Most companies use a productivity suite, but they might not know it. A productivity suite is a set of tools that allow for work, communication and collaboration. It is used to complete the day-to-day tasks of the business but not necessarily the work of running the business. Productivity suites facilitate more efficient, streamlined workflows. In this blog, I’ll run through why you should care about how your business uses its productivity suite.
The paperwork explosion
The origin of the productivity suite goes back to the ‘word processor’. First conceived by IBM in the late 60s, the word processor would, it was posited, save businesses from the huge and ever-increasing time demands of office paperwork.
This unusual corporate video by Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets, explores how technology (IBM’s in this case) would help to, “increase people’s productivity by 50%.” There’s a line towards the end of the film that runs, “IBM machines can do the work so that people have time to think. Machines should do the work, that’s what they’re best at. People should do the thinking, that’s what they’re best at.”
50+ years on, I’m not sure that machines are doing enough of the work. But, by using our productivity suites better, we might just give ourselves a little more time to think.
The rise of productivity suites
Early word processors like Word Perfect were pretty mad because you couldn’t visualise what your document would look like until you printed it. As the Windows operating system became ubiquitous, we all got used to the much friendlier interfaces of Microsoft’s content products. Before we knew what had happened, programmes like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook were our go-to and the productivity suite was born.
In 2004, Google decided to diversify out of search and launched Gmail (the result of an internal project by a single employee, Paul Buchheit). By 2006, it had added Google Docs and Google Sheets, both direct competitors of Microsoft products. For many of us, these tools were our first taste of cloud software, as Microsoft Office was still a desktop solution until 2011 when Office 365 became generally available. Although there are many other productivity suites out there, Google and Microsoft are the market leaders, by far, in this part of the world.
Getting the most from a productivity suite
One thing we see much more often than we should is companies using different tools from both suites. So, they may use Word for their documents but Gmail for emailing. Or send email using Outlook but schedule appointments in Google Calendar. This is problematic for a few reasons.
- The first is that tools from the same suite are designed with compatibility in mind – for example, if you select some elements inside a PowerPoint and copy-and-paste them into a Word document, the elements remain editable and can even take on the styling of the Word doc, so you’d never know they came from somewhere else. Paste the same elements into a Google Doc and all you get is an image.
- The second reason is cost. Why pay for two suites when one will do? If your company has 50 employees and you are paying for them to all have a Google and a Microsoft subscription, that becomes a significant cost.
- The third reason is skill. If employees are creating spreadsheets in either Google Sheets or Excel, then everyone has to know how to use both. The upshot is that most people will learn enough about each tool to complete their most important tasks instead of learning to use one of them really well. And true productivity only comes once you have a better than a surface knowledge of a tool.
I also see companies using tools from a third party when they have the same functionality within their productivity suite. The example I see all the time is using Slack for internal chat when both Google and Microsoft have strong chat products within their suites. Unless there is a really good reason to go with a standalone product, you lose out by not centralising these communications within the existing suite.
Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace
Microsoft and Google have a similar offer and, with both providers, you can start with the core tools any business needs (typically pricing is based on a per-user licence and there are different package levels that give you additional capabilities/features).
- Gmail – Custom business email
- Calendar – Shared calendars
- Drive – Cloud storage
- Meet – Video and voice conferencing
- Docs – Word processing
- Sheets – Spreadsheets
- Slides – Presentation builder
- Chat – Messaging for teams
- Word – Word processing
- Excel – Spreadsheets
- PowerPoint – Presentation builder
- Teams – Meet, chat and call
- Outlook – Email
- OneDrive – Cloud storage
- SharePoint – Intranet
- Exchange – Business email and scheduling
Once these core tools are embedded in your work practices, it makes sense to build out your productivity suite by using the same provider for other needs in the business. For example, you might want to create a data dashboard with Google Data Studio or Microsoft Power BI. You might want to create microsites or newsletters with Microsoft Sway, or you might want to research audience insights with Google Survey. All tools within a suite will communicate with each other, all your employees will gain access through their existing user accounts, and the familiar interface and way of working with these tools will make it easier to get adoption.
I cannot stress enough the importance of training. You can’t expect people to simply know how to get maximum productivity from a tool without bespoke upskilling.
Both Microsoft and Google have an extensive range of tools. Businesses often don’t even know some of the other tools that are available to them through their subscription. I’m guilty of that myself, as I learned recently when searching online for a meeting notes solution and only then realising that there is – of course – one in the productivity suite we use at Beyond. In fact, I suspect that there are still undiscovered tools in the suite that I would find incredibly useful.
Choose your productivity suite
Whether your company opts for Microsoft or Google (or something else entirely) will mostly be down to internal factors such as familiarity, work culture, etc. The choice may also be influenced by the other tools the business uses and whether interconnectivity can be achieved. Both suites come from established businesses that will continue to invest in them and innovate new tools or capabilities. With either suite you get:
- Tools that work on any device
- Cloud storage and backup
- Automation and machine learning capabilities
- Security features
- Automatic updates
- A subscription model (software as a service)
Taking control of digital tools in use within the company is vital. Data owned by the company should be managed effectively – meaning that the company must have access to company data and only one version of it should exist.
Thinking back to a time before we used cloud solutions, it would be really common for multiple versions of a document to exist around the business, stored locally on people’s computers, and quite impossible to know which was the most correct and up to date version. Important business information could be held by a single person and totally inaccessible to other people who needed it, creating data silos all around the company. Moving to a productivity suite, with all files in the cloud, allows you to eliminate these kinds of problems.
Training and rules
Picking which suite to use and communicating the importance of adoption to the team is only step one of this process. The next step is training and support, which I have covered a recent blog, Why Upskilling & Knowledge Transfer Should Be A Business Priority. I cannot stress enough the importance of training. You can’t expect people to simply know how to get maximum productivity from a tool without bespoke upskilling. My personal experience is that I’m still learning new tricks in software I have used for many years – not just because you need to proactively upskill to really know a piece of software, but because new features are always being added and it’s easy to miss them unless you have regular time with a product expert.