by Kendall Callas
"Well begun is half done" Aristotle said. Likewise, a well-planned unveiling will improve the chances of success in introducing personal computers into your office. Involve all your people, as early as possible.
Tip #1: GOOD COMMUNICATION IS IMPORTANT.
Communicate with everyone in the firm to assure realistic expectations from the outset. Good information and adequate notice will ease the transition. Answer the obvious questions:
Can I use it? Do I have to use it? When do I get training? Can I teach myself? How soon will we see results? What will change? What can I do to help during this transition? Who do I talk to for more details and to provide input?
Survey everyone in the firm, either speak to them or send around a questionnaire. This will improve the flow of ideas and keep everyone informed. Gather information about people's needs and experience to help plan training. Also solicit suggestions of tasks ripe for automation.
Tip #2: COORDINATE THE TIMING OF INSTALLATION AND TRAINING.
Take advantage of the "new toy" excitement that hits as soon as the equipment is assembled and put in place. To reward those who show interest, create the opportunity for immediate self-training. Install a menu system that allows easy selection of tutorial programs. WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Lotus 1-2-3, and dBASE all come with tutorial software.
Begin training just before or just after installation -- within a day or two. Make sure the equipment to be used for training is fully functional. Be sure to test printing and network functions.
Tip #3: ALLOW EMPLOYEES TO PARTICIPATE IN COMPANY PC PURCHASES.
When the firm purchases personal computers, offer employees the opportunity to buy PCs for home use. Employees will appreciate getting in on the discounts and other concessions that your purchasing department can negotiate.
For many reasons, it's to the firm's benefit to allow employees to ride along. The higher the volume, the better the deal for everyone. Employees who have a PC at home will learn faster, become more effective users, and will have the opportunity to take work home.
Tip #4: DON'T STINT ON TRAINING.
Computers -- even personal ones -- are complex, powerful tools. Learning to use them takes time. Today's office software takes from 5 hours to 25 hours to master, depending on the program and type of learning. Intensive tutoring is the fastest and most flexible learning method. An instructor and classroom works well both off-site or in your offices. Self-training with diskette tutorials is unresponsive and requires motivation. The slowest approach is the all-too-common "Here's the manual, good luck!"
In the training industry, there is a saying: "You pay for training, or you pay for training." If you don't invest in training at the beginning, you may suffer later due to wasted time, lost information, frustration and motivation problems. Productivity goes up as people learn to better perform work tasks using PCs; it also rises as people discover the opportunities in flexible information that automation provides.
Tip #5: TRAINING WHERE?
If you decide on instructor-led classes, consider the trade-offs between your conference room and the vendors classroom.
Training off-site avoids interruptions and promotes concentration. Training in your offices eases scheduling, avoids transit time, and lends itself to customization. It also assures that users will be trained on exactly the same equipment they'll use at work. Wherever training occurs, make sure it uses the same type of printer and keyboard layout (i.e., the function keys).
Tip #6: USE SKILLED TEMPS DURING THE INTRODUCTION PERIOD.
To ease the workload during the transition, consider hiring temporary help. Temp agencies can readily provide people with skills in the major programs such as WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. This will help get the work done during the training period and afterward as users climb the learning curve, as well as provide a source of low-cost answers to the easy questions posed by beginning users.
Tip #7: LEARN ONE PROGRAM AT A TIME.
Focus on achieving a basic level of functioning in one program before beginning to study another.
Tip #8: ENCOURAGE INPUT FROM USERS.
Organize your users to cultivate ideas and experience. Use their ideas and let them make decisions. Consider three levels of organization:
A) Key user. Identify a "key user" for each PC. This person is responsible for tending the machine and should be trained to bear responsibility for regular backups, solving printer problems, reordering supplies, periodic maintenance, and security of the machine. This person should know at least a little about the Disk Operating System (DOS).
B) Steering committee. Some firms call it an Automation Committee or PC Task Force. These experienced users should decide the standards and formats used throughout the firm, such as filename conventions, directory structure, and document styles.
C) Users group. Informal get-togethers of fellow PC users offer fertile ground to stimulate enthusiasm and share ideas, problems, and solutions. Gather opinions and observations -- and use them. For best attendance, consider meeting during work hours, or at lunch-time with sandwiches supplied by the firm.
Tip #9: ONGOING SUPPORT.
As users tackle new projects and new users pop up, you'll feel a continued need for answers to questions and "over-the-shoulder" assistance. Several different resources can be enlisted:
A) Consultant. Phone access or periodic visits from a consultant offer the best assistance. Unfortunately, is also an expensive solution --at least in visible dollars.
B) Whiz kid. Most offices have someone who has fallen love with PCs and learned more and faster than everyone else. Grow your own resource by cultivating and training this employee. Do not let executives or other high-value employee fill this role!
C) Skilled users. Fellow users provide allies near at hand. Publish a list of skilled PC users to improve communication within your user community. List each user's phone number and area of expertise. This is an easy way to grant recognition to your performers. Don't list executives and other high-value employees on this list.
Tip #10: WHERE TO PUT IT.
Try to locate personal computers away from dust, temperature changes, vibration, and accidental bumping. Avoid high traffic hallways, air ducts, and heating vents. To reduce lighting and temperature problems, avoid placing PCs near windows. To minimize glare, try not to position a PC facing directly toward or away from a window; the screen should be perpendicular to a window.
Tip #11: A PC FOR THE PUBLIC.
The greatest productivity gains are reaped when a PC is at your elbow. Reliable, instant access means the nitty-gritty tasks of your day-to-day work can be automated. Consequently, many firms put a PC on a person's desk dedicated to their use. But what about the users who don't get their own PC?
Station at least one PC for public use, that is, available for walk-up use by those lower on the pecking order. Depending on demand, you may want to post a reservation calendar on the PC to make it reservable. A wheeled desk or cart offers easy portability.
Tip #12: SETTING UP A WORK STATION.
You can improve PC productivity 25% by solving posture and vision problems, according to a recent study. Efficiency can be increased and eye strain, fatigue, headaches, and back aches avoided if the workstations for heavy users are properly equipped to minimize glare and eye/head/neck movement. See if each workstation would benefit from a lamp, copy holder, glare screen, and chair with adjustable height and back support. Now may be the time to invest in office furniture and lighting. The need for good back support may make necessary the purchase of better chairs. Desks or tables designed for computers are a good idea. Experts tell us that the standard desk is about 4 inches too high for most keyboard users.
Generally, the eye is most comfortable looking at a computer screen when the office lighting is reduced to half its normal level. This means, dimmer switches, lamps for task lighting, and window blinds are all in order.
Non-glare screens are a good investment for many types of computer monitors. Black nylon mesh screens are cheaply available and can dramatically reduce screen glare and improve contrast. For users of black and white screens, another way to improve eye comfort is to use wall decoration that offers good background color and texture.
Desk space around PCs is invariably limited, making it difficult to refer between the screen and source documents. I suggest a copy holder for each machine, with desk clamp and spring-loaded arm assembly.
To further reduce the desk space that a PC takes up, consider placing the computer itself on the floor. Then just the keyboard and monitor need desk space. A stand to elevate the monitor may be desired. It is safe to sit the computer on end; a stand to stabilize it may also be a good idea.
A separate printer table is a good idea for two reasons. It increases available work space and, if you have an impact printer, it protects the computer from vibrations. (This is not a problem with laser or inkjet printers.)
For longest life, cover monitors and keyboards with fabric or rigid plastic dust covers when not in use.
Tip #13: ONE-BUTTON POWER.
It is a great convenience to be able to turn on all the equipment with one switch. To
computer from power surges, standard advice is to get a power filter. For convenience
get a power filter with a switch so that one button turns on the computer, monitor, and
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In sum, don't ignore the people aspects of automation. Get off to a good start by opening the lines of communication. Good planning will help you project the changes that will take place; good communication as early as possible will help everyone adjust to the changes with minimal stress.
Support your users, they need more than equipment and software. Organize them and stimulate communication between them. Think of their training as an investment in productivity; it saves time, improves morale, reduces stress, and boosts job satisfaction.
(Several of these topics will be taken up in greater detail in future columns. Questions, suggestions, and topics for future articles are encouraged.)