NZ Herald. The Business. 12 March 2007. Journalist: DIANA CLEMENT
A new book explains how using a few simple functions in your email software could save your business big bucks
THE TYPICAL desk-based employee wastes around $3000 a year, simply because of their inability to conquer email. So says Debbie Mayo-Smith, international internet and marketing guru, and author of a new book: 101 Quick Tips for Email and Google.
Line up 100 non-IT staff, says Mayo-Smith, and ask them if they use rules to manage email, and categories for their contacts, and 99 would say ``no''. ``Even the one person using those functions would not use them to their full advantage.'' Such lack of knowledge of the basic functions of day-to-day software is costing business dearly, she says.
Using rules, you create a series of actions that are carried out automatically as email arrives. A rule can do anything from forwarding emails containing certain key words, to filing regular newsletters in a folder to be read at a quiet moment. Or you could, for example, assign a red flag to emails from important customers. Automating such processes could help businesses overcome one of their big failings: the customer emails that go to an individual's inbox - whether they're out of the office for work, on holiday, or have left the company - and sit there, sometimes forever, says Mayo-Smith. ``No one has thought through the processes.''
The fact is that employees simply don't know to automate the most basic Microsoft Outlook and browser functions, she claims.
According to the productivity expert (and mother of six kids), what happens in IT departments is they move from one big project to the next. Many have scant understanding of how little knowledge staff outside their fold have of the software they use daily. As a result, few people are given the training they need to get the best out of powerful tools such as Outlook.
Each new version comes with labour-saving features. But so few employees are given sufficient training when they migrate to new versions, that the benefits are lost.
At first glance it's hard to see how learning the command CTRL R to reply to an email, or similar shortcuts, could make a business more efficient. But consider, says Mayo-Smith, how many hours employees spend at their computer screens each week. What if the boring stuff could be automated?
The corporate wastage of not doing so is enormous. ``Business people spend a phenomenal amount of time fumbling around their computers,'' the Auckland-
based author says. ``There is a severe lack of knowledge about how to do things effectively. You really can create massive productivity gains with minimum effort and increase both your business prowess and your personal productivity.''
The amount of money being flushed down the pan at every level of the business is easy to quantify. An administration person paid $30 an hour who wastes 30 minutes a day for 200 working days of the year, costs the business $3000. All for a few quick tips. Or consider that 10 minutes spent setting up rules that saved you 15 minutes a day would save you more than an entire week of work.
``That dramatically lowers overheads,'' says Mayo-Smith. What's more, if staff can get to their essential work quicker, they're not going to be so stressed out by ``trying to cram a 15-hour day into eight hours'' and staff turnover is likely to drop.
Multiply those numbers by the number of staff in your company and you will get some idea of the scale of the problem.
Mayo-Smith believes Outlook and other related computer programs are grossly underutilised and the power of them little understood. So much so that many companies buy expensive CRM (customer relationship management) programs to do what they could do with the ``hidden treasures'' in Outlook. ``With a bit of clever thinking about what you can get out of your everyday software, you can replicate [a CRM system].''
It's often management that has the worst grasp of basic IT tasks, she believes. In a large business an executive probably has a secretary to handle his or her email. But many highly paid employed and self-
employed managers handle their own email and waste valuable time. ``Any executive who is not going to have an assistant must upskill themselves.'' The same goes for self-employed professionals and small business owners.
Computer company Hewlett-Packard has already ordered 3000 copies of Mayo-
Smith's new book to distribute to small business customers in Australia and New Zealand.
Mayo-Smith has a suggestion for how businesses can upskill staff. She recommends that at the end of regular department or team meetings, one person shares a computer tip. ``Even a trite computer tip to one person is an epiphany to another,'' says Mayo-Smith.
After all, if you don't even know a function exists, it's unlikely you'll learn to use it. Another suggestion for employees who recognise the need to improve their skills is to come in five minutes early each day and read a tip or do one of the simple training modules on the Microsoft Office website: office.microsoft.com# # See also The war on spam, p18.
Diana Clement is an Auckland-based freelance financial journalist.