Executives need training in use of new tools

Australians in their 30s, 40s and 50s were educated and trained for their workplace responsibilities before the digital era. Millions of us are now coming to grips with the challenges of becoming Internet savvy.

The killer application of the Net, which has had the primary impact on the workplace, has been electronic mail. Learning how to make best use of this new tool has produced interesting moments for staff and managers alike.

As with anything new, it takes time before the strengths and weaknesses of a new technology are understood.

Scarcely a day goes by when we don’t experience the opportunity to learn from each other about email. Unfortunately, few organisations have invested in formal training programs for their staff on capturing maximum value from this revolutionary technology.

Email provides real time and money savings in unneeded postage, faxes, formatting and printing.

However, it has also introduced new levels of personal communications that can be a distraction at work, including unsolicited messages like jokes and chain letters. Other examples include personal correspondence with graphically-rich file attachments, stock tips and website recommendations.

Many of our most experienced managers have never had the opportunity to discover the real potential of email or how to maximise productivity associated with its application.

It’s surprising how many managers and senior professionals still get a secretary to print out a hard copy of their emails and process them like traditional bits of paper. This is usually on the grounds that they are too busy to be bothered with a computer.

More often than not, the reaction means they are digitally homeless and could benefit from some basic training in the use of the Internet.

With more professionals working from docking stations remote from the office, including from home, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between personal and professional material stored on a laptop.

Managers need to also understand that it is not a simple matter to ban the handling of private email in company time. Often a private email received via a well-connected network of contacts can benefit the company’s objectives.

Furthermore would such an edict imply that a staff member is not to handle company email in his or her private time?

Years ago the same debate raged about the use of the company phone for private purposes.

The key question is use, as opposed to abuse, of such a facility. From a management perspective we should be focussing on outcomes and deliverables rather than processes.

The worldwide army of email users need better tools than are available today to help them filter email and customise their use of it. As there are more than a trillion emails sent each year, potential productivity gains from more efficient use of email are substantial.

• Mal Bryce is chairman of Celebrating Lives and a former WA Deputy Premier.

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