10 ways to boost your staff’s skills and knowledge

Whether you're a multinational or an SME, every company wants to boost the productivity of its workforce and make it feel valued, while at the same time reducing staff overheads in times of economic uncertainty. Here are some tips for achieving this in practice.

1) Communicate and collaborate
Modern working often means that colleagues aren’t in the same location all the time, whether that be because they are on the road, in a different office or occasionally working from home. The key to making this work is with better communication and collaboration.

In order to do this you need tools that are built around collaboration. There are many available such as Skype for Business, Yammer for corporate social networking and Office 365 Groups for quick meetings. A collaborative workforce is one that shares skills, knowledge and experience, for everyone's benefit.

2) Encourage collaboration on projects
Staff may look like they're collaborating in an office, but they can be physically and psychologically partitioned off from each other. Ironically, people often collaborate more when they are away from the office so it’s essential to stay in touch with everyone and pool knowledge and skills.

So that they can do this effectively you need to have features such as real time co-authoring on documents so everyone can see who's working on it and what changes are being made. There are even tools, such as GigJam, for sharing just the essential parts of a document with perhaps clients or a freelancer.

3) Improve email and time management
Whether you're working at home or in the office, we all know how that Monday morning email blizzard can distract you from more pressing tasks and even sap morale. It's important that low priority emails are effectively managed and so you should adopt tools that not only filter your messages, but also learn your preferences. Less-important, or trivial messages, are kept in a clearly labelled folders, freeing up time and helping staff learn how to manage both their email and time better.

4) Make use of online profiles
Even for experienced staff, figuring out who does what and when in a bigger organisation (including contractors), can be confusing and time consuming. To help spread this essential local knowledge, why not use online profile pages to find information about key people, and help others to find you? Features such as these enable you to connect with others directly from the profile pages and see what projects they're actively working on – essential for anyone who supervises a large number of stuff.

5) More efficient project management
Also for managers, having a clear idea of who's doing what (and when) on a big project is critical to its success. Setting up lots of face to face meetings can be awkward with staff in multiple locations, and time is often short on a tight deadline. Therefore good planning tools are essential, and because people often think visually it’s worth getting software that supports this. A good planning tool should give each project or plan its own 'board,' where you can organise and categorise tasks based on status, responsibility and progress. These boards and charts can be shared on multiple devices.

6) Keep abreast of new software features
Modern word processors obviously do much more than print letters, while spreadsheets crunch through basic accounts in milliseconds. As industry standard tools such as Word or Excel are automatically updated via an Office 365 subscription, staff can learn from powerful new features as they're introduced.

For example Format Painter for transferring formatting between sections in Word and PowerPoint, or a wider choice of number formats in Excel Online. Mastering new features as they come online helps keeps your staff productive and sharp.

7) Share knowledge via video
Chances are there's already a lot of accumulated knowledge inside your company, which newer employees can benefit from. Yes, a company intranet is a big help, but what about sharing video, rather than reams of written documents? Information can be easier to digest in video form, and the staff involved are also learning to be more confident in front of the camera. There are some excellent tools for streaming video so you can easily share meetings, presentations and training sessions.

8) Develop communication and presentation skills
A big company website or intranet can be a major benefit, but it can also be a blunt instrument. If you have a design department, which is working on a major pitch for a client, a more bespoke online presentation – a mini website almost – enables them to talk much more specifically about what they can offer, and showcase successes. It also helps them sharpen their writing, editing and presentation skills. Doing this is simple as there are tools available that can combine text and media to make an attractive mini website in minutes.

9) Turn data into insights
Modern business are flooded with data, from departmental reports to website traffic to customer intelligence. This raw information is only useful if it can be turned into a better understanding of your organisation and client needs. To do this you need a cloud-based business analytics service that enables you to suck data from spreadsheets or other organisational data, and turn it into charts and presentations, which can be much easier to interpret and discuss.

10) Prioritise bespoke training
Cloud-based productivity suites can be complex beasts, and are regularly updated. Encouraging staff to get ongoing training in key applications not only helps them to work faster and smarter, but also makes them feel even more engaged, as you’re investing in their career. It’s also important to get bespoke training for your IT staff to ensure the migration to a major new system is as seamless as possible - and to help them deal more effectively with end-user issues.