By Aidan Simister, Director of Sales, Intermedia

It’s a typical Monday. I head into the office feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the list of projects I had left on my desk the Friday before. I grab coffee, get settled in and log in to my computer.

And that’s when the barrage arrives.

Waiting at the top of my inbox are 70 unread messages. As I start to shift through them, an instant message pops up asking for an invoice. Then the phone rings and I’m asked for my thoughts on those emails I was sent over the weekend.

By the time I finish responding to emails and putting out fires it’s three o’clock. Where did the day go? And what about that list of projects?
I’m sure you can relate.

This is the productivity paradox

Once upon a time, business was conducted face-to-face. Today we do it over the phone, email, web, instant messaging, file collaboration, social media… and the number of communication channels only continues to grow. Who knows—our kids will probably be holding board meetings via Snapchat.

But are these technologies—which are meant to increase efficiency and improve productivity—actually slowing us down? The Centre for Economics and Business Research reports that effective use of these connected technologies have the potential for a 9% increase in productivity, which gains you 178 work hours annually.

Do you feel that your technology is making you more productive?

It’s often the opposite. While efficient use of business technologies can be a major boon, when used ineffectively they can really drag down office productivity.

Which means it’s not just enough to have the tools. You have to use them right. So here are five tips for being more efficient with your productivity tools.

[b[Cut out password problems[/b]

Keeping track of the individual passwords for all your cloud and web based applications can be a challenge. With an average of 14.3 applications per business, employees can’t be expected to remember strong passwords for all their apps. So many take shortcuts: re-using passwords, writing them down on a piece of paper or choosing easy-to-remember passwords. This can have a huge impact on your business’ bottom line. The mere fact that employees have to change their passwords at work so frequently costs businesses billions every year.

With a single sign-on solution like Intermedia AppID, employees can get access to their many applications with a single password. This not only improves employee productivity by simplifying the login process, but also improves overall business security by enforcing stronger password practices.

Eliminate the back and forth

Think about all the time that’s wasted with back-and-forth coordinating, scheduling and following up on email and phone calls. These minutes quickly add up and can put a serious dampener on productivity.

Companies that implement unified communications can help increase productivity and overall efficiency. In many of these cases, back-and-forth processes can be automated and integrated into your overall workflow.
With a unified communications platform, employees can communicate with one another over instant messaging, access rich and integrated calendar data to determine the availability of a colleague, and even receive voicemail messages in their email inbox.

Tackle unwanted email
Unwanted email is getting more sophisticated—and more dangerous. Today, the problems plaguing your inbox go beyond spam to include phishing, spoofing and other cyber threats. If you fall victim, the result can have disastrous effects on your productivity (to say nothing of your business security).

There are a few ways you can mitigate this risk. It’s essential that your IT leverage the “Sender Policy Framework” (SPF). This ensures that email received in your inbox is coming from a trustworthy mail server. The SPF protocol has become one of the standard methods for fighting spam today.
In addition, you can further fight spam by letting your email providers do the work. While many email applications like Outlook and Thunderbird offer spam blocking filters, they don’t come close to the effectiveness of the filters your email provider can provide. Confirm that your email provider has spam blocking in place—and then switch off your personal blocker and rely on theirs.

Streamline collaboration efforts
In today’s mobile workforce, an increasing number of employees rely on file sharing services to collaborate with colleagues across various locations. While more consumer-grade services such as Dropbox are easy to use and implement, they can create version control problems if two people work on the same document at the same time. This results in additional time spent managing and maintaining multiple versions of the same document, while struggling to verify if the information received is current.

Other savvy business-grade solutions include version tracking which allows employees to automatically sync their files, make changes and upload their own versions without creating conflicted files. They can also lock files as they’re being edited in certain applications such as Microsoft Word.

Improve meeting efficiency
Meetings are often cited as one of the biggest office productivity killers in the workplace. Better connectivity during external meetings can save workers 54 hours a year in wasted follow-up, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

With business-grade communication tools like Lync Enterprise, employees can get the whole team together regardless of location. Use the video or call feature to have a productive meeting and even share their desktop and use whiteboarding to move the conversation forward…all without having to leave their desks.

While technology has helped make staying in touch with the office easier than ever before, finding the right balance and knowing when to switch off is becoming much more of a challenge.