Archive for the Office Management Category

Effective Email

Posted in Office Management, Virtual Assistance with tags , on December 15, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Email is a fundamdental part of our daily lives and it is important to communicate effectively via this medium without being misunderstood or misconstrued.

How to communicate powerfully by email

There are a few simple rules to ensure that your emails are read in the first place and stay useful to the recipient.

Subject Lines are Headlines

The headline in a newspaper does two things: It grabs your attention and informs you what the article is about so you can decide whether you want to read further. Email subject lines need to do the same thing.

Use the subject line to inform the receiver of EXACTLY what the email is about in a few well-chosen words. You might include a call to action such as “Please respond by 7 November”, and if your message is one of a regular series of mails, such as a weekly project report, include the date in the subject line too.

Because everyone gets emails they do not want (spam), appropriate use of the subject line increases the chances your email will be read and not deleted without so much as a glance.

Of course, just as it would be ridiculous to publish a newspaper without headlines, never leave the subject line blank.

Make One Point per Email

The beauty of email, compared with letters, is that it doesn’t cost any more to send several mails than it does to send one.

So, if you need to communicate with someone about several matters, write a separate email on each subject. That way your correspondent can reply to each one in the appropriate time-frame. One topic might only require a short reply that he or she can make straight away. Another topic might require more research. By writing separate emails, you get clearer answers.

However, as with traditional business letters, the email should be clear and concise, with the purpose of the email detailed in the very first paragraph. Sentences should be kept short and to the point.

The body of the email should contain all pertinent information and should be direct and informative.

Specify the Response You Want

Make sure to include any action you desire, such as a phone call or follow-up appointment. Then, make sure you include your contact information, including your name, title, and phone numbers. Do this even with internal messages: The easier you make it for someone else to respond, the more likely they are to do so.

Be a Good Correspondent

If you regularly correspond using email, make sure to clean out your email inbox at least once each day. This is a simple act of courtesy and will also serve to encourage senders to return your emails in a timely manner.

If a lengthy response is required to an email, but you don’t have the time to pull together the information required now, send a holding reply saying that you have received the message, and indicating when you will respond fully.

Always set your Out of Office agent when you are going to be away from your email for a day or more, whether on leave or because you’re at meetings.

Internal Email

Internal email should be checked regularly throughout the working day and returned in a much quicker manner as it often involves timely projects, immediate updates, meeting notes, and so on.

Nonetheless, internal emails, just like other emails, should not be informal. Remember, these are written forms of communication that can be printed out and viewed by others than those originally intended for. Always use your spell checker, and avoid slang.

http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/EmailCommunication.htm

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Outsourcing: Don’t be too busy earning a living to make any money

Posted in Office Management with tags , , on December 13, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Outsourcing is worth considering when you find yourself being too busy to do what you do best. 

Tips:  Make outsourcing work for you

When outsourcing:

  • Take your time making decisions and make sure you are clear about the terms on which you and the supplier are working together
  • Make the effort to establish a solid relationship – this calls for good communication and flexibility
  • If you can stay with your supplier for several years, you are likely to get the best results. Switching suppliers can be a lengthy process, so it pays to commit to building a long-term relationship from the outset.
  • A flexible contract benefits both parties, allowing the supplier to innovate and you to react to changing circumstances.
  • Aim for a smooth transition/migration

Even with good planning, it’s a learning curve for both parties, so use it as an opportunity to modify the service level agreement (SLA) for the future.

Measure success

There should be financial benefits to outsourcing, but alternatives could include generating a higher profile for your business, more credibility, fewer defects or greater speed to market.

For further details – please refer to http://www.businesslink.gov.uk
The Business Link helps your business save time and money by giving you instant access to clear, simple, and trustworthy information.

Problem solving tips – 5 Why’s

Posted in Management / Leadership, Office Management with tags , , on December 10, 2010 by virtualcitypa

The 5 Whys is a simple problem-solving technique that helps users to get to the root of the problem quickly. Made popular in the 1970s by the Toyota Production System, the 5 Whys strategy involves looking at any problem and asking: “Why?” and “What caused this problem?”

Very often, the answer to the first “why” will prompt another “why” and the answer to the second “why” will prompt another and so on; hence the name the 5 Whys strategy.

Benefits of the 5 Whys include:

  • It helps to quickly determine the root cause of a problem
  • It is easy to learn and apply

How to use the tool:

When looking to solve a problem, start at the end result and work backward (toward the root cause), continually asking: “Why?” This will need to be repeated over and over until the root cause of the problem becomes apparent.

Example:

Following is an example of the 5 Whys analysis as an effective problem-solving technique:

  1. Why is our client ABC, unhappy? Because we did not deliver our services when we said we would.
  2. Why were we unable to meet the agreed-upon timeline or schedule for delivery? The job took much longer than we thought it would.
  3. Why did it take so much longer? Because we underestimated the complexity of the job.
  4. Why did we underestimate the complexity of the job? Because we made a quick estimate of the time needed to complete it, and did not list the individual stages needed to complete the project.
  5. Why didn’t we do this? Because we were running behind on other projects. We clearly need to review our time estimation and specification procedures.  

Key Points:

The 5 Whys strategy is an easy and often-effective tool for uncovering the root of a problem. Because it is so elementary in nature, it can be adapted quickly and applied to most any problem. Bear in mind, however, that if it doesn’t prompt an intuitive answer, other problem-solving techniques may need to be applied.

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm

Outsourcing To A Virtual Assistant

Posted in Office Management, Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , on November 23, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Outsourcing is the strategic use of outside resources to perform activities traditionally handled by internal staff and resources. Small business owners can outsource non-core functions to specialized and efficient service providers. The difference between simply subcontracting and outsourcing is that outsourcing involves the wholesale restructuring of the corporation around core competencies and outside relationships.

 As a consequence, a new class of skilled entrepreneurs has emerged — the virtual assistants.

What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant (VA) is an independent entrepreneur providing administrative, creative and/or technical services. Utilising advanced technological modes of communication and data delivery, a professional VA assists clients in his/her area of expertise from his/her own office.

A VA completes your projects using his or her own equipment, and carries out the work through e-mail, fax, telephone and postal service. Therefore, the location of your VA is not important. This gives you the liberty to look for professionals best suited to your needs located anywhere on the globe. Since they’re paid only for time-on-task, businesses can hire several VAs in dispersed locations and have 24-hour support — paying far less than what a permanent or temporary employee would cost for such comprehensive assistance.

The services offered by each VA differ according to his/her skills. The list of services includes general administration services, database and Website development, graphic design, Internet research, sales support, presentation preparation, telephone answering, bill payments, travel arrangements, bookkeeping, desktop publishing, computer training, medical/legal transcription … the list is endless!

Why outsource the work to a VA?

The primary benefit of outsourcing is economising since the VA can do it cheaper. VAs only charge for actual time worked.

By outsourcing to a VA rather than hiring an in-office assistant, you will never need to pay employment insurance, vacation pay, sick pay, or contribute to retirement plans and worker’s compensation. A VA has his/her own hardware, software, training, etc., thereby reducing your capital investment. So there is no wear and tear on your office equipment or a need for special equipment.

Engaging a VA gives you time, allowing you to do what you do best. You can focus on delivering the higher value and service to your customers. As skilled VAs are chosen to perform particular tasks, they can do it better because they do it all the time. It is their business.

Like you, VAs are entrepreneurs and understand the needs of businesses today — ensuring the success of their clients. VAs value each and every client; it is because of these clients that VAs can ensure the success of their own businesses.

The resources of the VA can give your business access to technical advances you would not normally have access to. With modern day communication, projects can be accomplished without ever having to meet the client face to face. With the growing ease of the Internet, finding a VA almost anywhere in the world is quite simple to accomplish — more so in the developed nations like USA, Canada, Australia, UK and many other European countries where the VA industry is highly organised.

http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20031027_va.htm

Office organisation tips

Posted in Office Management with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2010 by virtualcitypa

With the ever increasing workloads that companies are putting on employees, staying organised is vital. Here are some tips on how you can have better office organisation, more productivity and a little peace of mind.

1. Know the times of day that you’re at your best

We all have times of the day that we’re more productive than others. Use those better periods of the day to spend on the toughest tasks you need to accomplish. Leave the easier things for the times you’re less energetic.

For example, if you’re not a morning person then don’t schedule an important meeting early in the morning if possible. Push it back to 10:00 a.m. or later. Using your time wisely is one of the keys to better office organisation.

When you’re not feeling your best it’s nearly impossible to get anything of substance accomplished. This is where flex schedules can be a big asset. If your office doesn’t have that, talk to the boss about it and try selling him on the idea.

2. Deadlines are good

Set deadlines for yourself on important tasks. By doing this you’ll notice yourself getting more done in less time. Even if you really don’t have a deadline for a certain project, set one anyway. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you can be with just this tip.

3. Control your day instead of your day controlling you.

Think about how much time you lose every day due to office distractions. Perhaps its emails that co-workers send, others who pop into your office and proceed to camp out for 15 minutes and the list goes on.

Let others know that unless their needs are an emergency, that you’re busy and don’t want to be disturbed. That’s not being rude, it’s being productive.

Every time you become distracted, not only do you lose the time during the distraction, but it’s difficult to get re-focused again. When this happens throughout the day it makes getting anything accomplished nearly impossible.

4. Cut the fat.

No, I’m not talking about a diet. Good office organisation is going to require the elimination of these things which are not of any value.

For example, if you are writing out reports that other co-workers don’t need, then stop doing it. Put out one report and send it to everyone by email.

Get with your boss and discuss the areas that you are spending unproductive time in. Let them know you could be utilising that time on the areas you are strongest in.

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/123924/office_organization_tips_to_being_more.html

Office essentials checklist

Posted in Office Management with tags , , on November 12, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Whether you’re equipping your first office or just re-stocking your current one, this checklist will help you determine and track which furniture, equipment, technologies and supplies you need to help your business run more smoothly.

Office Furniture and Equipment

  • Desk
  • Comfortable chair
  • File cabinets
  • Overhead and work lighting
  • Client seating
  • Fireproof safe
  • Desktop and pocket calculators
  • Bookcases
  • Postage meter
  • Worktable (s)
  • Office decorations
  • Labeling machine
  • Wall whiteboard and markers
  • Radio
  • Paper shredder
  • Photocopier
  • Wastepaper basket
  • Recycling bin
  • Alarm system
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First-aid kit

Computer Hardware and Accessories

  • Desktop computer and monitor
  • Keyboard and mouse
  • Printer
  • Modem
  • Notebook computer
  • CD writer
  • PowerPoint projector
  • Digital camera
  • Handheld organiser
  • Surge protector
  • Computer locks
  • Scanner

Computer Software

  • Word processing software
  • Virus protection software
  • Accounting software
  • Desktop publishing software
  • Contact management software
  • Website building and maintenance software
  • Payment processing software
  • E-commerce software
  • Inventory management software

Communications

  • Telephone line
  • Internet connection
  • Toll-free line
  • Desk telephone
  • Fax machine
  • Cordless telephone
  • Answering machine/service
  • Cordless headset
  • Speakerphone
  • Tape recorder
  • Mobile phone(s)

General Office Supplies

  • Business cards
  • Envelopes
  • Stationery
  • Imprinted advertising specialties
  • Postage stamps
  • Printer cartridges
  • CD and USB memory sticks
  • Pencils and pens
  • Printer paper
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Fax paper
  • Notepads
  • File folders
  • Stapler
  • Scissors

This checklist was revised from 202 Services You Can Sell for Big Profits by James Stephenson.

How to win the commitment of staff

Posted in Office Management with tags , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Having committed staff is key for small buinesses and this is why Virtual City PA would like to refer to this article from teamtechnology.co.uk.

Top tips to having dedicated support from colleagues and co-workers:

The most powerful motivators are not monetary. They include a variety of things, such as:

* a sense of achievement
* a feeling that the job is worthwhile
* thanks or recognition from respected people
* a sense of having made a difference
* contributing to a long term vision
* developing a new understanding
* bringing organisation into a situation of chaos
* building up knowledge, skill or experience

Not all of these are of the same importance for each individual – different people are motivated by different things. This is of particular relevance when deciding how to tackle the issue, because there are (broadly speaking) two approaches:

1. developing a standard approach
2. enabling staff to develop their own approach

The problem with option (1) is that it often presumes that employees have a particular type of motivation. If they do, then the approach you introduce will work. But if they don’t then your standard approach will not win their commitment (at most you will gain ‘compliance’ with your appraoch which, in a customer service environment, is just not good enough). Proponents of this option may argue that a standard approach is required to achieve quality – but if supposed “quality” is achieved at the expense of staff commitment, then the level of customer service will be poor.

The value of option (2) – which enables staff to become the architects of their own customer service – is that staff can incorporate the things that motivate them in to that approach. You need standards as well – but if staff are involved in the development of those standards then then are much more likely to be committed to them.

Customer Service Workshops

Staff can become architects of the customer service through a workshop-based approach. Take your team offsite for a couple of days, and take them through a syndicate-based process where they:

* think about their own experiences – good and bad
* define what is (generically) good customer service
* apply those definitions to their own environment
* ask a customer to make a presentation (followed by Q&A) on “the type of service I want from you”. Have syndicate discussions afterwards to review the issues raised.
* get them to produce an action plan to follow up on the workshop.
* appoint a follow-up manager, to make sure that all the output from the workshops is supported by management, and progress on actions are regularly communicated to everyone involved

This approach gives staff:

* direct exposure to customers’ views of the service they provide
* the opportunity to shape the future customer service (and thereby implicitly include what motivates them)
* full support from management
* an efficient communication mechanism to see that their suggestions are being acted upon

These are the essential components for winning commitment of staff to better customer service.

http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/customer-service.html