stockxpertcom id9637922 jpg 41c9f755ee6323d9c79dd326ce0eaa73 How to enhance productivity in the human cloudThe way we work is changing. For the majority of the world that relies on the Internet for work, we are always connected. Therefore at its base- we are always able to be productive, and as a result, the 9-5 is nearly dead.

I’ve been a freelance editor and writer for a year now and am surrounded by consultants, freelancers, contractors and sub-contractors. The part of the professional world that is tied to multiple clients rather than a single employer is an ever-growing network. We meet in co-working space, we blog from coffee shops, kitchen tables, home offices and post stories from 30,000 feet in the air on Virgin America flights.

The result is the ‘human cloud,’ an omnipresent, virtual workforce powered by new cloud-based, social networking and mobile technologies. So how do we enhance our productivity in the human cloud?

I asked Ray Grainger, the founder and CEO of Mavenlink, a web-based project management platform for consultants, freelancers, and other independent service professionals. Grainger founded Mavenlink to give independent professionals the tools to compete globally and efficiently. Here he shares some of the key ways independent professionals can leverage cloud-based tools to improve the way they attract and conduct business:

1. Stop juggling multiple point solutions: How are you managing your projects, contacts, and business today? If you’re like many independent service professionals, you’re using a mixture of tools: email, LinkedIn, project tracking/management tool, Google Docs or other document sharing program, an invoicing application and more. As a result, you end up with multiple logins, multiple windows, multiple dashboards, and a lot of manual reconciliation across each application.

In contrast, an end-to-end project management solution gives you single log-in access to all aspects of your projects and business: your network, your clients, your projects, your communications, your invoices, and your financing. This approach offers a more seamless workflow to improve both your organization and efficiency.

2. Create a collaborative online work environment: When you’ve got multiple people in multiple locations involved on a given project, you’ve got to make it easy for everyone to work together, review documents, make comments, and view project status. A cloud-based workspace is the new and improved conference room. You want to create a one-stop-shop for all project-related documents, conversations, tasks, milestones, and financial information.

3. Give clients an easy way to answer their own questions: Any freelancer or consultant knows just how much time gets absorbed fielding emails: How’s the project coming along? When do you expect to have draft 1 completed? Did Joe ever review that last version? How many hours did you spend on that last revision?

You can eliminate the back and forth communications by providing your clients with an at-a-glance dashboard that includes all aspects of a project’s status. In addition, a centralized online area manages all project-related documents and conversations in a single place. This gives an instant audit trail for any project…and one that’s readily accessible to all involved. Your clients will be happy that they can easily find the answers they need (at any time of day), and you’ll be spending less time responding to emails.

4. Track all your project-related documents and communications in one place: A centralized project area helps you stay organized by capturing all communications, documents, milestones, tasks, and projects in one place. You don’t have to wade through scores of emails trying to find one particular email with a client’s instruction. In addition, it’s critical for your online platform to support email integration, because inevitably, some clients just can’t let go of email. So, even if your client chooses to respond via email on their BlackBerry, you’ll still be able to capture this communication in your project space.

5. Make it easy to bring others into your project: By nature, the virtual workplace is very fluid. Even if you’re a solo freelancer, you’re undoubtedly bringing in any number of contract specialists to help on certain projects. A flexible cloud-based project management platform can help you make sense of this dynamic work environment. You can invite as many people as you need to any project workspace (with varying access levels). You can track all project expenses and sub-contractor hours in a single spot. And you can offer a centralized place that keeps everyone in the loop.

6. Need an intuitive, simple project management solution: As an independent service provider, your time is indeed money. Deploying a complex software or SaaS solution can often cost you more time in training clients and subcontractors than it actually saves. A simple solution that offers just the features you need will help lower the learning curve and improve user adoption rates across the board.

7. Streamline your billing: Last, but definitely not least is invoicing. We all now that invoicing is key to getting paid, but the task is often viewed as an administrative hassle (particularly when your attention is already focused on the next project and deadline). A true end-to-end project management platform simplifies your invoicing process. You can invoice from directly inside your project workspace, tying invoice line items to specific tasks or milestones. With this level of invoice detail, your clients can better understand the output purchased, and you don’t have to jump between spreadsheets, emails, and billing apps to put together your invoice.

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What other ways can you think of to enhance productivity in the human cloud?