Winners are grinners

How to use apps, software and services to improve your team's performance. How to motivate a team using apps, software and the cloud. (See all business IT advice.)

The modern workplace is awash with technology, hard- and software both provided by the employer and brought along by the employee. Consumer and business tech can be both time saver and time synch, often depending on the person involved. Here we'll look at some ways that software, apps and the cloud can be used to motivate a team working in an office. Every team and every individual is different, and not all (or any) of these programs, sites and services will help in every case.

Manager, consider this a starting point: a thought-provoking piece designed to help you shape the way your team works using software, apps and the cloud. See also: The 40 best Android apps for business users.

How to motivate a team using apps and software

Motivation comes in many forms, but it all requires motivation, feedback and appraisal of performance. A couple of things to note: you have to say 10 positive things before you can expect a colleague to take one negative piece of feedback without being crushed. And the feedback you are reluctant to give is the feedback you need to give. If you are anything like me you won't find this stuff easy, but feedback is by the most important support you can give to the members of your team. You can never give enough praise, and you won't be doing your colleagues any favours if you duck out of regular feedback.

So a prompt is good. One good practice is to schedule praise and feedback on a weekly basis, and formal appraisal as a quarterly task. And you can do this simply by using your smartphone's calender app to set scheduled tasks. If you don't want to use your phone's native app the Google calender is great, but be careful that you don't share that particular calender with your colleagues. The effects of weekly praise time will be reduced if they know it is coming!

Of course team motivation is not a one-to-many thing, and so another good idea for some teams can be an IM back channel. A means of chatting that isn't as disruptive as chatting, nor as much of a timesink as email. Communication is a good thing. But email can be strangely formal and even isolating. Equally, it's not always desirable or convenient to get up from your desk and physically chat to them, or phone a colleague if you work remotely.

Getting everyone into the same instant messaging platform, or even setting up a group chat, can be a great motivator for the right team. A way of communicating effectively withough being disruptive, sharing jokes as well as info, and even of letting everyone know you don't want to be disturbed.

Getting everyone on the same IM platform is the thing. We often use Skype here, but if your business uses hosted tools such as Gmail (more later) using that keeps the communication on your servers and makes it easier to control. The critical thing is to make sure everyone knows the rules, when it is appropriate to use IM, and what is appropriate to go on there (and what isn't). If your team wants to use IM it is a good idea to get them to come up with a set of rules to which everyone can agree and adhere.

Team PC AdvisorSo much for basic apps and software available to everyone. Now we'll look at a couple of apps used specifically as motivational tools. The first is task management, or accomplishment apps. These days work isn't a place we visit, it's a thing we do. And in an information economy that thing can be tricky to quantify. We are increasingly comfortable with the concept of 'the quantified self', using apps and wearable tech to measure the things we do in order to improve our health, fitness or quality of life. And this type of approach can be a useful tool in the workplace, for the right person.

Simply asking people to set and maintain an achievable and prioritised to-do list can be useful, and there are plenty of apps along those lines such as RememberTheMilk. But if you want to quantify and share what your entire team achieves each day, consider an app such as iDoneThis.

Sign up your team to iDoneThis and every evening as your day winds down the app will email all of you to ask, "What'd you get done today?" Everyone replies with their achievements, and the next morning you recieve an email showing everyone's accomplishments from yesterday. Used correctly it can be a great way to start the day. A good prompt to praise or celebrate accomplishments, and a great log of where you are and what needs to be done. Log on to the web interface and you can see a week-, month-, or a year's worth of accomplishments.

iDoneThisNot every team will be comfortable with iDoneThis. Not every team will need it. And it does really need to be a whole team thing.

More individual are time-management apps. Again these are not for everyone, and they to be used correctly and in collaboration with a colleague as part of a development plan rather than imposed upon someone as a disciplinary measure.

A good one is RescueTime. This is software that runs securely in the background on your computer and mobile devices, tracking time spent on applications and websites, giving you and your colleage an accurate picture of how you spent your day. It gives you detailed reports and data based on your activity, and then allows you to judge how efficient you are on a daily basis. You'll probably be surprised at how inefficient you are (and it is definitely a good idea that you use the tool before you ask anyone else to do so).

Quantifying your efficiency is useful mainly because it allows you to aim higher. You can gamify the process, incentivise a colleague who finds it hard to focus by setting an efficiency target. Indeed, handled correctly and with sympathy this could be something for the whole team to compete over, in a fun rather than a scary way.

As with all of these apps the process will work only with your colleagues' buy in and for the correct bunch of people. (See also: 7 free iPad business apps to get you started and Best iPhone apps: Five free apps for teaching you how-to do something.)

RescueTime

How to motivate a team using the cloud

Here at PC Advisor our employer recently moved from traditional desktop email and productivity software to Google's hosted services such as Gmail and Google Docs. It couldn't come fast enough for the team, as we were already using Google's tools, albeit by using our own personal Google accounts.

These days your colleagues are likely to access email remotely using any device they own, whether you'd like them to or not. You can use webmail as a means of allowing them to work more flexibly, leaving the office early in order to triage email on the train, for instance.

We use a lot of shared Gmail calenders, too. Letting everyone access everyone else's work diary means everyone knows where everyone is and what they are doing - including the boss. It removes many of the issues with working remotely or working from home, and allows colleagues to share opportunities and challenges. And it shows when you are busy and when you are available, which means you can concentrate on being awesomely motivational at the right time!

Shared docs can also be motivational, for several reasons. For one thing, anything that makes it easier to work collaboratively can be a motivator. Shared docs allow you to be more flexible in when and where you work. Need to see a spreadsheet in order to work? If that document is available securely online you can access and edit it from your home in the evening, leaving you free to attend your daughter's school sports day. How motivational is that?

Finally, I can reccomend using hosted meeting spaces or video calls, where appropriate. If you have to catch up with a remote colleague, do you need to travel? If you need to meet with a colleague do both of you even need to be in the office? If the answer is no, again you are giving a colleague flexibility and freedom and time. And trust. All of these things are motivational, in the right circumstances.

Indeed, studies show that the key factors in motivation in the workplace are knowing exactly what is required, and having the tools to do so. Communication, and support. Hosted services such as Google's now allow colleagues to have both of these aspects wherever they are, at any time. It requires good management from you, of course. But hey, that's why they pay you the big bucks.

Matt Egan Tweets at @MattJEgan. Matt Egan does not earn the big bucks. (See also: Best Android apps: Five free apps for teaching you how-to do something and Best Android apps: Five free apps to aid revision.)