The goal of every business is to be productive, which is determined by how efficient and organized you can make all of the functions within your company.
That’s why it can be such a grind to find a best-in-class solution to help you keep all of the components of your company neatly organized and working together smoothly.
If you are running a startup, your team is most likely virtual and scattered across the globe, which greatly compounds the chance for misunderstandings and confusion about who is working on what, and how much time is being spent on various activities / customers.
The conventional idea of putting your team in a room with a Gantt chart is not going to work. And project management software is often expensive and cumbersome.
As a company, one of your main operational goals is to spend as little time as possible on management activities. Using a corporate grade software (e.g., JIRA) is not always a great solution due to its complexity and cost. Good luck getting team buy-in to spend 6 months to learn a new app.
Here at MemberFix we’ve found and fallen head-over-heels in love with what we think is one of the best, most flexible, most user friendly, and most affordable solutions on the market.
It has most everything we need with almost nothing we don’t. This tool is called:
Airtable boasts a familiar spreadsheet-esque structure, customizable data fields, sophisticated formulas calculations, and much more. At first glance this may seem to be yet another hunk of software in a long line of spreadsheets tools. But that is where the similarities end.
Airtable is a totally different type of tool working solely in the cloud, designed to have speed and stability and to boost the creation of datasets to unbelievable speed using visual tools.
Airtable might not be as well-known as other solutions like Jira, Trello, Asana, etc., especially when it comes to the use case we’ve adopted it for—managing business processes. But it has become THE essential part of managing our projects and processes. In fact, we even call our shared Airtable base “The MemberFix Control Center”—because that’s exactly what it is!
Airtable allows you to log entries in spreadsheets which can be turned into diverse, expandable, versatile sets of data. Pieces of data can be linked to each other to contain a web of information for everything relating to your company, tasks, documents, making it perfect for tracking large-scale, detailed data sets.
In English, that means—unlike a Google Sheets spreadsheet—you don’t duplicate the same piece of data in different places. You simply LINK to existing data from another sheet.
Combine this with the ability to generate different views from traditional spreadsheets to calendars and Trello-style Kanban boards and you have an extremely powerful data, process, and project organizational tool.
This article is the first one in a series where I am going to explain how we use Airtable in our company.
How we use Airtable in our company
Below you’ll find a quick overview of this tool and how we use it.
In the screenshot above you can see that Airtable looks like the typical spreadsheet you’re used to. This entire collection of data including all of the tabs is called a “base”.
But unlike an Excel spreadsheet, Airtable lets you pull data from one tab into another tab within the same base. You don’t need to be a professional Excel user to create these bases because almost everything is done in a user-friendly, visual interface.
For example, in the screenshot below you can see that our team members’ names are all entered in the ‘Team’ tab. When a team member starts to work on a task for one of our customers he makes a timesheet entry in the ‘Timesheet’ tab. Instead of entering his name over and over again for each timesheet entry, he simply pulls his name (and all of the related data) as a linked record from the ‘Team’ tab directly into the timesheet tab. And the same goes for customers—we pull their data from the ‘Customers’ tab.
Airtable’s “linked” records
Linked records work in both directions. So we can easily create an on-the-fly filter to figure out how much time a particular team member has spent working on a particular customer’s tasks in a given date range. This is just a preview of the incredible filtering and sorting power of Airtable; it can do so much more! But it all ultimately depends on this unique ability of being able to link records in different tabs, which is what makes Airtable so special.
This ability saves you untold amounts of time, prevents duplication of data in the database, and preserves (and in fact, encourages!) you to organize the structure of your company along logical lines.
Perhaps even more exciting is that you may edit data from another tab directly from within the tab you’re working in by opening that linked record entry!
There’s no need to open the tab that actually contains the data, search for your required record, etc. You have everything you need here in the linked record location!
You may we wondering, can you link a record from another table “into” this view? Yes, you can have as many layers of linked data in your base as you want!
For instance, in the example below we are pulling records from the ‘Team’ table and ‘Customers’ table into the ‘Timesheet’ table:
As mentioned earlier, you can filter and sort data within the views, hide/show fields, assign different data types, group data by single or multiple fields. And this is only the tip of the iceberg! Here is the example of our table that we use to keep all of our Operating Procedures (SOPs) updated:
Besides the usual table view you may use the Kanban view (in our business we use it for scheduling our long term tasks, like this blog post you are reading now) 😉 :
Or you can use the Calendar view to keep your schedule, time off, etc., for your team on track:
Hopefully you’ve now got a little tast of the incredible power of Airtable as an organization tool.
It provides numerous ways to track performance and time on tasks while setting controls to keep certain groups focused on a particular project and getting the right information to the appropriate people.
Of course, let’s be fair and point out that there’s no perfect app.
Much like Trello, Airtable’s use in terms of dedicated process management is pretty limited. While it is great for managing your projects and starting off your processes, there is very little room for giving instructions for tasks and even less so for automatically providing said instructions.
(For this component of our business we’re building our own custom training portal for our team.)
Overall, Airtable is a great solution to store interlinked data and projects/files, generate reports, and organize all of the disparate data and information of your business into a central location where it’s easy to interact with and understand that data.
In the next articles of this series, I will dive deeper into some of the specific ways we use Airtable to manage different areas of our business using real life examples…
Other articles in this series
In this article I explain how we set our entire team’s schedule using Airtable’s awesome calendar view. This is critical if you’re running a remote (distributed) company with team members across different time zones and in different employment arrangements (e.g. full time, part time, contractor).