Are you getting the most out of your office tools

Do you ever feel that your office tools could give you more?

Faster, faster, faster, our leaders are pushing and expecting us to produce better and and more accurate results. They explain that you have the tools and the intelligence; you should be able to complete your task in half the time. Managers and office personnel are expected to solve problems, produce artifacts, and improve production at an alarmingly fast pace. How can one be expected to cut productivity times in half without a number of key factors in place, such as standardized processes, accepted policy, training, and enterprise acceptance. Well, not all organizations have such factors in place.
Prior to the computer revolution, businesses studied productivity through the use of a manual processes. Using the data that was collected through these studies, the organization was able to improve their current process tenfold to become efficient at producing product. Now that the computer age is in full force, we’ve enjoyed a swing toward automatizing our productivity even further, but we haven’t taken the next step into pushing office productivity to a new level.
What did leadership mean when they said that you have the tools? Without directly asking leadership what they meant, my guess is that they mean the office tools that everyone has access to on an everyday basis. I consider Microsoft® Office to be the de facto office productivity tool in the business world since most of the world’s corporate businesses use it. This isn’t to say that there aren’t better tools out there, there may be, but this article is not about comparing the current office productivity tools to each other.  It really doesn’t matter which productivity suite your business uses, most users are ill equipped to use the productivity tools to their maximum potential. Since I need to point out examples, I will use the Microsoft Office product as my example.

Office Tools

The current Office products are wonderful; they allow you to create and send email, outline tasks, provide for calendar sharing, capture notes, create documents, presentations, and spreadsheets, as well as maintain data. The tools also allow you to easily span data across products — in its simplest form, drag and drop from one application to another.
According to SoftWatch, only 20% of Office users take advantage of the advanced functions available in the office suite and less than that in products outside of outlook, excel and word. Based on SoftWatch numbers, the average worker spends about 1 hour a day using an office productivity product and most of that hour is spent reviewing email. That’s basically 12.5% of every work week; I was expecting that number to be much higher, something in the range of 33%. How can this be? These products were created to make our business life much easier and we aren’t using them to their fullest. The biggest reason for this in my opinion, is the lack of knowledge and training of each tool. We were never given above- standard training on each product that would allow a user to be as productive as a company would expect. In most cases, users have had to learn on their own.
We don’t provide enough feedback to the major office productivity tool developers as to what we want for office tools and how we expect those tools to interact with each other. In some ways, the big developers are going backward by making their applications work with tablets and phones.  So, now we’re stuck with a 2D look and feel instead of the awesome 3D tactile feel. For example, Google’s mail is listed and grouped in an odd conversation way that is not that helpful for reading a mail thread. Because of the order of the email, it makes it difficult to understand where you are in the email and who you are replying to, especially if you are doing multiple forwards and replies to both people and in and out of the original conversation. If one doesn’t pay close attention, it is really easy to inadvertently send an email to someone you didn’t intend to.  According to Rajen Sheth (Bort, 2015), a director of product management at Google, “Most people are reading and doing very light editing — our analysis has shown us that. If that’s the case, why would everyone always have to have Excel, etc.? You have lots of users and you don’t have to license them all for Excel or Office.” He goes on to insinuate that the population of creators and content authors is 10% or less. Again, Google’s philosophy is to take functionality away instead of thinking out of the box and creating a product that is improved. For those of you who have used Google’s cloud-based productivity tools, such as Google’s sheets, know that only 70% of the work done in an excel spreadsheet is compatible with sheets. You lose any macros and advanced development done in excel. I get the fact that most people will only read the displayed information, not the underlying formulas that create the data, but what if you need to verify the information or use the data as proof. There’s no substance behind the information and we could easily stick with the current HTML tools we’ve had available to us for years. Why bother having these cloud-based solutions if they don’t provide additional productivity? I was hoping that companies would push to follow the logical path of, ‘it makes sense, it makes it easier, and brings us to the next step in digital evolution’.

So, what can be done about our current situation?

Let your customers tell you what they want and give them something to choose from…what a concept! Anyone can take a poll of users to see what tools are not being used in a software package, that doesn’t tell you that the tool isn’t valuable, in my opinion, it tells you that the tools weren’t promoted or developed correctly. Most people don’t know they exist, and the big boys really don’t promote the functionality so, this is exactly why they aren’t being used. Software usage poll companies tell you what software features are or are not being used, not why. It would make more sense to understand the features, train people how to use the features, and get the most out of what is currently available.
I wouldn’t say that this is a business liability; businesses shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for this type of education. This leaves one of a number of alternatives of which I will talk about two; the first, education, the second more intuitive product.
The concepts behind the advanced features that exist in the office productivity suite should be taught at an early age. I’m not saying the actual advanced features of the office tools should be taught, but rather the concepts behind the features. For example, Excel in itself is one of the most powerful tools in the office suite.  It’s not just a spreadsheet application, it can be used as a reporting vehicle, a database (of sorts), a word processor, a calculator, etc. It has built-in functions as well as access to the universal BASIC programming language that is available in most of the office products. So, as part of the elementary education system, we should teach our children how to program in BASIC and how to use SUM, AVG, CONCATENATE, STDEV, etc. The concepts behind these functions are necessary to survive in today’s business world, and are just as important as math, language, science, and art.
Or, on the flip-side of things, we should make interaction between applications intuitive, we should be able to drop a piece from one application to another and tell the receiving application how and when the piece will be used. In the 1990’s there was a push for this type of design in the programming world, but it never made it into the business world. This is a shame because, since we have moved to a simpler 2D model, this type of object interaction would fit well in the mobile device world. Recently, I have started to see new and cool items in the app world such as IFTT which is definitely a step in the right direction, but as a nation we should plan out some of our expectation and work with the businesses to deliver tools that are easy to use and make sense.
What can we do in the near future?
According to Microsoft, more than 1.2 billion people use Microsoft Office and with the introduction of Office Product subscriptions, the need to understand how to effectively use office tools is higher than ever. As a starting point, we can:

  • Plan and standardize office processes and procedures, and develop tools/processes that are easy to understand,
  • Start with a search on the internet as a base for specific business needs and modify the tools to meet your goals
  • Integrate standard practice into your projects
  • Reach out to tech partners and ask them to help formalize/solidify an automated office productivity process that fits the business
  • Train employees on the advanced functions of office productivity tools
  • Reach out to the big developers and make sure they understand what you need out of your tools
  • Lobby for intuitive tools that make it simpler/easier to conduct business

Only we have the power to change the way business productivity tools enhance our business experience. It’s our voice and the necessity to work more efficiently and productively which will push the technical giants or the genius entrepreneurs to build the products we need; it’s just a matter of time. Also, we should help our future generations by teaching our children about office productivity concepts at an early age. Lastly, every business should include office productivity education as part of their on-boarding process.
One last note, I can provide details behind at least one example that can be used to improve project productivity. Setting up the scenario, “the PMO has put together a number of standard tools that they require all project managers to use to be kept as artifacts of each project. These standards were put in place to give the sense of uniformity that regulators have come to expect. It makes their verification effective, efficient, and easy. This process is followed by every program and project manager within the organization.” However, the overhead involved in maintaining projects with these requirements is enough to make the process overly expensive and ineffective.

A little detail behind macros and automation

I have found that the applications can share objects with each other very well through the use of macros or code; what do I mean by that? Let’s say you have a table in Word that you would like created in PowerPoint, there is a way to pull an object for one application to another without your intervention (drag and drop).
A very simple example of this would be the following:
In order to run this example, your will need Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, and a PowerPoint file named Test2.pptx with a shape named “Text Box 2”. It helps if you know VBA but it isn’t required for this example. In PowerPoint,    1) create power point file named “Test2.pptx”, create a text box and select the format tab, and then press the selection pane button.
Look to the right and select the text box in the selection and visibility pane, rename the text box to ‘TextBox 2’; save the file.

2) In word, create a line of text and mark the text as a bookmark named bkTest,

3) select the developers tab, Word is one of the only Office tools that allows you to record a macro but in this example we will not use that feature,

4) instead click on the Macros button and create a macro named Test. 5) Cut and paste the following code into the Macro, save the document into the same location that you saved the PowerPoint file and run the macro by pressing the play button. Note: Make sure you are displaying the test document when you press play. This will move your text box information from the document to the test Power Point file named “Test2.pptx”.
Yes, this is a very simple example, but it shows that you have the ability to create productivity tools across the office suite. Additional functionality is left to the reader to explore.

Macro code

‘Sub Test ()

‘ Test Macro


Dim pptApp As Object ‘PowerPoint.Application
Dim pptPres As Object ‘PowerPoint.Presentation
Dim folderPath As String, file As String
Dim bk As Bookmark
Dim doc As Document
Dim wdRange As Range
Dim shpTextBox As Object ‘PowerPoint.Shape
‘## As a matter of prefernce I use variable rather than “ActiveDocument”
Set doc = ActiveDocument
‘## Use a variable for the bookmark
Set bk = doc.Bookmarks(“bkTest”)
‘## Assign to the pptApp Application Object
Set pptApp = CreateObject(“PowerPoint.Application”)
folderPath = doc.Path & Application.PathSeparator
file = “Test2.pptx”
pptApp.Visible = True
‘## assign to the pptPres Presentation Object
Set pptPres = pptApp.presentations.Open(folderPath & file)
‘## Select the bookmark so we can copy it
bk.Select
‘## Copy it
Selection.Copy
‘Note: ensure you are at the correct slide location
‘## Assign to the shpTextBox & select it:
Set shpTextBox = pptPres.Slides(1).Shapes(“Text Box 2”)
shpTextBox.Select
‘## Paste in to PPT
pptApp.CommandBars.ExecuteMso “PasteSourceFormatting”
‘End Sub

References

Works Cited

Bort, J. (2015, February 8). Google shares its plan to nab 80% of Microsoft’s Office business. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/google-plan-to-beat-microsoft-office-2015-2
Dunn, J. E. (2014, May 01). Microsoft Office applications barely used by many employees, new study shows. TechWorld. Retrieved from http://www.techworld.com/news/security/microsoft-office-applications-barely-used-by-many-employees-new-study-shows-3514565/
IFTT. (n.d.). IFTT. Retrieved from https://ifttt.com/
Softwatch. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.softwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/Benchmark-146-companies.pdf