Imagine living in a country where it’s illegal to send a work email after 6 pm! Last year, employer federations and unions in France signed a labour agreement that requires employers to make sure staff “disconnect” outside working hours. The agreement also affects around 250,000 employees in the technology sector including the French offices of Google, Facebook, Deloitte and PwC. The French had already made headlines in 1999 when they introduced a 35-hour work week.
This all sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
The French take their work-life balance seriously and it’s indisputable that such a reasonable work week lends itself well to women especially whose time can be freed up to spend more quality time with family. While we may dream of French cafes and croissants, the idea of a 35-hour work week and no emails after 6 pm doesn’t fly with most North American entrepreneurs. The reality is that when you have customers, suppliers and employees working in multiple time zones, unplugging is not an option and many times, in fact, you’re working around the clock.
So what can women entrepreneurs do to try to achieve some of the work-life balance that the French have seemingly mastered? Reconciling work and family life remains a key issue for women who run their own companies and are faced with juggling competing priorities.
Part of the answer lies in constantly assessing your business processes and determining how you can work smarter and more efficiently. Does every email that lands in your in-box in the evening need to be answered right away? You may have to build new habits and re-train yourself to scan emails but respond later.
The other part of your focus should be on technology and how you can use it to free up more of your time – in and outside the office. The problem is that there are thousands of apps for businesses to increase productivity and work smarter. It’s worth taking some time each week to read reviews on new apps and try out new technology. Involve your staff so that everyone is making an effort to increase the use of technology in your company.
Here’s a round-up of some technology that can increase efficiency across all aspects of your business. Many of them are no-to-low cost. Why not give them a try?
- Trello (Productivity and mobile collaboration) – For projects with team members scattered in different areas and time zones working on different tasks, this enables everyone to be available in one place. Everything synchs in real time. You can keep it open on your desktop and immediately see what’s happening with the team as tasks are completed in real-time.Cost: Free. Business Class and Trello Gold are paid versions ($5 per month, per user)
- Basecamp – (Project management) Basecamp makes it easy for people in different roles with different responsibilities to communicate and work together. You can share files, discuss ideas, collaborate on documents, assign tasks, and check deadlines. Basecamp stores everything securely and can be accessed at any time from anywhere.Cost: Free for 60 days ($25 per month for 12 active projects, 3 GB space or $100 per month for 100 active projects, 40 GB space)
- Evernote – (Digital workspace) With Evernote, you can create text, photo and audio notes on your iPhone or iPad, and sync them with your computer. All notes include geo-location information for mapping and search.Cost: Evernote Basic is free for up to 60MB of monthly storage. Evernote Premium is $50 a year for up to 1GB of monthly storage.
- Dropbox – (File sharing) Stop sending large attachments by email. Dropbox is incredibly easy to use and allows you to share your files online and across computers. You can view photos, videos, documents and presentations in your Dropbox while on the go, as well as share and send files via email.Cost: Free
- Google Drive (Productivity) – Allows for all of your tools – from documents to spreadsheets to your calendar – to be at your fingertips for free or at a very low cost.Cost: Free for the first 15GB of storage remain free. $1.99 per month for 100GB.
- Google Analytics – (Web analysis) Google Analytics shows you the full customer picture across ads and videos, websites and social tools, tablets and smartphones. Analyze visitor traffic on your site, find out where visitors spend the most time and find out what they are looking for. This is a must-have market analysis tool that shows you everything you need to know in a user-friendly interface.Cost: Free
The key with technology is to make time for it. Not every technology you try will be the perfect fit for your company, but you will get there. The time and effort you invest in it will pay off in increased productivity, better customer focus and more time to do the things you want.