - $10 per month for 100GB up to 1TB, also available as part of G Suite (bundled with professional email, conferencing, and other tools) for $6/user/month for up to 30GB of storage per user
HOW-TO Set Up Your Documents and Files using Google Drive and Docs [COMING SOON]
Confused? Questions? Just ask! firstname.lastname@example.org
Ready to move on to step 4? Check out our next software guide: Customer Management.