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7/96 Analysis: Windows at Work

Technology Takes the Down Out of Downsizing

Corporate reengineering got you juggling jobs?
The right technology can lend a hand.

By Cheryl Currid

DOWNSIZE, RESTRUCTURE, reengineer. That's the mantra of American business. Some major corporations (Ford, AT&T and GTE, to name a few) recently paused long enough to let the dust settle around a five-year frenzy of layoffs. What did they find? A mess.

Walk the hallways at these companies and you'll see the residue of botched reengineering. They took a good concept and overdid it. Some companies tried to replace people with technology, but failed to train remaining staffers in how to use it.

Many organizations resemble administrative ghost towns. Secretaries have vanished, administrative assistants have gotten the ax, and electronic voice attendants have taken the place of receptionists.

What's left? A few overburdened knowledge workers doing not only their own jobs but those of their administrative assistants. So, the reengineering revolution has resulted in $60,000-a-year professionals doing the work of $20,000 clerks. And they call this progress?

Few knowledge workers claim they're better off than they were before reengineering. Legions of professionals now make their own travel arrangements and organize their own filing systems.

I still believe in reinventing work, but let's use common sense.

Rather than fire secretaries, make them more productive. Give them more work, but first provide them with powerful computers and helpful Windows-based applications. Arm them with access to Internet travel services, shared schedulers, groupware, e-mail, and electronic filing and document management software.

Don't stop at secretaries; train all your employees to use technology to enhance productivity. Here are a few suggestions.

Try new approaches to routine work. Trace the steps, time and people involved in producing an airline ticket, for instance. Perhaps one of the new Internet-based travel services (PCTravel,; American Express Travel Express,; or Internet Travel Network, could help secretaries fly through their work. The airlines themselves also offer direct links over the Internet.

Track your own activities for several workdays. Keep a log (or spreadsheet), including dates and times, and evaluate your productivity. A few common productivity-killers include opening mail, maintaining files, scheduling appointments, playing telephone tag, dealing with interruptions and making travel arrangements. I've calculated that it takes a half-hour to recover from every interruption-even those that last just a few minutes. Unlike computers, the human brain doesn't task-switch rapidly. It takes time to reorient itself and recover concentration from any distraction.

Empower your e-mail

Although the ideal technology for you depends on the nature of your business, I can point you in the right direction. I've seen many companies achieve productivity gains with electronic calendars that include integrated e-mail, for instance. Products like Novell's GroupWise go a long way toward putting appointments, notes, tasks and messages into one convenient place. And new computer-integrated voice systems such as CallWare can even file voice-mail messages into your e-mail.

Use e-mail to correspond on your behalf. If your company e-mail system supports rules or filters, it may let you send back robo-responses (that's short for robotic responses).

Say you know you won't be able to touch your e-mail for two days. Rather than ignore all your messages, set up a rule that instantly sends back a message like: "Hi, this comes from Cheryl's robo-responder. Cheryl is out of the office until Thursday. If you need immediate assistance, call our office or e-mail John Doe at"

This type of message puts your correspondents in touch with a real person if they need an immediate response.

Windows tools and technology provide only part of the solution. They can help you recuperate from reckless reengineering, but the critical fix depends on how you use the technology.

It's unlikely American business will restaff to previous administrative support levels, so hire your computer and then teach it how to help you.

WinMag Analyst Cheryl Currid is president of Houston-based Currid & Company, a research and consulting firm. Contact Cheryl in the "Windows at Work" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe. To find her E-Mail ID Click Here

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