IT & the Modern Office

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Temptation to waste company time not only comes in the guise of attractive colleagues – there is a world of distractions coming into the office via the internet that as an employer, you might not even be aware of.

Technological temptations

Do you know how much time is being spent using the PC for activities not related to the job? Conservative estimates reckon up to four hours a day could be wasted on personal emails, sending jokes and general surfing on the Web.

Time to reinvent the wheel?

You would scarcely visualise an office landscape today without it containing a PC on every desk. Yet while computers have undoubtedly done away with typewriters, have revolutionised design and manufacture and given us the facility for instant and cost-effective communication, we need to be aware of its effects on the way we work and communicate.

Perhaps it is time for an internal audit to be taken, to see precisely what function computers are fulfilling in your office. A bold re-think may be necessary, to consider whether there actually is need for everyone to have a computer on their desk. Once you have broken down its uses into word processing, design, communication (both internal and external), storage, spreadsheets etc you can then help to streamline time actually spent at the computer.

One solution to time spent on surfing the Net could be to schedule personal time on the computers, much as official coffee breaks are taken. In this way, employees are given the freedom to surf, chat and use the Internet for their own needs, without feeling guilty, while your company benefits as being seen to acknowledge that you do not want to deny employees this benefit, but that you mean business. Make it clear that just as you don’t expect anyone to spend hours on the phone making personal calls, neither should they use company hardware for their own fun and games.

The new illiteracy

Get the right systems and your business could see increased innovation and reduced risk. However, technology alone does not increase productivity – there has to be a new approach, new processes and training, which requires business intelligence.

Getting people to use the technology effectively is vital to the success of your business. It is no longer enough for the IT department to install different bits of equipment and tell employees what they will be using – for a company to be working effectively, all departments need to pull together, using the same tools.

What kind of organisation do you want? The actual presence of a bulky box on a desk, creates a physical barrier. It is something an employee can hide behind, the PC becomes a private domain, creating individual pockets of space instead of fostering a feeling of unity. A computer monitor, like a television set, has a mesmerising, hypnotic effect, that can easily keep someone glued to the screen even when they do not need to be. Erroneously, we presume that just because someone is staring at the screen, that they must be hard at work.

The temptation is to let each employee take full responsibility and free rein in how they manage their work. Watch out, because it may be all too easy for a shy employee or one who is unsure about routine, to be reluctant to reach out. Neither will you know how much time is being wasted on ineffective use of the computer as a filing system unless you literally go in and have a look at each PC. It would be worthwhile setting up a protocol for setting-up of storage systems on each computer, even if documents do not need to be shared on a server.

How many of your employees actually know how to touch-type, use shortcut keys and commands, are up-to-date with formatting skills? Ongoing in-house training is vital to ensure that time is not being wasted by ‘illiterate’ employees struggling with software.

Keeping tabs

You’ve got mail: not only must employees deal with snail mail once a day as well as incoming faxes and hand-delivered documents, but the email inbox is a constant distraction and a stress factor.

Have you set up rules for time limits over how long it should take for every enquiry to be replied to, over how often email inboxes should be checked, and do you ever check on the type of font, spelling and language used in outgoing emails? In the old days, the Secretary would have dealt with all correspondence. Now that correspondence has been decentralized, so has control.

Consider whether your company needs to create new roles, specifically to administer electronic communication. Are your managers bogged down by emails? Could their inboxes be taken in hand by someone else?

Who gets what?

IT can easily create a new elite in your office. Frustration and jealousy will inevitably ensure over who gets the latest computer and over which office has a printer and fax machine, therefore you must be fair in the distribution of new equipment. The same goes for maintenance. The stress and frustration of improperly functioning hardware will prevent employees from carrying out their jobs. The swapping of computer ‘mice’ that goes on after hours, highlights the ridiculous lengths to which some employees have to go to, to get their hardware upgraded. Skimping on a few liri needed to buy a new mouse is misguided economy, and will only lead to disgruntled employees.

Who’s talking now?

Tele-working, the possibility of working from home while accessing the office’s computer network, is set to revolutionise the way we operate in the future. It gives working parents, both male and female, the possibility of spending time at home with the children, and it also provides any employee with the chance to work during the hours most suitable to them. As long as the terms of employment are clearly set out at the onset, and are to both the company and the employee’s advantage, tele-working can bring numerous benefits to the organization.

Health and safety

New technology often brings about new problems, some of which were never envisaged. The use of computers has given us a whole new dimension in health and safety problems!

It is the responsibility of an employer to ensure that the Health & Safety at Work Act is complied with and that risks are assessed and properly addressed. It is the responsibility of the employee to correctly adhere to regulations and guidance and to report faults and risks in order to avoid endangering their own (and other colleagues’) health and safety. Laser printers can affect your health if they are not properly positioned in a ventilated space. Fumes are given off when the printer is going through the process of producing a printed page.

Ergonomics

Using computer equipment can affect your health if it is not correctly and ergonomically set-up. By this is meant: correct desk, chair and keyboard heights; proper positioning of monitor and lighting around it; use of wrist rests for mouse and keyboards. The health effects of poorly set-up working environments can include eye-strain from staring at a screen for too long or sitting with bright lights reflected on the screen from a window or a badly positioned light fitting; repetitive strain injury on joints and muscles; back aches.

To prevent the first problem you should ensure that employees take frequent breaks away from the screen – focusing on something distant from time to time. For the second, install anti-glare screen or position monitors so that they are not reflecting the light.

Safety measures to avoid accidents include the correct installation of devices and enclosure of wires, leads and other electrical points. Appointment of qualified electricians is necessary in an office environment to safely install trunking and power supply for computer equipment. Proper earthing of devices such as monitor anti-glare/static screens to avoid shock or blowing fuses. Regular maintenance and upkeep of computer equipment is needed to avoid safety issues. For example, faulty monitors or internal cooling fans that may lead to overheating of equipment.

See me in my office

Upheaval can often accompany technological change, therefore keeping your staff happy and motivated means going beyond tried and tested methods. You need to change your management style too. Constant and personalized communication, leads to people feeling involved, more in control, and happier. Regular face-to-face communication can not be replaced by a cold email. Black-and-white is for contracts, not contact. As new technology is brought out and adopted on the workplace, management needs to keep abreast of its affects on us as human beings as well as on its functions as tools.

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