When I first joined my current gig working with Community Service programs in the Fall of 2013, I was handed multiple binders ranging from 500+ student volunteer applications, a stack of attendance sheets at various events and group meetings, and multiple binders on training resources used over the last decade. Another university I was worked at before was still utilizing carbon paper for financial tracking and 2,000+ paper based housing conditions and room conditions reports.
My first move as professional in both scenarios was to eliminate the large reliance on paper and move as much as possible to web and cloud based solutions. I quickly utilized Google Sites for document and form hosting, Survey Monkey for data collection, and JotForms for room condition reports. My love for tech continues to grow and the following three platforms are solutions I’m excited to integrate and use this year to continue document student learning, increase the marketing capacity of our office, and bring business-like structure to our office. While some of the programs do require a small financial investment, the return is a more efficient and structured workplace.
Forget your dependency and limitations on your Google Drive and Docs folder, Smartsheet is like Excel but with endless customization and sharing capabilities. I directly supervise close to 30 student leaders who are each recruiting volunteers, managing a budget, and providing content for majority of the programs they work with. Our office further has about 15 Federal Work Study Workers to keep track of as well. Over the summer, I looked through multiple platforms of project management including Basecamp, Wrike, Wunderlist, and Activecollab, but settled on using Smartsheet, cloud-based software that utilizes a simple spreadsheet user interface. The goal is pretty simple that we can now easily know who is working on what, when the deadlines are, and receive daily updates on assigned tasks. The ability to quickly track financial data, vacation days, meeting agendas, and create Gantt Charts makes the purchase of this program worthwhile and they even allow discounts for non-profits.
Some critics argue that email is getting outdated and soon will irrelevant, but I think if we learn how to do email well then its function is still highly beneficial. Contact Monkey is a service that helps aid in the development of how to best email through silently tracking who opens your email, what time they open it, and what attachments a person clicks on. This is less about spying on who opens your email and more about identifying the popular times that students are opening emails, what subjects are performing best, what links are being clicked on, and to see what attachments are being read. If you are regularly emailing a large group of students this information could help you identify the best time to email and potentially identify new clients who can serve as leaders. Peter Drucker, perhaps the founder of modern management, adds that “the most important thing in communication is hearing what is not said” and tracking apps like Contact Monkey help us formulate an understanding of the story behind emails and helps build better solutions for digital communication.
I close with two Gmail extensions that I have regularly used and both have excellent free versions for those strapped on a tight budget.
Boomerang is a great Gmail extension to start out with as it allows you to schedule emails to be sent at certain times. Maybe you are up late working at 2am and don’t want people to know how you cannot separate your professional and person life, or you have identified your target email open time using Contact Monkey and schedule your emails to be sent then. Boomerang makes both of these options possible with only a few simple clicks.
Assistant.to is another Gmail extension that reduces the amount of email exchange needed in scheduling a meeting among students or staff. This app is limited to just one-on-one meetings but still eliminates the amount of emails needed to usually find that perfect time among the busy lives of students and staff.
Our ability to organize ourselves utilizing business savvy technology not only can help with student development and learning, but makes our lives easier and allow us more time to devote to things that matter. Big Data is all the rage across tech platforms, but how well are integrating, collecting, and analyzing market-based data to help with the decisions we make on daily basis.